County transportation officials present the state transportation priorities letter to the County Council on Feb. 8, 2023. From left: Glenn Orlin, a senior analyst for the County Council, focusing on transportation issues; Chris Conklin, director of the county's Department of Transportation; and Tim Cupples, chief of Division of Transportation Engineering within the county's Department of Transportation. Credit: Steve Bohnel

This story’s headline was updated at 1:40 p.m. Feb. 9, 2023, to clarify that the county executive and County Council both sent a letter.

The County Council and County Executive Marc Elrich are sending a letter to the state’s Secretary of Transportation that asks for hundreds of millions of dollars to fund transit projects countywide, ranging from bus rapid transit lines on various roadways to more service on MARC commuter rail in the county.

The state priorities transportation letter is an annual practice that the County Council and county executive collaborate on each year. The county’s main funding priority among bus rapid transit projects remains the proposed route along state Route 355, according to the letter that the council approved Tuesday.

That line would extend from Clarksburg to Bethesda in multiple segments. County transportation officials said Tuesday that the construction timeline—whether the line would be built all at once or in phases—depends, at least in part, on the fate of the I-270 and I-495 toll lanes project proposed by former Gov. Larry Hogan.

Hogan’s project aims to replace the American Legion Bridge and add two toll lanes in both directions on the portion of I-270 that runs to the I-370 interchange, and the westernmost section of I-495 that leads to I-270.

The project cleared regional and state hurdles before Hogan’s administration announced last year that it was extending the contractor deadline, thereby placing the proposal’s fate in the hands of now-Gov. Wes Moore and his administration.


Chris Conklin, the county’s director of transportation, told the council that the county was anticipating roughly $170 million in toll revenues—if the project is built, which is still multiple years away from the project to pay for county transit projects, such as the bus rapid transit line along Route 355.

In an interview after the meeting, Conklin said he didn’t know whether the Moore administration would make changes to the I-270 and I-495 toll lanes project and if any changes would impact the projected toll revenue. But he hopes that potentially, any new project would include transit, like additional bus routes.

“Clearly, the conversation with [Gov. Wes Moore’s] administration is just getting started on what this project is going to look like,” Conklin said. “It’s our expectation that it has a more multimodal flavor than the previous proposal, so that we hope there’s a robust transit component of the project.”


Conklin said it would be best to build the Route 355 line all at once instead of in phases if the funding is available. The construction would still be disruptive and occur at different places along the route at separate times, but completing the project in the least amount of time would provide the most value to county residents, he added.

Still, getting any funding from the state to advance any phases of the project—including the central phase from Germantown to Rockville—would be invaluable, Conklin said. That central phase alone is projected to cost about $358.6 million, according to county budget documents.

Conklin is hopeful that the Moore administration will place more emphasis on public transit investment, including bus rapid transit projects countywide.


Other funding priorities

Along with the Route 355 bus rapid transit project, council members agreed the Veirs Mill Road bus rapid transit project and phase two of the U.S. Route 29 bus rapid transit line (already in operation) should also be top funding priorities.

The next phase of the Route 29 project would “implement a dedicated lane for Bus Rapid Transit in the median of US 29 between Tech Road and Sligo Creek Parkway to improve travel time and service reliability,” according to the county’s budget page on the project. It carries a price tag of just under $10 million, according to county budget documents.


Council Vice President Andrew Friedson (D-District 1) asked county staff to amend a section of the letter concerning MARC commuter rail service. Instead of asking for a study looking into providing more off-peak and midday MARC service in Montgomery County, he said officials should simply ask the state to provide more commuter rail service. Transit advocates have long called for more service to better serve commuters in the region.

“I think it is important to specifically talk about. Let’s not get caught up in studies here,” Friedson said. “We’ve been studying this for a while.”

His colleagues unanimously agreed to amend the letter to ask the Department of Transportation to look into increasing service.


Another major funding priority in the council’s letter is implementing goals related to Vision Zero—the county’s ongoing effort to reduce and eventually eliminate serious and fatal crashes among pedestrians, cyclists and motorists by 2030.

According to the letter, the county is asking for more resources from the state to “implement pedestrian and bicycle safety, accessibility projects, and speed reduction strategies.”

In an interview, Conklin said county officials are specifically asking for an increase in state funds  to help address the county’s Vision Zero goals—especially when it comes to reducing serious and fatal collisions on roadways countywide. “We have funding programs for things like sidewalks, bikeways, and other things, but they’re relatively small and not necessarily focused on the safety outcomes,” Conklin said.