Plans for express bus system in the works for eastern Montgomery County

Plans are in the works for bus rapid transit along U.S. 29, but officials say it will be at least five years before construction begins.

About 50 people attended a Coalition for Smarter Growth meeting on Nov. 13 at the White Oak Community Recreation Center to learn about the plans for U.S. 29, which are part of a larger plan to improve accessibility and mobility throughout the county. At the meeting, the group updated residents about the county’s current transit corridors functional master plan.

“It definitely doesn’t happen overnight,” said Larry Cole, transportation planner for the Montgomery County Department of Planning.

Cole said major construction on U.S. 29 won’t begin before important steps are taken, such as public outreach, and enough study in each location where the 60-foot-long buses will run.

The plan is to have public transportation with fewer stops and with its own lane in the highway.

Ten corridors, dedicated express highway lanes that serve to minimize travel time and move more people, are included at the rapid transit corridor map.

A Burtonsville station would serve as terminal for U.S. 29, with bus routes from Burtonsville to the Washington, D.C., line and 11 stations along the way among them: Burtonsville’s Park and Ride; Briggs Chaney’s Park and Ride; White Oak Transit Center; U.S. 29 and Fairland Road; U.S. 29 and Tech Road; Lockwood Drive and Oak Leaf Drive; Route 29 and Hillwood Drive; U.S. 29 and MD 193; U.S 29 and Franklin Street; U.S. 29 and Fenton Street and the Silver Spring Transit Center.

The station in Burtonsville would be at Briggs Chaney Road within walking distance from the Eastern Regional Service Center. “The important thing is that the master plan organizes and sees how all these [stops] work together,” Cole said.

According to Chuck Lattuca, manager for the Rapid Transit System Development, officials are studying the layout of highways, corridor lanes, number of stations, and where each station will be in the corridor.

Lattuca said the costs are still unknown, but the rapid transit will “definitely be a lot less expensive than light rail.”

Out of 81 miles dedicated to buses from the proposed rapid transit system, 70 percent will be in dedicated lanes and “the rest will be in some kind of mix traffic,” Lattuca said.

Mark Winston, a member of the Rapid Transit Task Force, said a lot of work needs to be done before construction begins.

“This functional plan is just the beginning. … This is a project that will benefit the community … as people learn more about this they become more comfortable,” Winston said.

According to Cole, it is important that the community understand the timeline of the bus rapid transit project. He said there will be future opportunities for residents to express their concerns and opinions.

“From our perspective as an organization, U.S. 29 should be a top priority in implementing the county’s bus rapid transit plan. The corridor has some of the highest density tracts in the county, [and] has some of the highest concentrations of poverty,” Kelly Blynn of the Coalition for Smarter Growth wrote in an email to The Gazette.

The Montgomery County Council will meet and possibly vote on the proposed Bus Rapid Transit project on Nov. 26.

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