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202_Cyclist Jun 10, 2009 6:09 PM

Washington DC: Rail transit
Gerry Connolly, Jim Moran push rail extension in transportation bill

Washington Business Journal –
by Sarah Krouse Staff Reporter^1839489

Two Northern Virginia congressmen want a bill to extend Metro attached to federal transportation legislation being drafted.
Reps. Gerry Connolly and Jim Moran, both Democrats, want Congress to earmark funds for a feasibility study and preliminary engineering for major extensions of the Orange, Blue and Yellow lines. They estimate the study would cost about $20 million.
“The point of my bill is to jump-start the discussion about extending these lines,” said Connolly, a former Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman. “By the time it’s completed in 2013, the rail to Dulles will have taken 51 years from the first discussion to the first passenger. I don’t want another 51 years before there are more extensions.”
Under Connolly’s plan, the Orange Line, which now ends in Vienna, would continue along Interstate 66 to Centreville. The Blue Line would extend from Franconia-Springfield along I-95 to Prince William County. And the Yellow Line, which ends at Huntington, would go to Fort Belvoir and Woodbridge. The Purple Line, still in the planning stages, would cross Montgomery County and move around the Beltway.
Connolly, who introduced his bill in March, is working with Moran to persuade other members of Congress to include their earmark in the transportation reauthorization bill, the massive federal transportation law reauthorized every five years.
Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is expected to unveil his blueprint for the bill June 9. The current transportation law expires Sept. 30.
A major obstacle for Metro extensions is the drawn-out approval process for transit developments, Connolly said. “For transit projects, you have to spend a decade working with the federal government to get approval for environmental standards, feasibility studies and cost effectiveness.”
He also noted a sharp drop in federal funding.
“The federal government paid for 80 percent of the original Metro system,” Connolly said. “In Dulles, we’ll be lucky if 16 percent of the money comes from the federal government. Rail is never going to get cheaper and it’s carbon neutral, whereas building another road will only add to emissions, so why not encourage more mass transit?”
Extending Metro would also clear the roads for people not headed into D.C., said Shiva Pant, chief of staff for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which runs Metro.
“Even if you are transit rider in west Fairfax, you still drive or take a bus to the Fairfax station to get to a train,” Pant said. “With the extension, you could get on a train farther west and remove some drivers from the road so that there is better capacity for folks not headed in and out of D.C.”

Cirrus Jun 10, 2009 7:13 PM

It would be absolutely ridiculous to go to the expense and trouble of building Metro to such far-flung and low-density destinations. Not only would it be an outrageous and unnecessary expense, but it would seriously degrade the ability of the Metrorail system to serve the core of the region, considering the system core has such capacity problems already. In other words, we would be spending a whole lot of money to make the system worse.

I am all for rail to places like Centreville, but for goodness sake, match the rail mode to the needs of the corridor. For the same cost of one new Metro extension you could put light rail on every major corridor in Northern Virginia, or you could improve MARC and VRE so they ran at least hourly service all day long.

We in the DC region need to step outside the nonsense intellectual box we've put ourselves in that incorrectly says "Metrorail is the only good transit". Given the choice of throwing billions of dollars down the drain for something like a Metrorail extension to Centreville that would ultimately harm the system or spending that money on a whole network of improvements and lines using alternate modes serving dozens of destinations, it would be nothing short of insane to build the Metro.

I like Connolly and Moran. They are friends to urbanism and transit. But on this issue they are wrong wrong wrong. Metrorail extensions to distant suburbs is the worst possible way to spend the limited transit dollars that we have.

orulz Jun 10, 2009 8:53 PM

I agree that extending metro by adding even more park-and-ride stations in the I-66 median is not desirable.

I could definitely see some Metro expansion in the district and Arlington, as well as the built up areas of Fairfax, Montgomery, and Prince George's counties, but simple extensions of the existing lines further into the suburbs is a bad idea.

There are plenty of dense areas much closer in that could use more transit. That would generate way more ridership and smart growth per dollar than running Metro further down the I-66 median to Centreville.

