A mass transit alternative to congested roads throughout Montgomery County will be built, officials said Tuesday.
Exactly how, when, where and for how much are unclear.
Four years ago, County Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At Large) of Takoma Park envisioned a 120-mile bus rapid transit system that would put the brakes on Montgomery’s gridlock by getting commuters out of their cars and into a public transportation system.
“I continue to believe that it is the most practical, efficient and cost-effective way to develop a world-class transit system to deal with the challenges of mounting congestion and declining mobility,” he said in a statement. “Unless we address these challenges, economic development projects that are critical to our county's future will be stalled and our residents will experience worsening gridlock as well as more environmental degradation.”
Refined during the past 15 months by the Transit Task Force — appointed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) to study the problem and recommend a solution — Elrich’s vision has been expanded to a 160-mile rapid transit network that officials touted as the future of transportation in Montgomery.
“The question for us is not whether or not we will address it this way, for me, that conclusion has already been made, we will in fact do this,” Leggett said. “The challenge for us is the [time it takes] to do it, the challenge for us is the priority of how we go about making that happen, and the third part of that is how we finance it.”
The task force’s recommendation presented to Leggett on Tuesday was the blueprint for how the county will act, he said.
“We cannot afford to not do this,” he said.
Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) said the system can be built.
“The bottom line is this, we do not have to wring our hands any more about being No. 1 in congestion,” he said. “We control our destiny here, ladies and gentleman; this is doable for us but it will require some boldness; it will require some sacrifice; it will require concerted action with our state colleagues because there it is a lot of state roads that are involved in it and the end result can be the best rapid transit system in the United States and arguably in the world.”
The report from Montgomery’s Transit Task Force calls for a system to be built in three phases, starting in the highest economic development priority areas and being completed in as few as nine years or as many as 20 years.
Included in the system is the Corridor Cities Transitway, a 15-mile connection from the Shady Grove Metro station in Rockville to COMSAT near Clarksburg that earlier this month received support from Gov. Martin O’Malley for bus rapid transit.
The task force estimates the capital cost of the total system to be $1.8 billion in today’s dollars. An October 2011 report by Parsons Brinckerhoff concluded the average annual operating cost of a 148.3-mile, 16-corridor system would be $1.1 million per mile.
The task force recommended that the capital costs of the system be funded primarily by debt and that the debt service be paid by a combination of state and local revenue sources. In a list of 10 possible funding scenarios, each included having commercial and/or residential properties within a special taxing districts surrounding the corridors primarily shoulder the local portion.
Making an economic case for the system, Johns Hopkins Senior Director of Development Oversight David McDonough said in the next 20 years, the Washington, D.C., region is projected to grow by about 1 million jobs, of which Montgomery County is expected to receive 160,000. Of those jobs, 80,000 are expected in the four major areas where the task force has suggested the county build the system.
The targeted corridors include White Flint, Germantown, Shady Grove and Great Seneca.
However, between fiscal 2010 and 2011, the county experienced a 33 percent decrease in new construction, and in the past decade lost 6,000 jobs while neighboring Fairfax County, Va., gained 36,000 jobs, according to the report.
Economic growth will occur in the region during the next 20 years, McDonough said.
“The only question we have is whether or not Montgomery County will see this projected growth and its projected economic health and quality of life [or if it will go] to their dear friends in Northern Virginia and the surrounding counties,” he said.