Bus Rapid Transit could very well become a reality on Route 29 as Howard County's Office of Transportation representatives are inviting the public to hear progress of a BRT study at the Public Transportation Board meeting at 7 p.m. on July 28 at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.
Operating similarly to a rail system, according to Transportation Planner David Cookson, BRT systems run on dedicated lines at specified times and include technologies, such as signal preemption, to minimize travel time. The vehicles stop at stations similar to light rail stations, allowing passengers to exit and board quickly, reducing stop times.
Last month, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman tasked the Public Transportation Board with evaluating the potential for BRT service along Route 29, while the Office of Transportation manages the study.
"The demands on U.S. Route 29 will continue to increase as the population of Howard County grows," Kittleman said in a statement. "Widening roads to respond to increased traffic is costly and problematic. BRT represents a sustainable solution to reducing the growing congestion along existing roadways."
Funded through the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board, Cookson said the BRT study evaluates the possibilities for BRT in Howard County along Route 1, Route 32 and the CSX right-of-way in Columbia Gateway Business Park, in addition to Route 29.
Cookson said the transportation office has begun searching for "more accurate rider statistics."
"It's really in its earliest stages," Cookson said. "We've explored a bunch of different corridors for a bus rapid transit system … At this point, there does seem to be some potential for ridership on one of the corridors that we studied, but it's still really early. We actually haven't finished [the study] yet."
While there's been a lot of interest in improving transit along Route 29, Cookson said, planners are also analyzing Montgomery County's findings in BRT systems.
"One of the corridors that they're looking at is the Route 29 corridor to move people along because quite a lot of people live adjacent to 29 in Montgomery County," he said. "So, it's sort of a natural fit to move it a little bit more up into Howard County … At this point, it's a very technical analysis in terms of what potential ridership could be."
Cookson clarified that the BRT system is not related to the ongoing Bridge Columbia project discussions, involving a pedestrian bridge across Route 29 to connect Columbia's Town Center to the Village of Oakland Mills.
"It's not really related to the Bridge Columbia project because we haven't really gotten close to figuring out how the buses could get to locations; like how it would work," he said. "We have some generic station placements that give us a way to model how many people are going to be able to get to that station either walking or riding their bikes or, if there's parking provided, driving."
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In addition to discussing BRT possibilities in Howard County during the meeting Tuesday, Cookson said the public transportation board will also provide an overview of working BRT systems throughout the country.