Cardin warms to Frederick alderman’s I-270 bus lane idea -- Gazette.Net


A proposal by Frederick Alderman Carol Krimm to install bus shoulders on Interstate 270 to help relieve traffic congestion has caught the attention of a U.S. senator.

Krimm (D) said that U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) left her a voicemail recently offering his assistance in her efforts to study the feasibility of allowing bus-only shoulders along I-270 from Frederick to Montgomery counties.

Krimm said the Baltimore senator also asked her to keep him updated on the status of the proposal.

“It’s very exciting to get this level of attention from Sen. Cardin,” she said. “He said he wanted me to know that he heard about the proposal and is always concerned about issues that impact his constituents.”

Sue Walitsky, national communications director for Cardin, confirmed that he did reach out to Krimm.

“He speaks regularly with elected officials and leaders across the state, listening to their ideas, hearing about local initiatives and sharing the latest activity in Washington,” Walitsky said in an email.

“Sen. Cardin is always on the lookout for fresh ideas that might help ease congestion for Maryland commuters and help lessen the air pollution from emissions,” she said.

Krimm said Cardin did not make any commitment for federal money to facilitate her proposal.

Her colleagues on the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board — a group of elected officials that plans transportation improvements in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area — agreed last year to form a task force to study the feasibility of bus-only shoulders.

On Jan. 23, the task force met in Washington and 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.

The task force is proposing that a 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 next month to discuss how much it will cost to initiate the pilot program.

Krimm’s proposal is based on a 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 Interstate 66, inside the beltway.

Frederick County also has made Krimm’s bus-only shoulders a top priority.

The five-member Frederick Board of County Commissioners and the eight-member county delegation to the Maryland General Assembly will send a joint letter April 1 to the Maryland Department of Transportation asking for nearly $95 million to plan, design and construct three major road projects.

Those projects include U.S. 15 and Monocacy Boulevard in Frederick; a new interchange at Interstate 70 and Meadow Road in Frederick; and the widening of Md. 85, known as Buckeystown Pike, south of Crestwood Boulevard to English Muffin Way in Frederick to a four-lane divided highway.

Although the commissioners and delegation are not asking for additional money or referring specifically to bus-only shoulders in their letter, they have informed the transportation department that their top non-highway priority is the expansion of transit commuter service in the greater Frederick and Washington, D.C., corridor.

However, a county staff report does specifically support Krimm’s proposal.

“Facilitating improved travel quality by allowing buses to use the I-270 shoulder, which would increase ridership on the already successful 911 [commuter bus] line from Hagerstown, is the top county transit priority,” county Traffic Engineer Ronald Burns said in an email Friday.

The Maryland Transit Administration’s 911 commuter bus line runs Monday through Friday, starting in Hagerstown. From Hagerstown, it picks up passengers at the Monocacy station in Frederick and the Urbana Park and Ride, transporting them to the Shady Grove Metro station in Montgomery County.

From Monday through Friday, roughly 110,200 vehicles travel down I-270 south of Interstate 70 from Frederick 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 regular highway lanes.

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.

But adjustments on I-270 would need to be made before the buses can start running.

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.

The cement and blacktop would also 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, Eric Randall, a transportation engineer assisting the task force, told The Gazette in January.

Funding also would have to come from the Federal Highway Administration.

Meanwhile, Krimm said she is thrilled that after just introducing the idea last year, already there is interest.

“It is amazing what can be done when you have a good idea,” she said.