Transportation Advocates Seek Creativity from MoCo Leaders to Save Bus Project

    A leading transportation advocacy group in the Washington, D.C., suburbs is calling on Montgomery County elected officials to show “creativity and problem-solving, not defeatism” to ensure that a major transit project goes forward without additional state funding.

    In a letter late last week to County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D), County Council members and members of the county’s state legislative delegation, leaders of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance urge them to save the proposed Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT), a 16-mile rapid bus lane that would extend from the Shady Grove Metro station to Clarksburg.

    While the Maryland Department of Transportation had already signaled it was transferring responsibility for the $800 million project to the county following a $38 million investment, the reality of this move became apparent to county officials last week, when a budget document confirmed that there would be no more state funding. Some county officials suggested that the state’s decision effectively kills the CCT.

    But in their letter to Montgomery politicians, Emmet Tydings, the chairman of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance, and Jennifer Russel, the group’s vice chairwoman, reject that characterization.

    “How many times have we heard that about other priority projects, the Purple Line, the ICC, etc. that were pronounced ‘dead’ multiple times?” they wrote. “The continued lack of state funding is a hurdle, yes. So now is the time for creativity and problem-solving, not defeatism. Too much is riding on this in terms of supporting future job growth in the heart of Montgomery County’s (and Maryland’s) leading bio-science corridor.”

    The transportation advocates suggest two possible paths forward:

    “The easier and more direct path is for the County to continue to refine and move forward on the current BRT design from Shady Grove to Clarksburg, and work with the State and others in the private sector to identify a revenue stream to fund final design, construction and future operating costs (over and above what comes in from the fare-box receipts),” they wrote. “Part of this funding may come from the 10% set-aside from future toll revenues on the I-270 managed lanes program that will be dedicated to Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties for local transit. Some funding may also be realized by tapping the future development around the station areas through a P3 like the Purple Line is using.

    “Another option is for the County to work with the team that is proposing monorail service from Shady Grove to Frederick and see if they would be interested in exploring a new mode along the current CCT alignment to demonstrate the potential of elevated monorail in Montgomery County. The disadvantage is that further studies and design work are required and this means added cost and delay. The upside is that some of the toughest right-of-way issues in the current plan could be avoided and traffic conflicts with existing intersections solved with an elevated system that has practically no environmental impacts and a much smaller footprint. Part of the funding for the monorail could also come from the 10% set-aside of future toll revenues from the I-270 managed lanes program, in addition to the private investors that monorail proponents say they have already identified. Whether this is a viable option is not yet known, but it is worth a look.

    “Either way,” Tydings and Russel conclude, “we need Montgomery County and State leaders to come up with a more creative way to fund the CCT because relying on traditional sources of funds is not an option (the funds simply aren’t there).”

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    Josh Kurtz
    Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.