Cirrus Jun 10, 2009 9:32 PM

Exactly. If we had unlimited money that might be one thing. Unfortunately, we don't. We have to prioritize our investments, and putting the very most expensive kind of infrastructure 20 miles from anything urban so a handful of suburbanites can drive to a park and ride a couple of miles closer to their homes than the current park and ride would be a terrible prioritization.

Of course, if we had unlimited money we'd be building maglev subways instead of Metrorail anyway, so even then this would still be a terrible idea.

ardecila Jun 11, 2009 6:09 AM

The problem (understandably) is a reluctance to do transfers between modes. MARC and VRE have scraped along for years with minimal facilities, so the transfer facilities are terrible. DCites are not used to pleasant or efficient transfers out of the Metro system. I'm thinking of New Carrollton, Greenbelt, Silver Spring, etc - the places where commuter rail and Metro have adjacent stations. Transfers are confusing, hard to reach, and the stations are barren, unpleasant places to wait. Long train headways, as you point out, don't improve the situation.

I agree that VRE is a much better transportation TYPE than Metro, in exactly the corridors that are being discussed (I-66/West, I-95/Southwest). If the DC area continues its most-favored status when it comes to transportation funding, it should invest in DMU or EMU service on the VRE tracks. The Orange Line to Centreville seems like it could be answered better with a BRT network feeding into Fairfax-Vienna Station, and the Blue and Yellow Line extensions seem highly redundant, as they would approach each other near Fort Belvoir.

Of these, the most sensible one is Blue Line to Fort Belvoir. It has an existing corridor and it promises to serve a major employment center. But can Metro really serve a dispersed military facility effectively? Perhaps a feeder BRT network, with a dedicated road or dedicated lanes to Franconia-Springfield Station, would be more appropriate.

Cirrus Jun 11, 2009 1:38 PM


Of these, the most sensible one is Blue Line to Fort Belvoir. It has an existing corridor and it promises to serve a major employment center.
Except that there's already VRE operating in that exact corridor. It would be much less expensive to improve that VRE line to something approaching Metro level of service than to build a whole new facility.

The only major suburban Metrorail extension I support is Tysons Corner. And luckily, we've got that one under construction.

Everything else should be commuter rail or light rail.

orulz Jun 11, 2009 3:17 PM


Originally Posted by Cirrus (Post 4300136)
Except that there's already VRE operating in that exact corridor. It would be much less expensive to improve that VRE line to something approaching Metro level of service than to build a whole new facility.

The only major suburban Metrorail extension I support is Tysons Corner. And luckily, we've got that one under construction.

Everything else should be commuter rail or light rail.

I'm not a native to DC, but... I think you're right. Core expansion of the Metro system is most important. That should come first.

However, there's one exception to your rule on suburban expansion that would be good for further down the line.

From time to time, a full circumferential Purple Line has been mentioned. Usually it's proposed as an extension of the light rail line, but since that would be 60ish miles long, I can't see how that could possibly work as light rail. It would be best if implemented as a Metro line.

There's the temptation to stick to the beltway median since that's the path of least resistance, and there are places where it would make sense (most of PGC) but the primary goal should be to hit all the spots that are (or could easily become) walkable urban nodes, since there's no point to tying a bunch of suburban park and rides together.

See this Google Map for an idea of what that might look like. I figured a 60 mile line with 1 stop about every 2 miles for a total of 30 stops.

Cirrus Jun 11, 2009 3:34 PM

A full circumferential Purple Line will have to be light rail, because Maryland is going to build the first phase of it (Bethesda to New Carrollton) as light rail. We're not going to rip out that investment in 20 years just to convert LRT to Metro.

And the length of the line isn't a problem, because no one would be riding it the full 60 miles. No one would ever ride the Purple Line more than about 1/3 of the way around, because any trips longer than that would be easier to make either going through the city or around in the other direction.

Busy Bee Jun 11, 2009 3:41 PM

I see no problem with the Purple Line being Light Rail. Paris has been a few (T) circumferential sections as tram and to the best of my knowledge they work fine, mostly because most people aren't going to be riding in a big circle or even arc—most will use it as a feeder service to the Metro lines.

Gordo Jun 11, 2009 3:53 PM

Are there any upgrades to the core system that can be made without tremendous expense? I only ever see extensions mentioned, never upgrades to the core.

