Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Retailers say Transitway delay is bad for business

Project not scheduled to begin construction until 2012

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It was not the news upcounty businesses had hoped to hear.

Rick Kiegel, a project manager for the Maryland Transit Administration, told members of the Clarksburg Chamber of Commerce last month that a transit route connecting Rockville and Clarksburg is still years away.

‘‘My objective of going to the meeting was to give them an update and a better sense of when they could expect it so they weren’t putting their hopes in something that won’t be there tomorrow,” he said.

Construction of the Corridor Cities Transitway is not slated to begin until spring 2012, Kiegel said.

Members of the Clarksburg Chamber of Commerce are concerned that waiting that long will harm their businesses.

Pat Darby, president of the chamber, said members want construction to begin sooner.

‘‘Our mission is to find a way, with the other chambers and civic associations, to find a creative solution to either get it here sooner or determine the best alternative mode of transportation,” Darby said. ‘‘The important thing now is getting the dialogue going.”

The Corridor Cities Transitway is a 13.5-mile rapid bus or light rail route that will connect Clarksburg to the Shady Grove Metro Station in Rockville.

Kiegel said a lot of factors would go into the approval of the Corridor Cities Transitway.

‘‘My reaction is for them to recognize that the development of the Comsat area is not at a point where it can support transit,” he said. ‘‘Clarksburg Town Center is fairly well developed there, but the density is not at the magnitude to support transit.”

The state has not decided whether the transitway will be bus or light rail.

The light rail option would cost $865 million to build, while a rapid bus option would cost $539.4 million. Ridership numbers projected for 2030 are projected at 16,000 to 20,000 daily for light rail and 15,000 to 19,000 for rapid bus.

Rapid bus is cheaper to construct and can be built faster than light rail, but it will cost more to operate, Kiegel said.

He said he favors the rapid bus option because it might be constructed sooner than light rail.

Kathie Hulley, president of the Clarksburg Civic Association, said she is also concerned that the construction of the Corridor Cities Transitway is taking too long because builders are continuing to construct homes in Clarksburg.

‘‘It is disgraceful they are allowing the building without sufficient infrastructure,” Hulley said. ‘‘It is getting quite ridiculous. We can’t say too strongly that the [Corridor Cities Transitway] is the most important transportation item in Clarksburg. People are moving in assuming it is going to be there before 2012.”

The Corridor Cities Transitway is the cornerstone for future investment in Clarksburg, said Gordon Taylor, owner of Upcounty Fine Wine & Beer in the Highlands of Clarksburg shopping center. He thinks it will attract additional retail and more office jobs.

Taylor said he favors the light rail option.

‘‘Rail makes a statement about investment and commitment to an area,” he said.

Paul Majewski, former president of the Clarksburg Civic Association, has been following the progress of the Corridor Cities Transitway for 10 years. He said he understands that it is taking a while to plan the transitway because everyone wants to make sure it is done correctly.

‘‘It makes sense that it is a slow-delivered thing,” Majewski said. ‘‘It is not something you want to build and then realize you don’t need it. I’m sure a lot of people in Clarksburg were expecting it sooner. It is good for the environment.”

He said it is important to keep the options open, but he now supports rapid bus. Majewski asked Kiegel at last month’s meeting if it were possible to have two different bus routes from Clarksburg to Shady Grove — one that makes many stops and one that makes fewer stops in order to get to Shady Grove sooner.

Kiegel said that could be a consideration, but it is not yet time to examine that possibility.

Environmental documents for the transitway will be completed in June, Kiegel said. The secretary of state and the governor will then determine the locally preferred alternatives.

The transitway will be submitted to the Federal Transit Administration for approval.