A revised cost estimate for four corridors in Montgomery County’s planned bus rapid transit network pegged the construction price at $1.6 billion, an amount the county and its engineering consultant say is about $230 million less than a similar estimate made two years ago.
Engineering firm VHB and Montgomery County presented the cost estimate to the county’s Transit Task Force last month.
The task force was revived by County Executive Ike Leggett in May to give recommendations for an Independent Transit Authority – the entity Leggett hopes to form to oversee construction and operation of the county’s Rapid Transit System, also known as bus rapid transit.
Leggett’s first attempt at state legislation to enable a Montgomery County Independent Transit Authority (ITA) failed earlier this year after staunch opposition from civic groups, the main county employee union and some residents wary of a potential tax increase to fund it.
The task force is supposed to submit recommendations about potential funding sources and other details of the ITA by the end of September.
Among the seven potential revenue sources discussed by the task force’s Finance Working Group were a countywide real property tax surcharge, a property tax specific to areas that would benefit from the system and a county gas tax.
In an email to members earlier this month, task force Chairman Mark Winston suggested focusing on four scenarios to fund construction of the system:
A countywide real property tax of 4 cents from 2017 to 2019 and 6.5 cents in 2020 and thereafter. The funds collected by the tax would be held in a special fund.
A sales tax, gas tax or other type of excise tax.
Creating special taxing districts in corridors that have bus rapid transit to impose a real property tax to properties within either a half-mile or quarter-mile of the system.
A combination of a .5 percent sales tax, a countywide real property tax of 3 cents and a countywide excise tax.
County officials are analyzing property values in what could become special taxing districts around the the new transit system.
The July cost estimates were made for four corridors: The MD 355 North corridor that would run from Clarksburg to the Rockville Metro station, the MD 355 South corridor that would run from the Rockville Metro station to the Bethesda Metro station, the US 29 corridor that would run from Burtonsville to downtown Silver Spring and the Veirs Mill Road corridor.
The estimates were made assuming that most corridors wouldn’t need extra lanes to accommodate the buses, eliminating all land acquisition costs in downtown Bethesda and along Route 29/Colesville Road south of New Hampshire Avenue.
It also assumed there would be 88 total buses needed, down from the 153 assumed in the 2013 cost estimate because demand for the system would be lower initially.
The MD 355 North corridor, which at 14 miles would be the longest of the four, would also be the most expensive to build at $619.6 million. The MD 355 South corridor would run 11 miles and cost $422.8 million.
A maintenance facility would cost $75.6 million.
In total, the four corridors would cost $41.1 million per mile, down from the $47.1 million per mile cost predicted in 2013. The first phase of the Corridor Cities Transitway, a related bus rapid transit project that would run in Gaithersburg and Clarksburg, would cost $600 million.
With 88 buses for the four corridors, the consultant and Montgomery County estimated an annual operating cost of $51.6 million.
Leggett will have to review any funding recommendations that come out of the task force. He’s also likely to face another uphill political fight if he decides to try again on state enabling legislation.
The next meeting of the full task force is set for Wednesday, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Executive Office Building in Rockville.