All of the problems mentioned that would cause problems to Metrorail have been done out here on BART, so they can look across the country to see what happens when you expand endlessly into the hinterlands and woefully underbuild core capacity. Unfortunately, any upgrade to the core of the BART system that would increase capacity in any significant way (fourth track through the Oakland Wye and/or second Transbay Tube) are absurdly expensive - tens of billions.

So we're stuck with a system that peaks worse than any other heavy rail system in the US (probably the world), and we won't be able to capture all of those peak riders soon. The operational problems of systems like this are annoying - but the financial problems that result from systems like this are catastrophic. Variable pricing would help, but not nearly enough to fix things.

orulz Jun 11, 2009 4:20 PM


Originally Posted by Gordo (Post 4300343)
Are there any upgrades to the core system that can be made without tremendous expense? I only ever see extensions mentioned, never upgrades to the core.

Of course core upgrades are going to be more costly than suburban expansions, but they are mentioned quite often.

The big one is the separate blue line, and that does involve tremendous expense, but there are other changes too:
  • Potomac Yards infill station
  • Two new track connections to allow some Orange/Silver trains to go through Arlington Cemetary and then over the bridge, bypassing the bottleneck at Rosslyn
  • Some other new track connections
  • Ped tunnel connection between Farragut North and Farragut West
  • Ped tunnel connection between Metro Center and Gallery Place-Chinatown

Greater Greater Washington has done a pretty good job of summarizing these plans here.

Cirrus Jun 11, 2009 6:05 PM

The new blue line would cost about $10 billion. We're going to have to do it sooner or later, but for the time being we can get better bang for the buck with modifications to the service (running more blue trains up the yellow bridge) and surface transit improvements like streetcars and express buses.

ardecila Jun 12, 2009 7:51 AM


Originally Posted by Cirrus (Post 4300136)
Except that there's already VRE operating in that exact corridor. It would be much less expensive to improve that VRE line to something approaching Metro level of service than to build a whole new facility.

I'm speaking in relatives. To lump these extensions together as if they are all vital parts of the regional transportation plan, as Connolly and Moran seem to be doing, is a bad idea. Obviously some have better merits than others. In order to properly evaluate priorities, the benefit of all possible projects must be considered.

This notion of "bridges to nowhere" is stupid, because once the bridge is built, the private sector comes in, builds stuff on the other side, and then the bridge does not go to nowhere anymore. If sufficient demand is present in the market, then development will come to fill the constraints of infrastructure, as society dictates its terms through land use policies.

Anyway, in the list of priorities for the DC area, these projects do indeed seem quite low. But to dismiss them entirely seems short-sighted and does not allow for the phenomenon of induced growth, which powered the growth of inner cities and, later, suburbia. Only now are American governments in a "catch-up" mode where investments address existing congestion without providing for future growth. The rise of town centers along DC's Metro lines is an amazing latter-day example of induced growth caused by transit rather than highway. I see no reason why this trend should not continue in a city that has come to regard major TOD as the normal state of affairs.

novawolverine Jun 12, 2009 1:01 PM

The extensions in VA I'd support are Tysons, Ft. Belvoir and to Fairfax Corner. Those areas have potential for dense development and wouldn't simply be commuter shuttles like something in Centreville or Woodbridge would be since they have lots of jobs and capacity to grow. There's a area between 66 and I-95 that's not served by metro, like in the skyline area and further out into Annandale and Burke. Ideally, I think metro could have worked here with the population but we need heavy commuter rail upgrades as well as better local planning. It sucks not a lot can be done for the skyline, landmark and seven corners area though. Maybe streetcar and better bus service.

There's potential for core upgrades as well. Most of them have been highlighted, the Potomac Yards one is probably the most exciting of them right now. The pedestrian tunnels should be built, but in the short-term a software change for metrocard users.

Also, the potomac river needs a new tunnel and that'll be very expensive. And areas east of the core, infill stations - perhaps another one in the vicinity of RFK stadium and another on Benning Rd. later down the line. Also homeland security is moving to st. elizabeth hospital campus and it's not in a pedestrian friendly area really. Even later down the line, there could be another station in Anacostia. There's a wide swath of NE that doesn't have any metro, I don't think anything can be done about there, probably better bus service and streetcar.

