For the past four and a half years the merits of the proposed Science City and the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) have been debated, over and over and over, ad nauseum.
Johns Hopkins led the charge to convert an established, congested, suburban, predominately residential area into an urban world-class Science City. With the addition of 40,000 workers and 5,000 apartments, everyone would live, work and play without ever getting into their cars because they would travel about the county in the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT). A very rosy picture indeed.
The County Council bought the dream and fast-tracked the project in the Great Seneca Science Corridor Master Plan with dollar signs in their eyes.
The key to the project would be the Corridor Cities Transitway and the Council recommended a world-class light-rail transit system (LRT).
However, on February 27th, the presenters from the Transit Task Force stressed the urgency of getting the CCT built because, they said, there can be no further development in the Science City until the CCT is fully funded. And to that end, the Transit Task Force has changed the recommendation for a world-class light rail system to a world-class rapid transit vehicle (RTV) system, formerly known as bus rapid transit (BRT).
However, Ben Ross, from the Action Committee for Transit, said in his post on Greater Greater Washington, that Johns Hopkins Real Estate and the other developers have commissioned a study to find cost-saving measures in order to facilitate the project because realizing their full development capacity depends on the construction of the CCT.
He said, “…transit advocates are worried that such attempts at cost efficiency would further gut a project that already is a shadow of what was once envisioned for the corridor that extends from Shady Grove up the Interstate 270 corridor.”
Ross said the study’s recommendations, “’…could force the buses to have to share intersections with regular traffic.’
‘The premise is rapid but the bus is slow’, he said. ‘If you have to go through the regular busy intersections, what's the point?’”
So the world-class transit system is not looking as bright and shiny as the original promises.
And as for the claim that the Science City is at a virtual stand-still until the CCT is funded, that is simply not true. There is enough development capacity left from the previous master plan plus the additional capacity allowed in Stage 1 of the current plan to add approximately 17,000 people to the Science City. There are currently about 20,000 people who live and work in that area, so the size could almost be doubled today.
The world-class Science City, touted to rival the Biopolis in Singapore, seems to have morphed into a standard high-rise commercial office complex. Johns Hopkins is offering ground leases on the Belward Farm property and they have not committed to occupy any of the buildings on the farm. Their development on Belward Farm is on hold because the family of the late owner, Elizabeth Banks, has filed suit for breach of donor intent.
Hopkins promised that residents and workers would be able to walk to shopping and restaurants in the live-work-play urban city. But, it appears that the only restaurants in the Science City will be sandwich shops so the workers won’t have to cross Shady Grove Road to pick up lunch.
The master plan requires that 40% of the development must be “science-related”. But Steve Silverman, Montgomery County Director of Economic Development, argued during the Council meetings that if the plan required more than 30% to be science-related, the project would fail.
It is time for the County and the developers, particularly Johns Hopkins, to drop the world-class marketing rhetoric and tell the truth about the Science City and the Corridor Cities Transitway. What is the real reality?