Montgomery County is budgeting money for studies and conceptual planning of three bus rapid transit corridors, including one on Rockville Pike and Wisconsin Avenue.
Chuck Lattuca, hired in June to manage development of the system for the county’s Department of Transportation, said those plans will likely take a year to 18 months to complete and require cooperation from the State Highway Administration. The county also hopes to start conceptual planning of routes on Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road.
Lattuca spoke Thursday at a roundtable organized by the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Communities for Transit, two groups lobbying for the 80-mile, 10-corridor rapid transit system recommended in a county highway master plan.
The plan is now before the County Council’s Transportation Committee, which will hold its first of five scheduled worksessions on Monday at 9:30 a.m. The Committee is scheduled to discuss and make recommendations on the 355 corridor on Oct. 21.
Lattuca’s task will be to study and implement a bus rapid transit system based on the Council-approved master plan.
“We’ll probably re-do a lot of the work the Planning Department did, but in a little more detail,” Lattuca said.
DOT will run traffic models and examine whether the recommended road treatments are appropriate. Many in Bethesda and Chevy Chase are concerned about the effect a bus-only lane would have to regular traffic on Rockville Pike.
In many segments of the proposed corridors, including MD 355, the 2040 ridership projections by the Planning Department far surpass the person-throughput of a single general purpose traffic lane, which planners say justifies giving preference to dedicated bus lanes.
Lattuca also said the county is examining policies for allowing Ride On or Metro buses to jump into dedicated lanes in order to speed up the flow of traffic. As for fares, the precise location of stations and the total cost of the project — those details are far off.
The county has not released a price tag for the system proposed in the master plan. A 160-mile network (about double the size of what’s recommended) proposed by a task force came out to about $1.8 billion.
Lattuca said it’s also likely the 10 corridors (or how ever many the Council decides should be in the plan) will be rolled out on an incremental basis.
Planning Board Commissioner Casey Anderson, who supported the system and dedicated lanes during Planning Board deliberations, said bus rapid transit is the best option the county has for keeping up with an expected population boom.
“This may not seem like much of a sale, but you know how Winston Churchill once said, ‘Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others?’ BRT is sort of like that. It’s the worst transportation alternative except for all the others,” Anderson said. “It’s not going to be cheap. It’s not going to be easy. But it’s going to be less expensive and less difficult than all the other things we can do to solve our mobility problems in the next 40 or 50 years.”
Anderson cited the federally funded BRAC intersection improvement projects happening in Bethesda.
“It’s $210 million-plus just to widen four intersections. Once you think about how astronomically expensive it is to widen all the roads or to add road and highway capacity and you compare that against BRT, even if BRT ends up costing $20 million-plus a mile, it still winds up looking extremely cost effective,” Anderson said.
Daily ridership projections by 2040 show between 44,000 and 49,000 riders for a southbound MD 355 system and between 22,000 and 34,000 riders for a northbound MD 355 system, clearly making the White Flint, Bethesda and Chevy Chase section of MD 355 the most traveled of the 10 proposed BRT corridors.
As it stands, the master plan would allow for the two middle lanes of the six-lane Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue from White Flint to Bradley Boulevard to be reserved for rapid transit buses. The dedicated lanes would be moved to the curb from Bradley Boulevard to Friendship Heights and the D.C. line.