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Montgomery County Takes Steps Towards Rapid Transit

Lerch Early's Legal Update

The Montgomery County Council unanimously approved the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan (Functional Master Plan) on November 26, 2013, which represents a necessary first step in establishing a countywide, state-of-the-art rapid transit vehicle system, potentially comparable to those existing in Eugene, Oregon; Everett, Washington; and Cleveland, Ohio. The Functional Master Plan advances seminal county transportation policies expressed in the 1964 Wedges and Corridors General Plan, which recognized that the Washington Metropolitan Area would benefit from express bus and rail transit service. While the 1964 General Plan envisioned rapid transit along major corridors in Montgomery County radiating out from Washington, it also recognized that express rapid transit vehicles would be able to connect such major corridors.

The Functional Master Plan recognizes that the existing right-of-way and transportation network in the county ultimately must be repurposed to alleviate traffic congestion. The Functional Master Plan therefore establishes the framework for a 10-corridor, 81-mile rapid transit network, with an additional 21 miles of mixed traffic lanes. Because a Functional Plan is merely a guide for future development and design, it does not address specific details such as corridor treatments (i.e., whether the rapid transit utilizes a median lane, curb lane, or is mixed with traffic), the amount of right-of-way that actually will be utilized, or costs and funding sources. Rather, the Functional Master Plan is intended to provide the framework to make the existing transportation infrastructure in the county more efficient in order to accommodate population growth (which, in Montgomery County, is anticipated to be 20% over the next 27 years).  

While there are still many details to work out, the county’s utilization of existing transportation corridors to accommodate rapid transit is more efficient than the alternatives for addressing congestion. In comparison, Metro's rail service is relatively fixed and unable to reach a broad network, light rail is expensive and inflexible, and the addition of new vehicle lanes to accommodate more cars is expensive and will only exacerbate congestion.

The Functional Master Plan approved by the Council provides details regarding the (1) identification of the 10 rapid transit corridors, (2) minimum reservation of rights-of-way for each segment, and (3) approximate locations for rapid transit stations. These recommendations will serve as guidelines for the future planning and design phases. Before any design is approved or funding is allocated to the project, numerous other public hearings will take place and additional approvals by the Council and County Executive will be required.  

Liz Geare and Chris Ruhlen are land use attorneys at Lerch, Early & Brewer in Bethesda, Maryland who focus on land use, zoning, real estate, and related governmental issues. For more information on Montgomery County’s Functional Master Plan, contact Liz at (301) 841-3845 or ecgeare@lerchearly.com, or Chris at (301) 841-3834 or cmruhlen@lerchearly.com.

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