Some good news and not–so-good news on the Rapid Transit System

Some good news and not–so-good news on the Rapid Transit System

A revised cost estimate decreases the cost to $1.6 billion for these four Rapid Transit System corridors: – MD 355 North, MD 355 South, US 29, and Veirs Mill Road. That’s about $230 million less than an estimate made two years ago. As always, though, the devil is in the details. The report prepared for the Montgomery County Transit Authority and titled “Review of Transit Finance – Revised 2015 RTS Cost Estimate” describes the reasons behind the cost reduction. The report lists these changes:

 One-lane median guideway on MD 355 North

 Combination of one-lane median guideway and curb lanes on MD 355 South, from I-495 to Bethesda Metro Station

 Mixture of two-lane median guideway and mixed traffic operation on portions of Veirs Mill Road

 MD 355 South corridor ends at Bethesda Metro instead of Friendship Heights

 Total number of buses was reduced from 153 to 88, reflecting initial service frequency

An essential question to answer: Will one-lane guideways and mixed traffic operations provide the fast, dependable service needed to make Rapid Transit a success? Rapid Transit that is neither rapid nor reliable will not work. Another essential question: How much less frequency will there be? If one significantly diminishes frequency, at some point you have an expensive system few will use.

The report also recommends that the Route 355 South corridor will be the second to last of these corridors to be built, not going into operation until FY24 — and that assumes all goes according to plan. The reports suggests the following order for funding and building: The CCT in Gaithersburg, Viers Mill, Route 29, MD 355 South, and finally, Route 355 North. Friends of White Flint has to ask, “How the heck is the most vital part of Montgomery County, the largest transformation of any area of the County, fourth in line?”

According to Bethesda Beat, among the seven potential revenue sources discussed by the task force’s Finance Working Group were a countywide real property tax surcharge, a property tax specific to areas that would benefit from the system and a county gas tax.

In an email to members earlier this month, task force Chairman Mark Winston suggested focusing on four scenarios to fund construction of the system:

 A countywide real property tax of 4 cents from 2017 to 2019 and 6.5 cents in 2020 and thereafter. The funds collected by the tax would be held in a special fund.

 A sales tax, gas tax or other type of excise tax.

 Creating special taxing districts in corridors that have bus rapid transit to impose a real property tax to properties within either a half-mile or quarter-mile of the system.

 A combination of a .5 percent sales tax, a countywide real property tax of 3 cents and a countywide excise tax

Stay tuned for more about the Rapid Transit System and updates from the Transit Task Force.


Amy Ginsburg


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