A new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system — the first in the state of Maryland — could bring some much-needed congestion relief to Route 29, and begin serving Montgomery and Howard counties by 2020.

In November, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett announced a naming contest to brand the new service, with prizes to be awarded via random drawings.

The public will be asked to select from among three possible names: Flash, Rapid or Swift. Voting takes place through Jan. 20, either online at GetOnBoardBRT.com or by texting MOCOBRT to 77453 and following instructional prompts.

“The future economic vitality of our county depends on increased transportation investment to accommodate more residents and encourage job growth,” said Leggett, who recommended $6.5 million in his capital budget plan this year to plan and design the BRT system.

“[This service] expands the capacity of one of the main arteries in one of the country’s busiest corridors for commuter travel, where the sheer number of vehicles on the road can have a dramatic effect on trip times,” said Sen. Ben Cardin. “It also improves the economic development potential for several localities along the Route 29 corridor, better positioning Maryland communities to attract public and private investment.”

Priority Project

Montgomery County’s federal delegation worked to secure a $10 million TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant to design and implement BRT on Route 29. Working in concert, Howard County secured an additional $2 million in funding from the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) for BRT planning efforts.

Montgomery County is currently holding discussions with Howard County to make the first BRT line in the network along this corridor a bi-county service.

“Local jurisdictions can’t solve transportation issues alone,” said Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman. “Solutions require regional cooperation.”

He noted that more than 13,000 Howard County residents drive daily along this corridor to access jobs in Washington, D.C., with an unknown number of drivers taking alternate routes to avoid rush hour congestion.

“That number will surely grow,” Kittleman said. “Building more roads will not solve our transportation problem and isn’t financially viable, which is why projects such as the BRT must be a priority.”

Commuter Amenities

BRT is planned as a network of buses that will eventually include routes along Route 355 and Viers Mill Road, generally in dedicated lanes.

According to information provided by Montgomery County, each high-capacity articulated bus could potentially take as many as 90 cars off the road, making fewer stops than traditional bus lines and offering an environmentally friendly choice that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is an innovative way to get cars off the road and make our transportation network safer and more efficient,” said Montgomery County Department of Transportation Director Al Roshdieh. “It will provide a comfortable, train-like ride, and it will have Wi-Fi and power outlets to help people get a jump on their day. Riders will pay fares in advance at comfortable stations to make boarding quick and easy.”

Tina Slater, a community transit advocate, said the built-out BRT system would cover more than 100 miles.

“We have 1 million people in [Montgomery] County, with more than 10% of our population living within half-a-mile of the Route 29 Corridor, making it a very reasonable walkshed to transit,” she said. “[BRT] will connect riders to high density housing and employment centers and connect them to other transit options like the Red Line Metrorail, the MARC Commuter Rail, various buses into D.C. and the future Light Rail Purple Line.”

Economic Magnet

Leggett is wagering that the BRT could help to attract economic development to the region it serves, and particularly eastern Montgomery County, which lags behind other areas of the county.

“It starts with our ability to enhance the quality of life,” he said.

John DeWolf, senior vice president of the Howard Hughes Corp. (HHC), in Columbia, called the BRT “the missing piece in our ability to talk about mass transit” when marketing to business employment centers.

Connectivity between HHC, the primary developer in downtown Columbia, and Percontee, which is developing a life sciences research center in White Oak, could provide economic benefits to the entire region, he said.

“There’s going to be a great synergy to that, and it’s going to cause a lot of private development and private enterprise to focus on this corridor,” DeWolf said. “What I’d like to suggest, it ought to be a contest between all the private developers to get involved in [BRT].”

“We know from transit planning research that, if we provide reliable and frequent bus service on Route 29, ridership will increase significantly,” said Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer. “I’m ready to support the infrastructure upgrades that may be necessary to provide a higher level of service. Let’s get this moving now.”