By Kevin O’Rourke
Montgomery County has published a long-term plan for the Countywide Transit Corridor, that could, if implemented, fundamentally change the way Germantown residents commute to work, at least that is what the county hopes.
In late July the county made the approved and adopted version of The Countywide Transit Corridor master plan available to the public on its website.
The master plan, which was first introduced in December 2013, includes recommendations for a bus rapid transit (BRT) network throughout Montgomery County that will improve accessibility and mobility on county roads. The 102-mile BRT network would comprise 10 corridors and the TransCorridor Cities Transitway, which was proposed by the State of Maryland, and expand the right-of-way for the CSX Metropolitan Branch to allow for enhanced MARC commuter rail service. It also designates 24 additional Bicycle–Pedestrian Priority Areas–throughout the county.
It is important to realize that this is the county’s master plan, which still has numerous and varied hurdles to get over prior to becoming a reality.The entire plan can be found on the Montgomery County's Planning
The BTR Network in Germantown
In Germantown, the plan calls for major changes to the Frederick Road/MD-355 corridor from Shakespeare Boulevard through Gaithersburg to the Rockville Metro stop. The changes would include the possibility of widening MD-355 to accommodate a dedicated bus-only lane or lanes, with stand-alone stations similar to current Metro stations.
There will be two major arteries in Germantown. One is planned to run down Shakespeare Boulevard to the Shops at Seneca Meadows, where the Wegmans is located. The second will run down Middlebrook Road past the new Holy Cross Germantown Hospital, scheduled to open in October, and Montgomery College in Germantown and up to the Shops at Seneca Meadows. Both arteries would see dedicated bus-only lanes.
The arteries may require existing roads to be widened and in some cases, new roads to be created. One will run from MD-355 to Observation Drive along Shakespeare Boulevard near the Milestone Shopping Center. Germantown artery two will included dedicated bus-only lanes running from MD-355 down Middlebrook Road to the new road at Observation Drive, near the new Holy Cross Germantown Hospital. The BRT lanes will connect from Observation Drive to Goldenrod Lane and then run down Seneca Meadows Parkway.
The area of MD-355 from Shakespeare Boulevard north to Redgrave Place in Clarksburg is designated as a “mixed traffic” area meaning the BRT will continue but without the benefit of designated bus-only lanes.
According to the plan, “MD-355 North is an activity center corridor planned for a high level of development that will support all day travel throughout the corridor. The corridor has several major existing and planned activity nodes, including Rockville and Gaithersburg. It is also characterized by heavy congestion and high transit ridership potential.”
The plan calls for eight BRT “station locations” in Germantown. Most BTR stations would be be along MD-355 at Middlebrook Road, Germantown Road (MD 118), Shakespeare Boulevard, and Ridge Road. Additional stations along the Germantown arteries of the BRT will include Holy Cross Germantown Hospital, Montgomery College Germantown Campus, Seneca Meadows Corporate Park, and the Shops at Seneca Meadows.
MARC Brunswick Line Expansion
An important part of the Countywide Transit Corridor master plan is the expansion of the MARC commuter railroad service in Montgomery County. The plan recommends that a third track be constructed on the Brunswick Line between the Frederick County line and the Metropolitan Grove station to reduce conflicts with freight service and enable the expansion of MARC service. This additional capacity would triple the number of riders, as well as add more frequent service, all-day service, and weekend service. The plan would also include installing MARC stations at Shady Grove and White Flint for easy access to Metro lines.
To make this expansion possible the master plan calls for a 25-foot expansion of the railroad right-of-way along the current MARC tracks.
“This MARC expansion to full-time service will improve east-west connectivity across the county, connecting with the rest of the transit network and increasing its utility for county residents and commuters,” according to the master plan.
Currently the MARC Brunswick Line serves 7,000 daily passengers at 11 stations in Montgomery County while connecting West Virginia and Frederick County with Washington, DC, according to the master plan. The Brunswick Line also connects to five of the transit corridors recommended in the plan—MD 355, Veirs Mill Road, Randolph Road, Georgia Avenue, and US29/Colesville Road—as well as to the Corridor Cities Transitway, PurpleLine, and Metrorail Red Line.”
However, the MARC Growth and Investment Plan published in October 2013 does not include plans for a third track anywhere north of the Rockville area. At the time, GreaterGreaterWashington.org, a planning watchdog organization, said MARC’s lack of plans for a third track in Upper Montgomery County “reduces the chance that there will ever be all-day, two-way service. CSX owns the tracks that MARC trains use, and the agency will not allow MARC to run more service if there isn't a third track. If MARC doesn't say where they plan to put a third track, Montgomery County can't reserve the right-of-way for it, making it harder to build the third track later.”
The Corridor Cities Transitway
Another portion of the master plan includes the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT), which the State of Maryland first proposed in 2012. The transitway is a 15-mile BRT line that would run from Shady Grove Metro Station in Gaithersburg to Clarksburg, along a route that would run parallel to the MD-355 Corridor BRT network.
In 2013, the plans for the CCT were scaled back and broken into two phases. Phase I, which consists of the first nine miles of the route which will run from Shady Grove Metro southwest through central Gaithersburg to the new Crown development near the Rio at Washingtonian, then along Great Seneca Highway to the Kentlands, and to Quince Orchard Road to NIST and up to the Metropolitan Grove Metro Station just off Clopper Road.
According to The Maryland Transit Administration website, “The transitway would primarily be surface running with grade-separated crossings of selected roadways at busy intersections as well as over the CSX railroad near Metropolitan Grove. Bus service on the CCT will be provided with two distinct bus routes. The CCT Direct Service route will operate between the Shady Grove and Metropolitan Grove stations of the CCT, stopping at every station along the transitway. It will operate on an exclusive, dedicated transitway. The estimated cost to construct the CCT is $545 Million (in 2012 dollars).”
Construction on Phase I is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2018 and service is expected to begin in 2020.
Phase II of the CCT which would extend the BRT north through Germantown to the COMSAT property in Clarksburg has been not been funded. Click here for a full map of Phase I and II of the project.
In a July 27, 2013 Washington Post article, Rick Kiegel, the project manager for the Maryland Transit Administration said, “We’re not abandoning the northern portion. We’re just advancing the project in phases to give that northern portion a chance to develop.” Kiegel also said there is no funding or schedule for work on the Germantown-Clarksburg segment to resume. However, he said, the entire 15-mile route will remain in long-term growth plans to ensure the right of way is preserved. If it is funded, Phase II is estimated to cost $300 million.
According to the master plan, the county needs for an “expand transit infrastructure through more efficient use of public rights-of-way is essential if current and future congestion is to be mitigated.”
The plan states that “forecasts show that roadway congestion in the county is predicted to increase by 70 percent by 2040. While population and employment opportunities are forecasted to grow significantly over time, options for building new roads or expanding existing ones are limited given their impact on existing neighborhoods and businesses.”
For more reading on the BRT concept please go to the Maryland Department of Transporation website.
Caption: A example of a BRT network with a dedicated bus lane from the Maryland Department of Transportation website.