Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Maryland county seeks second light rail line

Written by 

A majority of Montgomery County Council officials in Maryland Tuesday endorsed a second light rail transit proposal for the Corridor Cities Transitway from Shady Grove to Clarksburg, opting for LRT over a Bus Rapid Transit alternative.

The LRT plan is part of a transportation package to improve transport flow along I-270 in the county, which lies northwest of Washington, D.C. It includes widening the Interstate north of Route 124 from its current three-lane capacity in each direction.

Still unclear is what Maryland state officials will do to support or thwart the county’s endorsement of LRT.  The LRT component of the the Corridor Cities Transitway would have to compete for federal funding with two other proposals: the Metrorail Purple Line, linking Bethesda and New Carrollton, in neighboring Prince George's County, in a circumferential route connecting with Washington’s Metro rapid rail system, and the Baltimore east-west Red Line.

The council’s support of LRT put it in synch with other local officials, including County Executive Isiah Leggett, and also with many local business leaders, who see more potential from economic developmentthrough an LRT alternative.

Still, the council’s support for LRT may be lukewarm; several supporters of light rail on the council said Tuesday that if state officials chose bus rapid transit for the Corridor Cities Transitway, they would not vigorously protest.

Grassroots support for LRT may be a decisive factor; council staff had recommended BRT as “cheaper” (a point contested by numerous LRT advocates nationwide), but some council members said they feared a political uproar in northern Montgomery if they backed bus over rail.

"I have not had a lot of conversation with folks who want to get on a bus, no matter what you call it, whether it is a pretty bus or not," said one member, Michael Knapp. He said his constituents expect light rail.