Frederick alderman pushes for bus shoulders on I-270.
By: Sherry Greenfield from the Gazette
Frederick Alderman Carol Krimm is using her position on a regional transportation planning board to push for the expansion of bus shoulders on Interstate 270 in order to relieve traffic congestion.
Krimm (D) said she asked her colleagues on the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board on July 18 to form a committee to study the feasibility of allowing bus-only shoulders to run along I-270 from Frederick County into Montgomery County.
Board officials said they would come back in September with a proposal outlining the creation of the committee.
"We’re working with our regional partners to move forward with this initiative," Krimm said. "It would take cars off the road and put people in buses. It will relieve congestion and improve air quality. It’s really a quality of life issue that’s huge."
Krimm’s proposal is based on a published report by the Transportation Research Board in Washington, D.C., that outlines how bus-only shoulders 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.
Krimm wants to expand bus shoulders on I-270 during the morning and afternoon rush hour. It could start small with just 13 miles of interstate from Frederick County to Clarksburg in Montgomery County, she said.
When traffic congestion worsens, buses could merge from a regular lane to the shoulder. The average maximum speed on a bus shoulder is 35 mph. When the traffic starts to move, buses go back onto 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.
"Once people see this and how it works, I’m convinced they’re going to use this to take them to Shady Grove," Krimm said. "I think it’s a positive move on the state level to look at this. If we just do those 13 miles, it would be huge. Even just a couple hours in the morning and a couple hours in the evening."
From Monday through Friday, roughly 110,200 vehicles travel down I-270, south of Interstate 70 in Frederick County to Montgomery County, said Ron Burns, Frederick County’s traffic engineer.
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 deteriorates the situation, causing backups that last for hours and nightmares for commuters.
Burns said under a state system that rates how well roads handle traffic during the morning and evening rush hours, I-270 gets a failing grade of "F."
But installing bus shoulders will take some work.
Timothy Davis, Frederick city’s transportation planner, said the shoulders on I-270 would need to be 12 feet wide to accommodate an 8.5-foot-wide bus equipped with outside mirrors.
"We would need to look at the width of the shoulders," Davis said. "It may just be a matter of restriping the lanes."
Davis said an analysis would need to be done to determine the project costs. Bus drivers will also have to be trained to use the special shoulders.
"Safety is paramount," Krimm said.
Krimm has support for her proposal.
Frederick County Commissioner C. Paul Smith (R), also a member of the transportation planning board, said he was at the meeting when Krimm presented her idea.
"I’ve worked fairly closely with Carol on this, and I’m supporting it," Smith said. "To the extent we can get buses down to Shady Grove would be good."
For example, if the bus shoulder only goes to the Urbana exit in Frederick County, it would only create more of a traffic bottleneck as buses try to merge into already congested lanes, Smith said.
Krimm sees her proposal as a plus for commuters.
"The commuting time on buses is a lot less stressful (than in cars), " she said.