Elrich: Rapid bus system may ease BRAC traffic
Councilman says transportation network could move more new employees than Purple Line
A proposed bus rapid transit system could be a key part of solving future traffic woes after the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center moves to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, according to a county councilman who has been pushing the project in recent months.
Councilman Marc Elrich told a meeting of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board on Monday evening that bus rapid transit (BRT) routes originating in Olney and Germantown and continuing along Connecticut Avenue and Route 355 to downtown Bethesda, respectively, could relieve huge amounts of traffic congestion stemming from the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) project that will relocate the Walter Reed Center in Washington, D.C. to the Navy Med campus by September 2011.
Elrich said although he had not had detailed discussions with Navy Med about the project, he thought the necessary 20 feet of right-of-way could be obtained along the east-side curb along Route 355 at Navy Med.
"BRAC is pretty directly affected," said Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park after the meeting.
According to Elrich, who began publicizing the system last fall, the county's BRT would be a 100-mile network costing $1 billion to $1.5 billion, with large funds possibly contributed by private investors. In addition to the Olney and Germantown BRT lines, service would also extend from Burtonsville along Route 29 to Silver Spring, the proposed Corridor Cities Transitway between Clarksburg and the Shady Grove Metro station, and between Rockville and the Takoma/Langley area.
The BRT lines would feature dedicated lanes in the median or curbside, real-time travel information for customers, and flexible routes, with six to eight minutes between stops at each station.
Elrich said the system could be built in two to three years and hopes to have it running in 2013.He said his proposed system has progressed over the last few months because he now envisions it using more current bus routes than when he first introduced it.
Asked by The Gazette if the Olney and Germantown lines specifically would help move large numbers of BRAC employees, Elrich indicated that generally speaking the system accounted for connecting population centers with employment centers, and that these routes could move more new BRAC employees than the proposed Purple Line light rail project between New Carrollton and Bethesda. BRAC is expected to bring in about 2,500 new jobs to Bethesda.
Advisory Board member Larry Gordon asked if there was "any chance to experiment with this on a smaller scale," such as along Route 355. Elrich said cherry-picking bus routes would seriously detract from the effectiveness of the system. But he admitted that if the system could not be built completely as he has envisioned it, the three most crucial lines were the north-south routes from Burtonsville, Olney and Germantown.
Councilman Roger Berliner said he was generally very supportive of the system but that more council members had to get on board with the idea. The county's fiscal 2010 budget includes money to study the system.
"We need to have this larger conversation that he (Elrich) has keyed up," said Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac. "To get too bogged down in the details of this sort of misses the point."
At the Advisory Board meeting, Elrich said the system was crucial to reducing regional carbon dioxide emissions and would also ultimately help development.
"I don't think anybody thinks we're going to build another road into Bethesda," he said.
Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, however, noted that the general idea for BRT is not new, and that the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority was already looking into similar ideas. She also mentioned cost figures and ridership numbers as potential problems. Floreen is chairwoman of the county's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee.
"I'm a little less certain that this is the end-all to everyone's transportation needs," said Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park.