I can't help but wonder IF, someday, G'town gets served by metro. That's not on the horizon but I don't think it can be taken completely off the table as long as money is being thrown around for extensions and with political pressure to get something done for G'town besides a bus considering it'll most likely always be congested. The price is seriously sky-high and there's lots of nimbys but long-term something needs to be done and I think it's either metro or bust for some people even though that's a perfect area for streetcar.

In MD, there's some who want a green line extension to BWI but MARC is perfect for that route. The tracks exist, it's the right distance away, there's not currently a lot of development on that path although there's a lot more coming. It's a different situation than metro to Dulles where it's already developed. I know there are plans for infill stations on the red line in the Bethesda-N. Bethesda-Rockville area which are much needed with the density and growth they're going for.

Also, in Arlington, there's the Columbia Pike streetcar which will be a big success IMO w/ the way that corridor is developing. And Anacostia has a streetcar under construction and the H street corridor is probably one of the next ones to get tracks put down.

I think light rail is the next big thing. We'll have infill and perhaps some extensions for metro, but light rail will do a great job to fill in the gaps. BRT will take a bit longer IMO, I think more upgrades to bus service will probably be pursued first but we need BRT as well.

And this can't be understated enough but funding for maintenance and service is critical for this system that's already reaching or had reached max capacity. Considering we don't have a third track for express service or back up means we don't have a lot of room for error. We'll have to be very innovative and efficient and we need maintenance and service funding. Ridership has never been this high as what we're seeing now.

Cirrus Jun 12, 2009 1:38 PM

There could be a time in the future when it makes sense to build more Metro again, but right now what the system lacks is light rail and good commuter rail. Maybe in another 30 years after we've had a chance to bring those aspects of our system up to spec it will once again be worth it to talk about Metro.

blockski Jun 12, 2009 6:46 PM

Well, given the long lead time to plan for these things, I think the time to start the process is now.

Long term, for Metro, I don't want to see the system extend much farther than it already has. I could see extending the Yellow line down Route 1 to Ft. Belvoir, but the other proposed extensions could (and should) all be served by a vastly improved commuter rail system.

For Metro, I think the long term goal ought to be to eliminate the areas where multiple lines share the same track. The first priority would be the new Blue line - this would not only add new route miles through DC, but it would also vastly increase the maximum capacity of the Blue and Orange lines through VA and MD.

The next priority would be far more difficult - separating the Yellow and Green lines through DC. I think the idea would be to have a new line travel through DC going up North Capitol or 1st St NW to serve the Hospital Center and the MacMillan site, then somehow cris-crossing with the Green line to travel up under Georgia Ave to Silver Spring.

Finally, I'd like to see the Yellow and Blue lines separated through Arlington - I'd propose that be done by making the Franconia-Springfield a spur of the Yellow line and having the new Blue line run out under Columbia Pike to Bailey's Crossroads, maybe even Annandale.

Planning for this would be with the idea of being a 25-35 year plan. That way, you'd have all the lines on their own tracks, thus adding redundancy to the system, as well as increasing the capacity of the tail ends of each line.

For Commuter Rail, I'd start with service upgrades. More frequent headways, easier boarding, weekend and late night service. I'd also look to expand the system - both in length (hitting Richmond, Charlottesville, etc) but also in new routes.

I'd want to beef up service so it's more like an S-Bahn system. With that analogy in mind, it's also important to improve the brand - bring MARC and VRe together under one brand - offer through service so you don't have to transfer at Union Station, and try to make it so that people don't just want Metro because that's what they know is good.

For Light Rail, I think the current plans are a good start. Many would be duplicated by the Metro extensions I've discussed, so I'd focus on cross-town routes that won't be duplicated first.

I'd also be curious about using light rail as more of an inter-urban kind of service. Specifically, I'm thinking about how to link both Baltimore and DC to Annapolis. Baltimore's light rail uses an old rail ROW to get to the airport, and the ROW continues all the way to Annapolis. The DC-Annapolis connection needs a ROW, but I'm curious as to the feasibility of using LRT over longer distances. Cutting that ROW just for commuter rail seems like a waste, but running a more commuter-oriented LRT line from Annapolis to New Carrolton somewhere along the Route 50 ROW is an intriguing idea - long term, with the hope that FRA guidelines might change - perhaps those LRT trains could then just slide on to the NE corridor tracks and roll right into Union Station, too. But that's probably just a pipe dream.

