Officials eye prospect of monorail proposal

Ryan Marshall, The Frederick News-Post, Md.
·3 min read

Mar. 6—Making a monorail project connecting Frederick and Montgomery counties along the Interstate 270 corridor a reality will likely depend on having political leaders at the county and state levels who are committed to the idea, according to a key committee chairman in Annapolis.

Moving the system forward will require county executives and a governor who are dedicated to the project, said Del. Kumar Barve (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Environment and Transportation Committee in the House of Delegates.

"You really need the political stars lined up," Barve said Friday.

The Maryland Department of Transportation released a feasibility study Tuesday that found a route running from downtown Frederick to the Shady Grove Metro station near Gaithersburg is physically possible, but the system would likely siphon riders from other transit systems more than take vehicles off I-270 and other roads.

The line would begin in Frederick and include stations in Urbana, Clarksburg, Germantown, Metropolitan Grove and Shady Grove.

Both Frederick County and Maryland will have new leaders elected in 2022, with County Executive Jan Gardner (D) and Gov. Larry Hogan (R) facing term limits. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich is in his first term.

Much will depend on who the next governor is, Barve said. If they are committed to the project, it will happen.

Frederick Mayor Michael O'Connor said he was pleased to see that the concept was physically viable and worthy of further analysis. He supports the ongoing discussions to find effective answers to the region's transportation issues.

"The City of Frederick will remain supportive of sustainable transportation solutions intended to improve connections with regional activity centers that are important for Frederick's residents and our economy," O'Connor said in a statement.

The report issued Tuesday contained several positives, said Del. Carol Krimm (D-Frederick), including a viable route and connecting regional activity centers. Krim serves as the vice chair of the Transportation and Environment Subcommittee in the House's Appropriations Committee.

But the project's $3.7 billion projected price tag — expected to rise to $4.4 billion through inflation by 2025 — will probably be its biggest challenge, she said.

An argument could be made that the money would be better used for expanding MARC train service or other transit projects, Krimm said.

Krimm is sponsoring a bill in the House that would require state and local governments to develop plans for increased teleworking and encourage private businesses to do so, which she said could help take traffic off of I-270 and alleviate some of the need for a monorail.

There hasn't been much discussion in Annapolis of the monorail proposal, as legislators are wrapping up their hearings from state officials as part of the budget process, she said. There may be a briefing at some point after the session when they can have a discussion with the secretary of transportation and others about the project's viability, Krimm added.

The project will be part of a transit picture that includes commuter buses, MARC service and a public-private partnership to add toll lanes to I-270 and I-495, among other elements, Krimm said.

"How does all that fit together?" she said.

Barve said he believes the monorail project would be a supplement to the I-270 toll project, projected to cost between $9 and $11 billion.

While the project has drawn criticism from legislators and residents from Montgomery and other areas, it's probably too far along to be stopped, Barve said.

"The ship sailed on that two years ago," he said.

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