Rapid bus edges light rail in debate

COST Comments: This article confirms again the conclusion which many cities have reached: bus transit is superior to rail transit. Buses are just as fast and often faster, carry just as many people, are far more flexible to support demand changes, are as safe or safer and cost significantly less than trains.

In 2006, The Regional Transportation Commission Chairman in Las Vegas sumarized their evaluation which selected buses over trains: “But we don’t have unlimited funding. And we don’t have the luxury of locking ourselves into a system that does not have flexibility.”

Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Planners say flexibility of CCT options will be key to funding, timing
by Sebastian Montes | Staff Writer

The rapid-bus option for the long-planned Corridor Cities Transitway
is winning favor over light rail as the deadline approaches for deciding
the mode and alignment of the 14-mile project.

Meeting with state transit planners last week, members of the county
Planning Board said that rapid bus, which offers more flexibility in
establishing routes and ancillary service, could be a better choice for
connecting the Shady Grove area and Clarksburg. Having the ability
to manipulate service options could help convince the Federal Transit
Administration to fund the project over a host of others nationwide.
‘‘If it it’s light rail, the flexibility is much reduced,” said board
Chairman Royce Hanson. ‘‘… On the other hand, if it’s bus rapid
transit, you could have your collector bus be the main-line bus once
it hits the guide way. … It could be local for a while and then
become express.”

By having rapid bus, main-line buses could run the circuit while
locally focused lines could circulate around Clarksburg,
Germantown and the Life Sciences Center, he said.

‘‘The other advantage that I see in it is that, from a timing
perspective, we could get something going fairly fast.
And secondly, you can grow the service with the
population,” he said. ‘‘If we go to light rail you’re
really making an upfront investment that …[for] the
first several years of that operation … will probably
be operating at well less than its capacity. ‘‘

Also at issue is whether the first stretch of the CCT,
from the Shady Grove Metro station through the
King Farm area to Metropolitan Grove in Gaithersburg,
would be slightly realigned from its proposed route to
make stops in the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center.

Early projections show that doing so would add 15,000
to 20,000 daily riders, a boost of more than 50 percent
over current projections, according to Rick Kiegel, who
has led the Maryland Transit Administration’s CCT
project team for past five years. But doing so would not
come without a downside.

‘‘We have to recognize that while the potential for additional
ridership is great … there are additional negative aspects that
have to be considered. Primarily is the cost of the additional
alignment length. Secondarily is the travel time associated
with added length of the line,” Kiegel said.

‘‘Any additional travel time for those riders that have got on, say
at Comsat or Germantown, will be a … great negative to the
ridership,” he said.

Kiegel also noted that if state planners determine that changing
the alignment poses a significant environmental impact, it could
delay the timeline by as much as two years. The project could
be within four years of breaking ground, according to state planners.

Getting the realignment is crucial to the long-range plans of
Johns Hopkins University, which envisions a research campus in
and around the Life Sciences Center with more than 10 million
square feet of laboratory and office space, more than 300,000
square feet of retail space and more than 10,000 homes.

The university wants a stop planned at Decoverly Drive to be
moved south, near Medical Center Drive, as well as new stops
at the site of the current county-owned Public Safety Training
Academy and the current Belward farm, the core of its planned
research center, near Muddy Branch and Darnestown roads.

Hopkins representatives have no preference between light rail
and rapid bus, noting that several of the leading research
centers in Asia use various combinations of mass transit.

‘‘Either option would be preferable to single occupancy
automobiles in an era of rising gas costs,” David McDonough,
a senior real estate planner for Hopkins, wrote in an e-mail.

County officials will be able to suggest their preferred mode
and alignment. The decision ultimately will fall to
Gov. Martin O’Malley and Transportation Secretary
John Porcari. A determination is due by spring.

Once the mode and alignment questions are settled, the CCT
will have to compete for federal dollars not only on a national
level, but against two other Metro projects in Maryland: the
Purple Line connecting Bethesda and New Carrollton and
the Red Line extension to Baltimore.

The three projects are at similar points in their planning.

‘‘Those three projects are going to be generally competing for
the same state funds for the state matching portion of the
projects,” Kiegel said. ‘‘… There will be a point where in the
future where we’ll have to evaluate the benefits of the
CCT vs. the Purple Line vs. the Red Line in Baltimore.
Realistically speaking, to have two major transit projects
invested in Montgomery County may not sit well with the rest of
the [state’s] delegations,” Kiegel said.

Jean B. Cryor, a former state delegate who is now a
member of the Planning Board, did not disagree.

‘‘This is important for planning, but also important for the
political will and political skill to pull together the kind of support
that this needs, both on the state level and on the federal level,”
she said. ‘‘… So a lot of people are going to have to give up on
some of the smaller ideas they have on how it should be, where
it should be, what it should be.”

She said that ‘‘to get this thing as a project all the way through,
there has to be real cooperation and real giving in on all sides.”

The CCT is planned in two phases. The first could be under
construction as early as 2012. The second, from Metropolitan
Grove to the Comsat building in Clarksburg, ‘‘would likely
occur … within the next five to 10 years after that,” Kiegel
said. He noted that extending the CCT to Frederick, as has
been discussed, could take another 30 to 50 years.

Copyright © 2008 Post-Newsweek Media, Inc./Gazette.Net

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