ROCKVILLE — The Montgomery County Council met to discuss the approval of funds for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and to work through bills set for final reading, during its last meeting before the August recess on July 30.
Late last week, the council’s Transportation and Environment Committee approved a recommendation 3-0 to allocate $3 million to BRT along MD 355, which will connect Bethesda with the Clarksburg area. The money was requested by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) and the county executive. To be implemented, the full council needed to approve the allocation of funds as well.
Councilmember Tom Hucker, who serves as the chair for the Transportation and Environment Committee, said that his team recommends approval.
According to the council, the additional $3 million will go toward preliminary engineering and ridership studies for the MD 355 corridor.
Hucker explained that the transportation and environment committee instructed MCDOT to move forward with the best elements of each of the four alternatives that have been studied so far.
The alternatives for BRT outline the way the buses will run. These include buses operating in mixed traffic, designating lanes and deciding where designated lanes will be placed in the road. For example, it would be possible to run the buses in designated lanes in the median of the roadway or along the curb.
Municipalities like Rockville and Gaithersburg have different preferences as to how the buses should run through their jurisdictions. Depending on their current street design and natural geography, municipalities have different interests in BRT, which makes choosing a viable combination of alternatives difficult.
“The interesting thing was that (the Transportation and Environment Committee) talked a lot about the general agreement on the median bus lane being the optimal type of infrastructure,” said Councilmember Hans Riemer. “But the executive branch did not want us to pick one of those specific alignment choices, so that the public-private partnership companies would have more options to propose.”
Councilmember Craig Rice noted that for his district in the upcounty region – this BRT line is especially important.
“We don’t have a lot when it comes to access to mass transit besides our MARC rail station and sporadic RideOn bus service, and so it really is important for us to continue to build on those,” said Rice. “I remind people that we have about 100,000 people in the Germantown area and Clarksburg continues to grow by the thousands, and so it really is important for us to make sure that we’re creating different types of modality.”
The council voted unanimously to allocate the $3 million to preliminary engineering of the BRT route along MD 355.
“These mass transit options are going to be critical when it comes to ensuring quality of life for our upcounty residents is the same as for our downcounty residents,” Rice said.
The council also discussed and took a final vote on bill 21-19, which would expand property tax credits for surviving spouses of retired military service members.
According to the council, the bill would implement changes to state laws that were made during the 2019 General Assembly session. The council requested that the tax credit issue be brought to the State Delegation, which would grant the county the authority to enact a property tax credit.
A surviving spouse would be eligible for the tax credit if three criteria are met: the individual is a surviving spouse of a uniformed services, military services or national guard member, along with the individual being at least 65 years or older and if the surviving spouse has not remarried.
Council President Nancy Navarro said that the council heard from an individual who requested that the tax credit will also be extended to disabled veterans, but the council does not have the power to make that amendment.
“This is an incredibly important bill, because it is honoring the service of our military members, and understanding the sacrifices that families make is incredibly important to us. We want to honor that sacrifice and commitment for those who have served in our armed forces,” Rice said.
He noted that work on this topic came to the attention of the council when an individual who was ineligible for the tax credit initially brought it up to elected officials.
“This is an example of what happens and how government can be responsive and how government can work for the people,” he said.
Council Vice President Sidney Katz was also a supporter of changing the legislation. He noted that before the tax credit was revisited and altered by local officials, its exclusion of individuals who could reasonably be involved was an oversight.
The council voted unanimously to approve the tax credit.