Earlier this month, Montgomery County leaders released plans to fund transportation over the next two years. There’s $300 million for building new roads, but not enough money to keep BRT moving forward or to increase current bus service.
In 2013, Montgomery County approved a plan for an 81-mile bus rapid transit network. The idea was to alleviate congestion and keep Montgomery economically competitive. The first phase of BRT along Veirs Mill Rd, MD 355, and US 29 would intersect with key master plans like those for White Flint and White Oak while also providing rapid transit along a major east-west connector (Veirs Mill).
By 2040, Montgomery will have 70% more congestion, 40% more jobs and 20% more residents. Better transit, which BRT would achieve, is a way to address this coming challenge.
But recent attempts to actually fund it have met resistance. Many supporters of the system are worried about stalled progress. Now, BRT funding from the state is set to run out, and BRT’s future in Montgomery could be in doubt.
Money that could bring BRT to Montgomery is currently set aside for roads
Every two years the County Executive submits a plan for capital improvements in what’s called the Capital Improvement Plan. The CIP is a budget that encompasses 6 fiscal years and is amended every two. While council staff notes road funding has been down in recent years, it acknowledges that it still dwarfs that of other jurisdictions in the region.
One road in particular stands out as particularly expensive: Montrose Parkway East. With a price tag close to $140 million, Montrose Parkway East is 20 million dollars more expensive than it was two years ago. The project is in the Pike District, an area the county wants to encourage walkability, but building the road would only invite more people to drive.
Montrose Parkway East is an even more questionable use of public funds, considering the county has transit modeshare goals. Development of White Flint is literally dependent on transit, so why are we building a $140 Million road there?
There’s still hope for funding BRT in Montgomery
There are ways to move BRT forward without moving money away from road projects: Council staff has suggested implementing special taxing districts, others have suggested working through existing systems and creating a pilot corridor, while County Executive Ike Leggett proposed creating an independent transit authority to fund it.
But transit advocates can push legislators to stop spending money on road projects, and instead invest that money in things like BRT. It takes a vote of at five council members to approve or modify a proposed improvement plan in the CIP, and six votes to amend a previously approved capital program.
If Montgomery officials are serious about a transit oriented future, they must reallocate funds from projects like Montrose Parkway East and put them toward making BRT a reality.
Montgomery County residents can testify at a public hearing on Feb 11 and contact their lawmakers via the Coalition for Smarter Growth.