202_Cyclist Jun 12, 2009 6:54 PM

Metro station in Georgetown
The blog, Georgetown Metropolitan, had an interesting post about where to put a metro station in Georgetown if WMATA ever builds a station there. If a metro station in Georgetown is built, the next step would be to build a light rail line up Wisconsin Avenue to Tenley. This would connect the Blue Line with stations further up the Red Line without having to go all the way to Metro Center. This would also hopefully reduce congestion on Wisconsin Avenue and encourage denser development near the stations. I wrote a paper last year for a course at George Mason looking at this possibility.

Additionally, if a metro station in Georgetown was built, the Whitehurst Freeway wouldn’t be as necessary. Perhaps with the passengers accomodated on metro instead, this elevated freeway could be removed, giving new vitality to K Street.

Where Would a Metro Stop Go Anyway?

While it is now little more than a glimmer in transit nerds’ eyes, the likelihood of a Georgetown metro station getting built is larger than you may realize. On the right is a map that appeared in the Washington Post in 2001. It described long term plans that WMATA was considering for the expansion of the Metrorail system. Those plans called for a splitting of the Orange and Blue lines. The new Blue line would split off from the Orange line at Rosslyn and travel parallel to the Orange line through downtown, finally meeting up with it again at Stadium-Armory. In building this separate Blue line, WMATA would have the chance to remedy the mistake it made decades ago and finally build a Georgetown station. In an act of enormous cart-before-the-horseing, GM wonders: where exactly would this station go anyway? But before we get to that, we need to go back to the 1960’s first.


The first thing to address if you’re going to start talking about the history of Metro and Georgetown is the old canard about why Georgetown doesn’t have a station in the first place. The story goes that in the 1960’s a bunch of rich Georgetowners didn’t want hordes of minorities coming into their neighborhood on the Metro so they successfully petitioned WMATA to nix any plans for a stop. This telling of this story chugs along year-after-year because it fits in with the negative stereotype of a Georgetown resident: rich, racist, and well-connected. Unfortunately for the storytellers, it’s fiction.

George Mason professor Zachary Schrag tracked down the true story of why there’s no Georgetown stop. In his definitive history of the building of the Metro “The Great Society Subway“, Schrag writes that while there was some opposition to the building of metro stop in Georgetown from the residents, the engineers never seriously considered building one there. The grade from the Potomac up to M St. was too steep. Moreover, plenty of neighborhoods across the city were not too excited about a metro stop coming into their neighborhood, but it wasn’t out of racism or xenophobia. It was out of a fear of the disruption to business that construction would bring. Indeed many stores in areas like U St. and Clarendon were knocked out of business due to Metro construction.

Remedying a Mistake

So that’s why we don’t have a Georgetown station, but was that our only shot? WMATA doesn’t think so. In 2001 WMATA recognized that it could not indefinitely send both the Orange and the Blue lines through the same tunnel between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom. A new crossing would be required to handle the increase in traffic expected over the next couple decades (particularly with the addition of the Silver Line to Dulles and Loundon County). In building a new Blue line parralel and north of the Orange line, we would be afforded an opportunity to finally build a Georgetown station. The Post wrote back in 2001:

The suggested 22-mile leg, which is being called the new Blue Line, could include room for 11 new stations. Among them would be a stop in Georgetown — at M Street NW and Wisconsin Avenue — where the idea of a Metro station was shunned a generation ago but is now welcomed as a tonic for parking and traffic problems.

[It doesn't help in stopping the urban legend when even the Washington Post keeps repeating it].

What happened to those plans you ask? Money. The new line would cost $6.3 billion to build and WMATA was already running a $5.2 billion shortfall. So the plans simply faded away. That is until last year.

Last August WMATA staff gave a proposal to the WMATA Board of Directors addressing the long term structural needs of the system. In those plans was a revived proposal of a split Blue line, including a Georgetown stop. David Alpert at GGW has written extensively about this.

But Where?

