Your report on an Interstate 270 monorail (News-Post, Jan. 8) exaggerates its feasibility. It gave the misleading impression that a monorail is less expensive to build than extra highway lanes because the $3.4 billion for the monorail was compared with the highway at $11 billion. But the $11 billion includes additional capacity on the whole of I-270 to the Beltway and the Beltway itself, some 70 miles. The 25-mile Frederick to Shady Grove highway widening would be somewhere around $2.5 billion.
A monorail is essentially a continuous bridge over its whole length. Given the rolling topography and winding nature of the route, every one of the 1,300 or so 100-foot spans would have to be uniquely formed to couple together to provide a smooth ride. Switching monorail trains between tracks requires an enormous beam to be moved laterally. All the stations are elevated so there are elevators and escalators. The train cars are custom-designed. Expensive!
Usually monorails are built as short shuttles at airports or in amusement parks. As transit they are an alternative to the costs of tunneling a subway in the older centers of a metro area with a dense population of millions. Never on the fringe.
For the I-270/I-495 express toll lanes, the state is now committed to allowing commuter buses to run free of charge. So the extra highway lanes will work for transit as well as for toll-paying cars and trucks.
Just as important as cost is who pays the bills. Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan is to find investors to foot the upfront cost of 270/495 lanes in return for toll revenues so that non-transit users will ultimately pay for the facility.
Monorail man Bob Eisinger told a Chamber of Commerce meeting last June that his monorail too would pay its way in fares. He spoke of a $5 fare and 50,000 riders/day. That compares with about 120,000 people traveling I-270 in Frederick County and 5,000 MARC daily. Planners and progressives have been talking forever about getting people out of their cars and on to transit. And failing. People stubbornly make their own decisions about their travel mode. Many like the idea of transit for other people, but not for themselves.
Maybe a “cool” monorail could attract 10,000 riders a day out of the 125,000 travelers. But 50,000?
Like all transit systems, a monorail presents potential riders with the challenge of getting to it to start the journey coming from homes spread around a low-density county and suburbs, and the challenge at the other end of the monorail trip of getting to work destinations that are dispersed around the Washington, D.C./northern Virginia metro area. Personal vehicles, which can provide door-to-door travel, seem certain to continue to be the dominant mode. As for transit, buses that can be staged from numerous park-and-rides will be more convenient for many more commuters than the monorail with its single stop off East Street in downtown Frederick.
A monorail based on 50,000 riders a day out of 125,000? That’s a Manhattan transit share. Is this someone trying to sell us a very long bridge?