Montgomery councilmember Roger Berliner (District 1) took an important step toward defeating plans for the costly and damaging Midcounty Highway and replacing it with transit.
Berliner, who chairs the council’s Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and the Environment, sent a letter to County Executive Ike Leggett asking him to direct the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT), to study a robust transit alternative to the highway project, dubbed M-83.
MCDOT is nearing the end of an 11-year environmental review of M-83 and its alternatives, and hopes to receive a federal environmental permit later this year. In all that time, the agency has avoided considering a transit alternative, despite repeated requests from the community.
When Montgomery County Council’s transportation committee discussed M-83 during their budget review last month, the committee voted to allocate no future planning funding beyond the highway project’s current environmental review. Berliner made his opinion clear to MCDOT officials then:
It’s been part of my own goal with respect to our county’s approach to transportation to move into a transit first orientation. From my perspective, I want some assurance that we’ve looked at every transit option in this corridor prior to our getting a recommendation with respect to this project.
He joins four other councilmembers, Phil Andrews (District 3), Marc Elrich (at large), George Leventhal (at large), and Hans Riemer (at large) who have called for a transit alternative.
Berliner’s letter urges MCDOT to consider all viable transit options, including combinations of the Corridor Cities Transitway, express bus service on I-270, two-way service on the inner portions of the Brunswick MARC line, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on MD-355, and completion of the Clarksburg Town Center to reduce local trip demand.
One of the options in MCDOT’s road study, Alternative 5, would have added a service lane along MD-355 for cars. Berliner urges MCDOT to study the possibility of transforming that concept into a transitway for BRT. 355 BRT to Clarksburg would provide a straight, rapid transit option for Clarksburg, Germantown, and Gaithersburg commuters to Shady Grove, Rockville, and points south.
Comparative travel times from other BRT systems suggest a 25 minute ride from Clarksburg to Shady Grove Metro, including wait times, which is comparable or better than driving, depending on traffic.
According to MCDOT head Art Holmes, the County Executive “is not in favor of moving M-83 forward into construction,” but Leggett hasn’t yet made clear to the public or his agency what he plans to do instead to improve transportation for gridlocked upcounty communities.
The question remains whether Leggett will stand up to his own agency, which has a reputation for favoring roads over transit, and demand they take a serious look at transit alternatives.