City staff had a meeting with Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) representatives who committed to working with the City on the number and exact location of the King Farm stations and mitigating noise impacts to the neighborhood from the CCT with traffic signals and “quiet zones”. MTA would work with the City on which intersections would remain open in King Farm and they stated there is flexibility in this regard. When presented with the Coalition for the Preservation of King Farm’s petition (signed by several hundred residents) requesting a study to evaluate alternative alignments that do not use King Farm Boulevard, MTA representatives stated that given the concerns of King Farm residents, they “likely would not move forward to select the locally preferred alternative until the King Farm issues are resolved.”
Craig Simoneau, Director of Public Works, went over the options the Mayor and Council could propose which have not been studied by the MTA. He noted the comment period closes on February 1st.
Currently, because of the King Farm annexation, a shuttle is required to be operated and the three routes have a ridership of 19,200 per month (a rider would be counted both ways). These routes could disappear when the annexation agreement ends.
Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio expressed concern about the growth of Montgomery College because these additional students will be driving through Rockville. She thinks an alternative route including Montgomery College could provide public transportation for the students and should be explored. She stated the City had right-of-ways for a Metro stop at Montgomery College. Councilmember Bridget Newton is also concerned about the traffic to and from Montgomery College and supports alternative routes for the CCT and a Metro stop for Montgomery College.
Councilmember Piotr Gajewski said the CCT alignment gives no benefits to King Farm over what they already have, but it will be incredibly disruptive. He recommends looking at various alignments. The most intriguing is I-370. Looking at the mode, he unequivocally opposes light rail because it is only possible if it goes down the median of King Farm Boulevard.
When Councilmember John Britton asked the staff to explain if the MTA would be flexible in regards to which intersections are closed, Mr. Simoneau said MTA could keep them all open if they were all signalized. Councilmember Britton then observed that this downplays the concern of connectivity that there would be a “wall” in King Farm since connectivity could be exactly the same as it is today. As for noise concern, bells could be used instead of horns and if signalized they could control the signals and create “quiet zones”.
Councilmember Mark Pierzchala spoke as a civic association president who understands that when you look at plans, the details are tough, and in this case it’s not only a Rockville decision because the Governor ultimately makes the decision. The whole idea is to move people over a great distance. He supports bus rapid transit over light rail and thinks I-370 of all the alignments is the one that might work.
Then Councilmember Britton expressed his opinion. He doesn’t find the bus rapid transit option compelling enough to throw out the light rail option. Looking at the bigger picture, this is a planning process that will take 25-30 years and he disagrees that it will give the community zero benefit. Those living in King Farm people will go to jobs in Science Center, Rio, and the developments in Gaithersburg. People will want to move to King Farm and take the CCT to stops north. Metro is still struggling with the north-south corridor and the CCT might succeed more than Metro. The light rail transit provides more of a guaranteed transportation system. Bus rapid transits work but they get manipulated and encroached upon for vehicle traffic by the engineers, as he has seen in Virginia. He’s afraid that if we commit to the bus rapid transit we will lose guaranteed transit-oriented development around stations. Building along the I-370 highway loses this development option. There are light rail in other cities such as in New Orleans, Portland, Camden where they successfully go through residential towns and get people out of their cars. In the past they has recommended light rail transit and he does not think we should make this switch now against their colleagues.
Councilmember Pierzchala made a motion to oppose light rail which was seconded by Councilmember Gajewski but the motion was opposed by Mayor Marcuccio, and Councilmembers Newton and Britton. During the discussion, Councilmember Gajewski said rapid bus is being looked at by County for White Flint and it’s incredibly less expensive and more likely to go forward. Mayor Marcuccio added that if they are going to suggest other routes then we should stay open to both modes of transportation and not take away options. Councilmember Pierzchala added that all the alternatives are for bus rapid transit and right now the most likely route is through King Farm so he’s opposing the light rail and its impact.
Councilmember Pierzchala made a motion that the City recommend the MTA study the alternative I-370 alignment which was seconded by Gajewski and passed 4 to1 with Councilmember Britton opposed.
Councilmember Gajewski made a motion to study Shady Grove alignment which was seconded by Councilmember Pierzchala and passed 4 to1 with Councilmember Britton opposed.
A motion to remain silent on whether it is bus rapid transit or light rail rapid transit passed 4 to1 with Councilmember Britton opposed.
City staff will prepare these recommendations for submittal on behalf of the Mayor and Council.