Only half of the $1 million Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) requested to study bus rapid transit this year will head his way.
Council members on Tuesday supported a committee recommendation to provide the executive $450,000 from the general fund to study BRT in the current fiscal year, plus $50,000 more to hire a manager to oversee the studies.
Critical that Leggett was requesting money ahead of council support for a BRT system, the council’s Transportation Energy Infrastructure and Environment Committee previously recommended the nine-member council provide the executive only a portion of his request.
Leggett asked for money to study six aspects of adding a rapid transit system including: integration of Ride On and Metrobus, pedestrian and bicycle access to stations, signal priority, park and ride, organizational structures, and right of way and operational agreements with the state.
With the planning board working on the highway master plan for the council to consider this fall, only the integration of Ride On and Metrobus and signal priority warranted immediate funding at this point, Deputy Council Staff Director Glenn Orlin advised the committee on Jan. 17. The other studies should wait for the master plan, he advised.
Councilman Craig L. Rice unsuccessfully proposed Tuesday also giving Leggett the $150,000 he requested to study park and ride.
“It kicks the can down the road, because we are going to have this discussion again,” Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said of delaying the study.
Concerned with protecting county dollars already allocated for upcounty park-and-ride projects, Rice proposed giving Leggett his request to avoid creating competing interests.
Fearing the council was being “penny-wise and pound foolish,” Councilman Marc B. Elrich cautioned that attempting to save $500,000 by delaying most of Leggett’s request threatens to inflate the total cost of a BRT system.
Inflationary costs will make the effort Tuesday seem trivial and the $500,000 look like “chump change,” Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park said.
“And yet, now we are quibbling over a half-million dollars to do various studies to make sure that if we launch this we do it right,” Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda said. “I personally don’t get it. I personally believe we ought to give the benefit of the doubt here to the county executive and his people, who said we need to do every one of these studies if we are going to move forward with a rapid transit system.”
On Jan. 17, executive staff said the studies Leggett requested, if started this year, would enable Montgomery to launch a rapid transit system as early as 2020.
“We need to start to do something to implement these particular studies, these particular actions, so that we can go ahead and be ready to implement this system right away,” county transportation director Arthur Holmes said.
Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Tom Street told the council Tuesday that the money would fund overarching studies and provide essential information for conceptual plans that are to follow as the county looks to proceed with the first phase of the Transit Task Force’s May 2012 recommendation to build a 160-mile network of BRT corridors.
But Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park criticized the executive for moving out of order, putting an appropriation request before a council decision to even build a BRT system.
“I’ve got a lot of problems with what the county executive sent over,” she said. “This is the bus before the master plan decision. Next year, maybe, bring this to us.”
Floreen was the lone opposing vote to awarding Leggett half of his request.
The council had previously approved BRT in three corridors: the Corridor Cities Transitway, which connects Shady Grove to Clarksburg; Georgia Avenue from Olney to Glenmont; and Veirs Mill Road, deputy transportation director Al R. Roshdieh said on Jan. 17.
In his current request, the executive is asking for more studies applicable to those corridors, Roshdieh said.