But where exactly would that stop specifically be? In 2001 WMATA suggested M and Wisconsin, and frankly that seems like the most likely possibility. But where would it even fit? GM thought it over and can think of a couple possible locations from Metro exits. They are:

Next To PNC Bank:

Right now this is parking lot. There seems like there would be adequate room to build an escalator exit here. While no location around here would be without serious complications, this one seems the least complicated.

Next to the Canal
The modern canopy is unlikely under any situation, by GM threw it in here just for consideration. As for the space itself, there seems to be a decent amount of room for an escalator here, but there may be a lot of complications trying to build so close to the canal.

A Bump Out
This plan would take out some of the parking spots and perhaps a lane on Wisconsin just south of M. in GM’s opinion, this would probably be a decent trade-off. There is never a ton of traffic coming up Wisconsin from K, and it is hoped that with a Metro there’d be a significant drop in driving anyway.

These are just brainstorms. But it does seem that nobody has thought too hard about the location question more specifically than just “M and Wisconsin”. What do you think? Where would you put the entrances? Anywhere else you’d put the station? Maybe down closer to Key Bridge? How about the other direction towards downtown?

Cirrus Jun 12, 2009 7:04 PM


Well, given the long lead time to plan for these things, I think the time to start the process is now.
That's a red herring. We need to plan the other more pressing improvements too, and they also take a long time. Taking our eyes off that ball by focusing on a bunch of low priority / high cost Metro extensions that we won't be ready to make for another 30 years would accomplish nothing but delay the things we *do* need right now.

blockski Jun 12, 2009 7:06 PM


Originally Posted by Cirrus (Post 4302706)
That's a red herring. We need to plan the other more pressing improvements too, and they also take a long time. Taking our eyes off that ball by focusing on a bunch of low priority / high cost Metro extensions that we won't be ready to make for another 30 years would accomplish nothing but delay the things we *do* need right now.

That's fair, but I'd still like to see those kinds of improvements to Metro officially listed somewhere, even if it's without a timeframe. It's not so much that you have to start planning for them now, but at least keep them on the back burner. Right now, they've been taken straight off the stove.

202_Cyclist Jun 19, 2009 5:52 PM

SmartBike Expansion Gets a Flat (Georgetown Metropolis)
This is from the Georgetown Metropolis blog.

SmartBike Expansion Gets a Flat

"GM has been increasingly excited about the planned expansion of DC’s bike sharing program, SmartBike. As early as last August, just a few weeks after the initial roll-out, DDOT was already talking about expanding the program to places like Georgetown or Capitol Hill. This spring, DDOT filled our heads with visions of 50 stations, then 100. GM was certain that we’d have SmartBike in Georgetown by this Summer.

Turns out he was wrong.

GM heard through the grapevine that the expansion has hit a major snag. Clear Channel runs the program and does so in exchange for being able to control the advertising in DC’s new bus shelters. That was the original deal. Well it turns out that Clear Channel doesn’t think the deal they agreed to includes running an additional 90 bike stations. So as a result they’re balking. On top of it, District officials are interested in expanding the program to reach Arlington or Alexandria. Since they don’t allow advertising on bus shelters in Arlington, Clear Channel is particularly uninterested in running the program there.

So the Plan B is to take Clear Channel out of the equation and bring in a another system that would be run by a multi-jurisdictional public entity (like WMATA). This will obviously take time.

GM is extremely disapointed in this because the reports from last spring got his hopes up that he’d soon be able to pick up a SmartBike at Dupont and ride it home. Additionally, if they go with a completely new system, it will add significant delay to the project, and will give the first bike sharing program in the U.S. an air of failure. Moreover, it seems that the District didn’t negotiate with Clear Channel strongly enough. If they anticipated the expansion and got it in the agreement, then Clear Channel wouldn’t be in a position to refuse.

The only possible silver lining to this is that it could result in a better system in the end. The biggest fault of the first Smartbike system was that DDOT and Clear Channel didn’t think big enough. Paris’ successful Velib program started off with 750 stations. Now it’s up to 1,450 stations with 20,000 bikes. And it’s extremely popular. GM stopped by Paris during his honeymoon and saw them being used everywhere.

SmartBike was a successful proof of concept. Let’s hope SmartBike mark II lives up to its full potential."

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