Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett backed away from a proposed multibillion-dollar, countywide rapid bus system, warning on Monday that the system is too expensive to build in a "reasonable" time frame.
Instead, Leggett suggested a significantly smaller system with fewer bells and whistles than the proposed high-end bus rapid transit, or BRT, system.
The comments came on the heels of county planners' recommendation that the county build a BRT system in the next 30 years, removing lanes for private cars on the county's busiest roads so that the high-tech buses can use dedicated lanes to bypass traffic.
Though Larry Cole, who drafted the Planning Department's proposal, did not offer an estimated cost for the proposed 10-route system, he said it would cost less than the 162-mile, countywide BRT system proposed in May by Leggett's Transit Task Force, a volunteer body made up of county activists and civic leaders. The Transit Task Force priced its "world class," 23-route system at $1.8 billion, though Cole said he would expect it to cost between $8 and $10 billion.
Either proposal, however, is more than the county can afford, Leggett said.
"You don't have enough money to get to all of those corridors that are on that list unless you come into huge, huge amounts of money, and that's not going to happen," Leggett said of the two proposals.
Neither Cole, nor Transit Task Force Chairman Mark Winston, returned requests for comment.
The county should put BRT only in areas being heavily built up, like Rockville Pike or Colesville Road -- "where we know that traffic congestion is already a problem or will likely be a problem in the near future," Leggett said.
He said he would pay for those routes by delaying other county construction projects and reallocating the money, though he wouldn't say which projects he would delay.
If the county wants to build BRT in the next 15 years, it also would need to raise taxes to pay for it, Leggett said, though he wouldn't say by how much. The Transit Task Force proposed property tax increases of up to 15 percent.
But before the county talks about how to fund the system, it should study whether it is really needed, said Montgomery County Civic Federation President Carole Ann Barth. "The assumption from the beginning was, 'How do we do BRT?' not 'What's the problem that we're trying to solve?' " she said.
And with no state transportation money available, the county should focus on the projects already waiting for funding, like the Purple Line light rail and the Corridor Cities Transitway bus line in the I-270 corridor, said County Councilman George Leventhal, D-at large.
"We don't have money to build anything," he said. "We don't have state money, and we don't have county money. There is no money."