A Route 29 bus stuck in morning rush hour. Photo by the author.

This week, the Montgomery County Council and County Executive Ike Leggett sent their transportation priority letter to state officials. Topping the list were funding for Metro’s Momentum plan, the Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway, and bus rapid transit, though some road projects remain.

The letter, which will help Maryland decide which projects get state funding, expressed a commitment to investing in alternatives to driving. Also included are WMATA’s Priority Corridors Network, which will add express bus service to popular Metrobus routes, and funds to continue studying Bus Rapid Transit on routes 29 and 355.

It places high importance on funding WMATA’s Momentum plan, which will allow Metro to buy 8-car trains sooner, reduce crowding on the Red Line, and run all trains to Shady Grove and Glenmont during rush hour. Metro asked Maryland, Virginia, and DC for funding this year. Yesterday, the three jurisdictions agreed to a $75 million down payment and to negotiate a multi-year agreement that would cover the plan’s entire cost.

The list still includes some interchanges and road widenings. While an earlier proposal included four interchanges along Route 29, Leggett and the council settled on a compromise of two interchanges, at Tech Road and Fairland Road, and made them a lower priority. At over $100 million each, the two interchanges would equal well over half the cost of Bus Rapid Transit from Burtonsville to Silver Spring.

Studies for BRT on Route 29 will begin this year, giving the council an alternative to building the interchanges. It’s expected that next year’s council will redo the letter, offering another chance to rethink how to address Route 29’s transportation needs.

The discussion at yesterday’s full council session made it clear that most councilmembers agree that we need transit to address congestion by providing alternatives for people who can’t or don’t want to drive.

District councilmembers Roger Berliner (Bethesda), Phil Andrews (Rockville-Gaithersburg), Nancy Navarro (Wheaton), and Cherri Branson (Silver Spring), and at-large councilmembers Hans Riemer and George Leventhal all echoed their support for the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, and the Priority Corridors Network.
At-large councilmember Marc Elrich went further, saying in his ideal world they would build the transit projects first, and then evaluate if the road projects are still necessary.


Existing and projected vehicle miles traveled in Maryland. Image from the State Smart Transportation Initiative.


With annual vehicle miles traveled continuing to fall below projections both nationally and in Maryland, it makes sense to invest in projects that support the demographic shift towards driving less.  This letter shows that Montgomery County is moving in the right direction.