Some Montgomery County Council members raised concerns on Tuesday about plans for a new bus depot in Rockville for Montgomery County Public Schools.

Council Member Sidney Katz questioned the location. Council Member Hans Riemer wanted funding accelerated to speed the project up.

The bus depot is one of three potential projects on a roughly 40-acre county-owned site in Rockville. The three projects — at a site off Seven Locks Road and Wootton Parkway in Rockville — would be:

  • A 12,000-square-foot restoration center, which would be a short-term facility for residents struggling with behavioral health issues. It would cost $18.7 million and be completed by 2027 at the earliest
  • A 75,000-square-foot criminal justice complex, replacing the current detention center at the site. Offenders would stay there up to 72 hours before being processed through court. The projected cost is $78.6 million. It would be completed by 2029 at the earliest.
  • A zero-emission bus facility and maintenance yard. It would mostly serve Montgomery County Public Schools, but also accommodate some county Ride On buses. That would be completed after the first two projects.

County officials have been searching for years to relocate buses from a depot off Crabbs Branch Way near Rockville, in order for redevelopment to occur on that site. 

According to council staff reports, over 400 buses are currently at that depot. David Dise, the director of the county’s Department of General Services, has said that more than 200 buses could be parked at the depot, all of them electric. 

Council staff members said the school bus fleet is currently at about 1,300 at five depot sites across the county serving public schools. The five depots are in Bethesda, Clarksburg, Glenmont, Shady Grove (the Crabbs Branch Way site) and White Oak.

They also recommended removing more than $80 million budgeted in the “beyond 6 years” column of County Executive Marc Elrich’s capital improvement program for fiscal years 2023 to 2028. Moving it out of that section of the budget shows that the project could be delayed.

The council did not take any formal action Tuesday as council members questioned aspects of the projects.

Katz, whose district includes the proposed depot, said he had concerns about the traffic impact on nearby neighborhoods.

He said he doesn’t think residents and city officials have had enough of a chance to comment. 

In an interview, Dise said his department didn’t want to “alarm” residents with a project that wouldn’t have the support of elected officials and other partners in the city of Rockville and Montgomery County; the community hasn’t been invited yet to formally comment.

There are multiple other options in the central part of the county, Dise said. Officials have said the project needs to be centrally located to serve the schools with buses that currently use the depot off Crabbs Branch Way. 

Dise declined to name other locations where the depot could be out of concern that a landowner could see a property listed, then rezone it for housing or other uses as the land increases in value.

Riemer proposed moving up the funding in the capital improvement program, saying there needed to be more urgency to prepare for electric buses coming, no matter where the new depot goes. He didn’t oppose the site off Seven Locks Road, but wanted county officials to be prepared for the influx of electric buses. 

The council staff said that in the coming years, roughly 100 electric buses would replace current diesel school buses each year in the fleet. Dise told council members those buses would be placed at the school bus depots countywide as charging infrastructure is installed and electricity is routed to those spots.

The County Council will likely see an updated bus depot proposal — including other potential sites other than the Seven Locks Road site — next week. Dise said the new depot could be located in more than one location, but the project could become more costly as construction costs are spread out over two or three small depots, on land the county doesn’t own.

“Technically, the answer is yes,” Dise said in an interview, referring to the possibility of splitting up the project. “Economically, it gets very expensive … because I’m buying three properties, and building three buildings.”

 

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com

Steve Bohnel

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com