The Montgomery County Council launched dialogue Tuesday on a proposal that members acknowledged will likely dominate its future: rapid transit.
"Make no mistake about it, this will be the most important conversation we will be having," said Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda.
Among a broader transit discussion, the county's Transit Task Force presented the council with its recommendation to build a roughly $1.8 billion, 160-mile network of bus rapid transit or rapid transit vehicle corridors.
Councilman Marc B. Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park, who got the BRT ball rolling in Montgomery and served on the task force, said the system has the potential to extend the life of existing road infrastructure as well as provide a transit option for east-west connectivity.
The system's ability to connect residents from across the county to their jobs is why it includes lines in areas without the intense economic development planned for White Flint, Germantown and the Great Seneca Science Corridor—all targeted areas in the plan, he said.
"The value of the network is not just what it does on [Route] 355 directly, but what it does in moving people throughout the county on this network," he said.
When talking about the system, the council should acknowledge the diversity of residents who would use the system, said Council Vice President Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring.
"We will have to get to the people who live there and figure out some way of ensuring that their vision is integrated because they are the users and they are going to be the ones shaping all of this," she said.
Despite a $1.8 billion estimated price tag, the task force recommended the county not rely on requests for federal funding to move the project forward. Instead it presented funding scenarios that included various taxing districts.
But Montgomery should not write off federal funding, Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg cautioned.
Planned to serve areas home to many federal agencies, he said the system would be of interest to the federal government through its role in moving federal employees quickly and smoothly through Montgomery County on their way to work.
There is no extra federal transportation money available and finding even a penny more than existing funding is rare, Councilwoman Nancy M. Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park said. Floreen said she serves on a steering committee for transportation of the National Association of Counties.
There will be no easy way to pay for a BRT system, Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park said.
It is difficult for those living with congested traffic in the Washington, D.C., region to convince the rest of Maryland that its transportation crisis is serious enough to warrant the investment of state dollars, he said. Should it proceed on its own, Montgomery risks impressing upon the rest of the state that the county has endless resources.
A "politically easy," universally popular way of raising billions of dollars to expand transit service does not exist, he said, adding that he would like the council to also explore tolling as a option.
With billions required to meet Montgomery’s current transit goals — which include the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway, two projects already moving forward with the state and federal government — determining which project gets priority also varied among council members.
Leventhal said he would like to see the $1.92 billion, 16.3-mile Purple Line, planned to connect Bethesda to New Carrollton, as top priority.
Councilman Craig L. Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown pushed for the $828 million, 15-mile CCT, planned to connect Shady Grove Metro station in Rockville to Comsat near Clarksburg, to get priority.
It is difficult to get Montgomery residents out of their cars and building anything less than a top-notch system won't get his support for upcounty, he said. The CCT is part of the recommended 160-mile BRT network.
How the proposed dedicated lanes of BRT would affect pedestrians and vehicles turning in and out of streets adjacent to a corridor, as well as how it would impact Metrorail and Ride-On buses are major questions yet to be answered, said Councilman Hans Riemer (D-At large) of Silver Spring.
Riemer suggested the county pilot BRT in a few areas to have a foundation for later expanding the system.
Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring was absent.