Montgomery, Maryland, Bus Depot's Eco-Friendliness Questioned

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 4, 2009

Montgomery County officials are moving ahead with plans to build a bus maintenance depot in a fragile watershed despite a report that says nearby streams could suffer if more development is allowed.

Montgomery's General Services Department recently outlined a proposal for an $85 million depot on the west side of Interstate 270 near environmentally sensitive Ten Mile Creek. The depot, which would be near the county jail, eventually could house 250 Ride On buses and other heavy equipment.

County planners and officials with the county's environmental agency can review the proposal and offer suggestions, but they have no legal authority over the project. Eventually, it will fall to the County Council to decide on the plan.

The proposal, which has prompted a round of questions from the county's planning agency, brings into sharp relief a challenge often faced by local governments. Officials are striving to be sensitive to environmental concerns, but sometimes that means weighing conflicting goals.

In this case, the county wants to encourage greater use of public transit and needs a place to house its buses. It also wants to protect county waterways.

County Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), chairman of the council's transportation and environment committee, said she hopes that the conflicts can be sorted out.

"It is an unending challenge," she said. "We currently cannot add a bus to our fleet. You need to build up this infrastructure. The only way to get cars off the road and onto alternatives is to provide a place for those alternatives."

Last week, Floreen's committee authorized about $85 million for the project but also agreed with a proposal from the county government to delay completion of construction from 2011 to 2013.

County officials told the committee that more time is needed, citing difficulties acquiring the land and delays in extending sewer and water systems into the area because of the slowdown in residential construction.

David Dise, head of general services, said the depot's eventual design will take environmental concerns into account.

"We are very cognizant of the fact that there have been some environmental challenges of streams in that area. We are planning 100 percent quantity and quality control of runoff," he said.

Residents have long worried about the creek, which meanders through large, undeveloped tracts not far from the highway. They also wonder about the wisdom of locating the bus depot in their still rural midst.

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