ROCKVILLE — The City Council won’t be making a Bus Rapid Transit recommendation to county and state elected officials any time soon, but if and when they do, they’ll have three potential options for where to install rapid bus routes along the MD 355 corridor.
Ultimately, the final say about what to do with the MD 355 corridor is a state and county decision.
In Montgomery County’s Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan for BRT, three of the BRT corridors (MD 355 North and South and Veirs Mill Road) would come together at the Town Center.
However, the city councils from Rockville and Gaithersburg are preparing their own studies and plans so they can influence the transportation planners and elected representatives at those levels of government.
Three consultants joined Andrew Gunning, the assistant director of the city’s Planning and Development Department, Monday night at City Hall, showing the City Council results of a study about how Rockville could incorporate BRT near the Town Center property.
Their study area along MD 355 ran from Route 28 in the south to Beall Avenue in the north.
“So we really approached this study with the notion that, how do we make this work best for us here in Rockville and especially within the Town Center area? We have a number of routes that would come together in the Town Center by the Metro station but we’re dealing with a lot of conflicts down there as well,” said Gunning.
What ties the three plans together is that they include a passenger station near the Rockville Metro station, between Church Street and Monroe Place to the south and Park Road and Middle Lane in the north.
First, they offered the least-complex option from an engineering standpoint: a “mixed traffic” plan with “enhanced features at platform locations.”
Instead of offering a dedicated lane just for BRT, this version of the plan would run BRT buses in the same outer travel lanes commuters use today.
Passengers could board at the intersection of MD 355 and Park Road (east)/Middle Lane (west).
An alternative to that option calls for removing the median along MD 355 and installing two dedicated BRT lanes in the existing median.
With this choice, the existing travel lanes aren’t touched and drivers don’t have to compete for road space with BRT buses.
However, it does require “an expanded cross section and additional right-of-way” compared with the first option.
The most expensive option is also the most elaborate one.
It would require two dedicated BRT lanes “at grade,” or street-level, and a tunnel for through traffic running about 0.75 miles under the existing MD 355 lanes.
“This alternative maintains four (instead of six) general travel lanes at the surface and accommodates two BRT lanes along the median at the surface. It includes a four-lane tunnel to accommodate through trips on MD 355 and to lessen traffic on the surface street,” states a city document outlining the plan.
Although no one offered estimated costs for the first two options, the tunnel alternative included a projected price tag of more than $200 million.
“Think of it like going under Dupont Circle but longer,” said Keith Weaver, an associate principal at the landscape architecture firm EDSA Inc.
While tunnel construction would be at the heart of that cost, the consultants also pitched a redevelopment idea around the BRT station, including a large roundabout modeled after one in Spain.
Despite the price, Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton seemed interested in the third option, saying, “I just love the tunnel idea.”
Council member Virginia Onley also found a perk in the most expensive alternative.
“I do like the roundabout,” she said, adding it would be “such an improvement” for those who live near the Americana Centre Plaza south of Monroe Place and north of East Jefferson Street.
Gunning and the consultants are due to present their final report later this month with a “public engagement and outreach strategy” to follow in a run-up a Dec. 3 meeting between elected officials from Rockville, Gaithersburg and the County.
The tentative agenda for that meeting includes presentations by Rockville and Gaithersburg staffers.