Montgomery County Planning Board Briefed on Corridor Forward: I-270 Transit Plan Phase One at December 3 Meeting

December 3, 2020

banner corridor forward
Planning Board provided feedback on transit alternatives and outreach efforts

WHEATON, MD – The Montgomery County Planning Board, part of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), was briefed on Phase One of the Corridor Forward: I-270 Transit Plan at their December 3 virtual meeting. The purpose of the briefing was for planners to provide the Planning Board Members with an update on the progress of the plan since the approval of the Scope of Work on April 30, 2020. The plan seeks to produce a prioritized list of transit options to improve accessibility along the I-270 corridor between Frederick, MD and points south in Tysons, VA and Washington, DC.

The December 3 briefing focused on the following:

  • Overview of transit vehicle attributes or mode
  • Conceptual transit alternatives that will be refined during a future pre-screening process, which will identify six ultimate alternatives to advance for robust scenario planning;
  • Initial information on pre-screening and refinement;
  • Outreach efforts since April and future outreach opportunities.

Read the staff memo and watch the meeting on demand when it is available.

“This plan is an integral part of our efforts to strengthen our county’s economic competitiveness, improve environmental resilience and make our community more equitable,” said Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson on the need to continue to plan for transit while we are still in the midst of a pandemic. “Even though transit ridership might be low now, planning for the future where we are less reliant on single occupancy vehicles is vital to our success.”

Since the Scope of Work was approved in April, planners have been engaging the communities along the I-270 corridor while social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Montgomery Planning hosted a virtual public meeting and invited residents to take its Transit Values Questionnaire as well as developed five brief videos to introduce the project and educate the public about transit planning. Planners have also been working with other county and other state agencies as well as regional stakeholders to understand how transit can best support the corridor.

About the Corridor Forward Plan and Next Steps

The Corridor Forward Plan will produce a prioritized list of transit options and an implementation plan detailing the milestones and resources necessary for Montgomery County to provide transit to residents and workers within communities along the I-270 corridor. The plan process includes a phased approach with opportunities for public input. First, Montgomery Planning and its consultant team will analyze the costs and benefits of potential transit options for the I-270 corridor. With the community’s input, Montgomery Planning will then prioritize transit options based not only on ridership and travel times, but also on the county’s strategic, economic, environmental and equity values. Then, Montgomery Planning will identify the major steps needed for the county to realize the highest-priority project(s) when funding is available.  Without a clear understanding of corridor transit priorities, funding resources could be spread thinly across multiple projects, making it more difficult to advance any single option.

To create the plan, Montgomery Planning will work with state and county agencies, neighboring jurisdictions, County municipalities, advocacy groups, and community members as we develop transit options and an evaluation methodology. Montgomery Planning will engage community members about their needs and values related to transit.

What options are being evaluated?

Public transportation — or transit — includes all publicly accessible transportation services that move people in shared vehicles from one place to another. Transit vehicle types, often referred to as “modes,” differ in many ways: the size and capacity of the transit vehicle, the speed of the transit vehicle, the distance between transit stops, whether the transit vehicle operates in the street or in its own right-of-way, and whether fares are paid before boarding or when boarding the vehicle.

Many transit options are being explored, including options originating from Montgomery County Council-approved plans, options considered in ongoing work by the State, and options that have been widely and successfully implemented in transit systems across the nation. These include:

  • Transit service along I-270, including express bus, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), rail and monorail;
  • Transit service from Bethesda to Tysons, including a potential extension of the Purple Line, the North Bethesda Transitway, and/or other BRT alignments;
  • Transit service serving the Corridor Cities Transitway communities;
  • Enhanced transit service along the existing MARC rail line; and
  • Extending WMATA’s Red Line to Gaithersburg or Germantown.

Montgomery Planning has used these options to create 13 different transit concepts, presented to the Planning Board during the December 3 briefing. Six transit concepts will advance to a scenario planning exercise, which will explore how each option supports mobility within the region as well as the county’s economic, environmental, and equity values.

This project will inform decisionmakers about which corridor transit projects best advance these values.

Will anyone ride transit after COVID-19?

Many essential workers and service sector employees rely on transit to get to and from work. Some County residents also lack vehicles and need accessible transit to fulfill personal needs such as grocery shopping and child-care related travel. Failure to improve transit accessibility along the I-270 corridor will only heighten inequities in the county and reduce our economic competitiveness.

Through the Corridor Forward Plan process, Montgomery Planning will present near- and long-term transit strategies for the I-270 Corridor. While the pandemic will undoubtedly impact our county’s near-term future, planners hope for and expect future health and safety advancements to ensure that transit is an appealing option for all.

Is the Corridor Forward Plan part of the Managed Lanes project?

Corridor Forward is not part of and is not proposing an alternative to the State of Maryland’s I-495 and I-270 Managed Lanes projects. If these projects are constructed, they should generate toll revenue that could support regional transit projects by providing a direct subsidy to the impacted jurisdictions or through an agreement on projects to construct.

The Corridor Forward Plan recommendations will likely be complete prior to the construction of the State’s toll lanes and may inform conversations about how future revenue generated by the Managed Lanes project could potentially be directed. As directed by the Board of Public Works. The State intends to negotiate tolling revenue shares with impacted jurisdictions, including Montgomery County. These negotiations could end with agreements to construct transit facilities or to provide jurisdictions with lump sum payments. The plan will not compare the potential of transit against the State’s highway projects and will not evaluate roadway capacity projects. Highway projects are currently under study by the State through separate processes.