The Montgomery County Council may be a long way from making a decision on a potential bus rapid transit system for the county, but residents aren’t wasting any time making their opinions known.
A public hearing on the proposal drew a large crowd of supporters and opponents to the Council Office Building in Rockville on Tuesday evening, including 34 people who signed up to speak.
Another hearing is scheduled for Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
The service would create a system of buses, possibly using travel lanes dedicated for their use, that officials hope will help ease the county’s problems with traffic congestion.
Some speakers Tuesday objected to the idea of lanes used only for the buses.
Rockville resident Steve Miller questioned how much the project would cost, and said while the county should set up an express bus system where it’s appropriate, those services shouldn’t have lanes dedicated just to them.
He also questioned how the county could set up another bus system when its existing system isn’t as efficient as it could be.
“We have a current Ride On system that does not work, so how will a system that will remove lanes of traffic and require convoluted routes help solve our traffic problems?” he asked.
Jeffrey Slavin, mayor of Somerset, a small community of about 400 homes north of Friendship Heights, said while many of his residents support the county’s efforts to help people who rely on transit, they’re also hopeful that the first phase of the project along Wisconsin Avenue will stop at the Bethesda Metro station.
“Please don’t start with our neighborhood,” Slavin said after he testified.
Somerset residents are particularly concerned about what effect losing a lane of traffic for a bus lane would do to traffic on Wisconsin Avenue.
If someone’s commuting from Clarksburg to Friendship Heights, they can get off the transit bus at the Bethesda Metro station and take a local bus, he said.
Supporters of the proposal met outside the council building before the hearing began to talk with reporters.
A system such as the one proposed would let people get out of their cars and onto transit, but dedicated bus lanes are the key to making it work, said Dan Wilhelm, of the Greater Colesville Citizens Association.
David Houck of the Montgomery County chapter of the Sierra Club, said Montgomery County will see tremendous growth in the next 30 to 40 years.
Where new jobs are located largely will be determined by what sorts of transit options are available and where they’re located, he said.
Council members reminded the audience that the project still had a long way to go before anything actually happened.
After a lengthy planning process, the council will ultimately vote on which corridors the system would ultimately use, how much right-of-way space would be needed and where possible stations would go, Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda said.
The council won’t vote on where bus lanes would go or if they’d be solely dedicated for buses, how much right of way would ultimately be needed, or how the program would be paid for, he said.
The lack of a way to pay for the program means it’s even further from reality than people might think, said Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At Large) of Takoma Park.
“It’s hard for us to approve a master plan for something we don’t know how we’ll pay for,” he said.