New Maryland Bus System Proposed

With new sleek, light-rail buses, lawmakers are hoping that Maryland motorists will ditch their car keys for bus passes, leading to less traffic congestion in the long run.

The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is a proposed project to make a light-rail bus system on streets across Montgomery County. If approved, building for the $3 billion dollar project would not start until at least 2020.

BRT is a cheaper alternative to heavy-rail, which is transportation like the Metro. Since traffic congestion is projected to increase by 70 percent by 2040, transit officials feel steps need to be taken to reduce the number of cars on roads BRT is viewed as a step in that direction.

“If you traveled [about seven miles from] Wheaton to Rockville a�� you’re going to make that trip in somewhere around 18 to 20 minutes and you’re going to travel around 20 mph. Fast-forward 20 years when traffic goes up because of all the growth and you will see that traffic is crawling because there’s more volume on the streets,” project worker Subrat Mahapatra said. He specializes in the traffic and transit side of the system.

The system could reserve some lanes as BRT exclusive. But in many places, the wide median between lanes could be used as a BRT lane, and since the medians are owned by the state, no extra money would need to be paid to acquire that land.

“So now you would have a choice as a user: do I want to sit in traffic with all these failing intersections or do I want to relax in an express bus which goes at a much faster speed and gets me from point A to point B?” Mahapatra said.

Without the BRT alternative, it would take a projected 35 minutes to travel from Rockville to Wheaton in 2040. Planners are assuming that once people see a faster express bus zipping through traffic, an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 will abandon their cars and switch to public transit, leading to more cars off the road.

Some RHS students view the BRT as a welcome alternative. “Who wants to waste all that time driving in horrible traffic when you could use the BRT?” junior Nancy Cedillo said.

Carmeletta Harris, a project manager for the MD-97 road, explained that pedestrian and bicyclist safety is probably one of the biggest concerns among constituents with regard to implementing the BRT.

“If the BRT runs down the median, there would be a reduction of intersections because you can’t have vehicles just crossing. So all of the pedestrian movements would be centered at the key intersections and there would be a lot of crosswalks and other safety devices to make those intersections much more safe,” Maryland Transit Administration official Rick Kiegel said. Kiegel is a project manager for the transit component of the project.

Freshman John Tantardini was struck by a car on Veirs Mill Road Aug. 22. Since Veirs Mill Road is regularly congested, BRT would be built on the road to connect the Rockville and Wheaton Metrorail stations. Proposed construction will not ignore the importance of maintaining pedestrian safety on the road, especially for teenage students.

From an environmental perspective, BRT will be welcome. If the system succeeds in drawing motorists away from cars and towards public transportation, fewer cars on the road will lead to reduced carbon emissions.

Since the project is in its early stages and is several years away from actually being developed, funding has not yet been actively pursued.

“This is a county project – although the State Highway Administration and Maryland Transit Administration are studying it on behalf of the county – so the county will have to find the funding to move forward with the project,” Kiegel said.