The Argument for CCT as Light Rail

This week a civil engineer from the state of Maryland gave a presentation in the Lakelands Clubhouse updating us on the Corridor Cities Transitway project. The CCT is a vital project to our region, and there is a key decision that appears to be moving in a direction that could have a negative impact on the effectiveness of the CCT for our community.

The Maryland Transit Administration and State Highway Administration are working together on the CCT, a mass transit initiative that has been on the books for many years. It is designed to provide high-speed mass transit from the middle and upper parts of Montgomery County to the Marc Train and to the Shady Grove Metro station. With CCT you would be able to board near Lowe’s and arrive at Shady Grove in less than 15 minutes for less than the cost of parking at Shady Grove today.

The core concept behind the CCT is that the state would build a separate transitway that would minimize interference with local roads. For example, a section along Great Seneca Highway would be above the road grade, allowing for the CCT traffic to pass over the highway.

The state is deciding between building the CCT as Light Rail Transit or as Bus Rapid Transit. All the local municipalities favor light rail, but the data presented in the state’s presentation clearly leans toward the bus option. It appears that the presentation is tilted toward BRT because of its lower initial cost. After examining the data and asking deeper questions, it appears that there is much of the picture not included in the presentation that would favor the light rail option.

The state’s Feasibility Study estimates ridership for LRT as marginally higher than BRT. The model that produces these results takes only one factor into account — how much time is saved. LRT is a bit faster so it would result in more riders. The model does not take into account rider preference for one mode vs. another. Light rail is a much more comfortable way to travel than a bus and would be much more appealing to residents. In a county with one of the highest incomes in the nation, getting people out of our SUVs and luxury cars is going to take more than another bus route, however fast — light rail would have a much better chance of achieving that goal.

The state’s numbers as presented included up-front capital costs but not the long-term operating costs. From the Q&A part of the session it became clear that light rail has a number of advantages in this area. Rail cars have a much longer life span than busses — 50 years vs. 10-15. Rail capacity can be expanded without additional labor costs since adding rail cars does not require extra drivers.

There is another advantage for rail over busses related to operating costs. Throughout the country it is clear that proximity to light rail has a significant advantage in property values over bus systems. Not only is this a factor for us as homeowners, but from the county’s point of view, an increase in our property values increases the county’s property tax revenue, which can provide significant revenue to support the CCT’s operations.

The state has made much progress in developing alignments supporting our community. The proposals to run the CCT route through the proposed Science City development and bring a stop to the Kentlands/Lakelands area recognizes the need to bring improved mass transit to areas that have become more important to the region since the original CCT plan was created.

Now is the time for us to view the CCT strategically. By funding the light rail option, the CCT will maximize its benefit to the region by maximizing ridership. The municipalities, Montgomery County, and the state should sharpen their pencils and take a deeper look at the costs, revenues and benefits and move forward with building CCT as a modern light rail system.

Editor’s Note: Neil Harris is a Kentlands resident.