A proposal by Frederick Alderman Carol Krimm to install bus shoulders on Interstate 270 to help relieve traffic congestion continues to gain traction.
Krimm (D) and her colleagues on a special task force to the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board met on Jan. 23 in Washington to continue evaluating a pilot program that would allow bus-only shoulders along I-270 from Frederick to Montgomery counties.
The task force decided to look at installing bus-only shoulders on 31 miles of I-270, starting in the city of Frederick and stretching to the Capital Beltway in Montgomery County.
“I’m glad I was asked to co-chair the task force,” Krimm said in an interview Monday. “That puts us in the spotlight which is critical when you’re talking about a pilot program.”
Krimm is co-chairing the task force along with Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman (D).
The task force is proposing that the pilot program run for two years, with the shoulders for public transit buses only, according to documents from the meeting.
The group will meet again in April to discuss how much is will cost to initiate the pilot program
“At that point, we will know what our ridership looks like, and if this turns out to be feasible ... whether it’s a good alternative,” Krimm said.
Krimm’s proposal is based on a published report by the Transportation Research Board in Washington, D.C., that outlined how bus-only shoulders would work.
In Maryland, bus shoulders are already in use on four miles of U.S. 29 near Burtonsville, and three miles of Interstate 495 near Bethesda. They are also used on the Dulles Toll Road in Virginia.
Virginia is also poised this year to install bus-only shoulders on I-66, inside the Beltway.
The regional board — a group of elected officials that plans transportation improvements in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area — agreed in September to form a task force to study Krimm’s proposal. The task force held its first meeting in October.
Krimm has called her proposal a “light at the end of the tunnel for people who have been struggling for years in congested traffic.”
From Monday through Friday, roughly 110,200 vehicles travel down I-270 south of Interstate 70 in Frederick County to Montgomery County, according to Frederick County figures.
It’s a daily commute on clogged roads that many motorists say is stressful, frustrating and, at times, dangerous. As early as 4 a.m., traffic begins to build on U.S. 15 in Frederick and grows worse throughout the morning.
An accident, bad weather or road construction only exacerbate the situation, causing backups that can last for hours and nightmares for commuters.
The concept of running buses on shoulders is a simple one.
When traffic congestion worsens, buses merge from a regular lane to the shoulder. The average maximum speed on a bus shoulder is 35 mph.
When traffic starts to move, the buses return to the highway.
Bus shoulders are not high-occupancy-vehicle lanes that are used during rush hour. Bus-only shoulders carry minimal traffic that allows just buses to merge back into traffic.
The shoulders on I-270 would need to be 12 feet wide to accommodate an 8.5-foot-wide bus equipped with outside mirrors. Bus drivers would also have to be trained to use the special shoulders.
Krimm said before the pilot program can be launched, certain issues would have to be addressed.
The shoulder would not only have to be a certain width to accommodate a bus, but the cement and blacktop would have to be thick enough and strong enough to handle the stress of constant bus traffic.
Issues of engineering, design and costs to upgrade the shoulders, which could run between $30,000 and $250,000 per mile, would also have to be addressed, said Eric Randall, a transportation engineer assisting the task force from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, a group that studies area problems such as the environment, affordable housing, growth, homeland security and transportation.
The planning board would also have to request funding from the Federal Highway Administration.