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Berliner presses for a transit alternative to Montgomery sprawl highway

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 discusses M-83 at the Council's budget hearing.

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.

BRT plan for 355 to Clarksburg. Map from Communities for Transit.

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.

Kelly Blynn is a former DC resident and an advocate for sustainable transportation and equitable development. She is now a graduate student in the Masters in City Planning program at MIT and a co-founding member of the pedestrian advocacy group All Walks DC. 


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He is anti growth due to the fact that he does not care that if reducing lanes on busy roads for street trains knowing that most people that drive will not be convinced into riding brt if they already don't ride the existing buses and trains.

by tim on May 16, 2014 6:20 pm • linkreport

Thinking he's all for dedicated lanes - but not in his district
And it's upsetting that this Council is all for wasting 330+ million on 355 only BRT when I don't think there's the ridership from Clarksburg to justify that, and there's definately the numbers to justify the M83 or similar road alternatives that comes at the same price.
I notice the map doesn't include going in to MCC Rockville Campus. This will leave one person I dearly love who uses the bus without transportation.
If similar numbers of riders were going back and forth from an employment location that were going to MCC Rockville, I think the Rockefeller funded lobbies pushing this 355-only agenda (pushing free spending of other people's tax money) would be supporting buses to continue picking people up on campus rather than making students have to walk an extra mile per day - all assuming they're not disabled.

This is a sad day if this went through approval.

by asffa on May 16, 2014 7:04 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted because this commenter repeatedly uses a false email address in violation of the comment policy.]

by tim on May 16, 2014 7:32 pm • linkreport

from Greater Greater Washington April 2014 " the county's busiest Ride On routes are now in the Upcounty: the 55, which runs along Route 355 between Rockville and Germantown, and the 59, which serves Rockville, Gaithersburg, and Montgomery Village. These routes all carry between 3,000 and 4,000 riders each day; "

Yet the projected numbers given the County for BRT the same routes = 30K a day. I'm super skeptical. 1000% jump? Nah.

by asffa on May 16, 2014 7:55 pm • linkreport

This is really great news. M-83 would do little or nothing for mobility in the upcounty, while costing the county hundreds of millions of dollars and causing a lot of environmental damage. Montgomery County should fulfill its promise of Clarksburg as a transit-oriented community by bringing real transit to Clarksburg.

by Miriam on May 16, 2014 9:30 pm • linkreport

Miriam the BRT is the SAME PRICE
There's plenty of environmental damage planned by BRT.
The plans aren't exclusive to Clarksburg, and if Clarksburg isn't using transit on 355, that's by choice, not lack of availability.

by asffa on May 17, 2014 7:55 am • linkreport

A lot (maybe most) of the 355 northbound bus stops don't have benches or shelters.

Walking and bike riding is complicated on 355 by there being too many driveways that complicate traffic patterns. Alternative 5 plans for M83 involved improving the side access roads to reduce the number of driveways from 62 to 17 along the route (120 mil). splendid, right? Why the opposition?

The Muncaster mill road Alternative 4 would add two lanes& road area friendly for bikes, with a 5.5ft bike lane on each side. costly at 291 mil, still cheaper than 355 only BRT.

by asffa on May 17, 2014 8:31 am • linkreport

Sure, it is election and nervous politicians can be blindfolded to muddle into stuff they don't know anything about. This piece by KB is old news sort of recycled in GGW. TAME, ACT, and CSG are losing big on M-83 and this is just a publicity stunt or last gasp. Master Plan Alignment will be approved and permitted and built. All transit options have been studied and looked at, and the Planning Board has already thrown this fiction out once. Hope these folks find something else to get free money somewhere. Just like Arlington, BRT is not going anywhere in MoCo. Sorry folks!

by Truth about M-83 on May 18, 2014 2:46 am • linkreport

I don't believe that growth can continue horizontally across the landscape. We need to build vertically and fill in spaces in environments such as Bethesda in order to maintain more rural environments such as in northern Montgomery county and the area around Ten Mile Creek. Wider roads generate additional development which generates more traffic, making the roads overcrowded again. We should all know that by now. MC needs to focus on transportation to support its existing urban areas. No more roads to make the developers happier and richer.

by Stephen Taylor on Jun 10, 2014 1:36 pm • linkreport

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