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Fierce Fight Over Additional BRT Study In Montgomery County

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An additional seven bus rapid transit routes in Montgomery County were recommended by a transit taskforce.
Adam Fagen: http://www.flickr.com/photos/afagen/4211667595/
An additional seven bus rapid transit routes in Montgomery County were recommended by a transit taskforce.

Montgomery County executive Isiah Leggett wants more money to study a countywide bus rapid transit system. The county council must first approve that, however, and opposition is stiff.

A transit task force report recommended that seven BRT lines be built in the county, and the county executive wants more money to study the impacts of those lines before construction starts.

Councilman George Leventhal thinks more studies aren't necessary, and he said so using the county executive's own words.

"County executive Leggett was quoted on Nov. 12 in the Washington Examiner as saying 'We can't afford it.' That's what he said: we can't afford it. We can't afford the recommendations of the transit task force," Leventhal says. "The very task force that (County Transportation Department) Director (Art) Holmes says we must move ahead with."

Paying for a BRT system will be costly, and the only way discussed so far is an increase in property taxes — a move Leventhal termed "touching the third rail" of county politics. Leventhal says they should just focus on three BRT lines already being planned, believing ridership won't be high enough on the others to make them cost effective.

But councilman Marc Elrich offered a quick rebuke, saying the county initially moved ahead five years ago on a large-scale BRT system because of its lower cost as opposed to rail, and because neighboring Northern Virginia would have no such system.

"So here we are four and a half years later, and Alexandria is working on a BRT system. Fairfax is planning to do it all. And funding mechanisms in place to actually fund things," Elrich says. "And we are quibbling over whether we want to spend a million dollars to do additional studies, some of which are critical to answer questions like 'What is this thing going to actually cost us?'"

A council committee, on which Elrich and Leventhal do not sit, rejected most of the study requests the county executive is seeking, but the full council must still vote on the matter.

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