Photo by express000 on Flickr.

The Corridor Cities Transitway once promised a rapid transit ride north of Shady Grove, but Johns Hopkins University and other Montgomery County developers want to delete the “rapid.” That’s because development in the area is tied to the transitway.  The cheaper the transitway can get, the sooner their plans can move forward.

Six weeks ago, following intense lobbying by real estate interests, the Montgomery County Council voted to build the Corridor Cities Transitway, a proposed transit line extending north of Shady Grove as “bus rapid transit” rather than light rail.

The decision rested on an analysis that assumed that a BRT line, like light rail, “would operate entirely on exclusive guideway; two curbed travel lanes separated from general purpose traffic, pedestrians and bicycles.”

But the developers were already preparing to renege on this promise. 

Even before the vote, they had hired transportation consultants to study how to build the transitway on the cheap.  Within days of the council vote, the developers pulled the plan out of their back pockets and began lobbying county and state officials for it.

The public has not been allowed to see the developers’ plan. But reports are that it would delete overpasses from the transitway.  Buses would get their own lanes only where the price is low.  At intersections — the places where congestion is worst — the “rapid” buses would have to travel in regular traffic lanes.

Why would anyone want to spend tens of millions of dollars to build bus lanes where they won’t do much good?  The reason is that sprawl development in “Science City,” on the west side of Gaithersburg, can’t move forward until the CCT, or at least some version of the CCT, gets built. Johns Hopkins is the biggest landowner in the area.

Under a Master Plan approved in 2010, there can be no more development in Science City until certain requirements are fulfilled. The key hurdle is a requirement to “fully fund construction of the CCT from the Shady Grove Metro station to Metropolitan Grove within the first six years of the county’s CIP or the state CIP.” A transitway with overpasses left out wouldn’t seem to be “fully funded,” but Hopkins and its allies may have enough political pull to convince the county that it is.

Sometime in the future, after the dumbed-down transitway is built, the missing bridges could show up.  But there’s little chance of that happening if Hopkins can get a go-ahead for its real estate schemes.  The developers are the main force pushing this transitway forward, and they are sure to lose interest once they have their approvals.

Meanwhile, the county Bus Rapid Transit task force has found itself in a pickle.  Unless it abandons its commitment to “gold standard” BRT, it has discovered, it must choose between taking lanes away from cars and road widenings that would involve wholesale demolition of homes and churches.  If Hopkins gets away with its bait-and-switch on the Corridor Cities Transitway, we can expect bus projects to suffer the same fate in the rest of the county.