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Is a Metro extension to Woodbridge a good idea?

Congressman Gerry Connolly and local officials are holding a public meeting September 26 in Prince William County to discuss extending Metro to Woodbridge.

Photo by KristonRehberg on Flickr.

It this a good idea? Like any proposal, it has pros and cons. The issue also depends greatly on whether you look at the problem from a transit planner lens or a public opinion lens.

Is actually bringing Metro to Woodbridge a good idea? If money were no object, probably. However, it would worsen capacity crunches in the core, and so really needs to be paired with a project like the separated Blue Line or separated Yellow Line in DC.

Is bringing Metro to Woodbridge worth the money? It depends what else you spend the money on, but if the same money went to other transit, expanding VRE and express bus options is probably better. However, the budgetary tradeoff is rarely between Metro and other transit of equivalent cost.

Is talking about bringing Metro to Woodbridge a good idea? Absolutely, because talking about how transit can best serve the people of Prince William County can only lead to better thinking about how to grow the Woodbridge area and general public support for transit. Besides, most likely if the state isn't planning a Metro extension, it would instead be planning some much more sprawl-inducing highway proposal.

First, let's talk about the actual tradeoffs in serving the area with transit.

Any Metro extension in this area absolutely has to serve Fort Belvoir. This is the largest focused job center in the area thanks to BRAC and will likely continue to grow. Putting any new transit here without going to Fort Belvoir would be foolish.

In particular, one factor that makes Metro much more cost-effective than other transit systems which serve suburbs, like BART, is the way Metro has significant reverse commuters. Instead of mostly empty trains out to the ends of lines in the morning, many people are riding those trains to federal facilities like those at Medical Center and Suitland.

There's already been talk about extending the Yellow Line down Route 1 instead of the Blue Line. This has the added benefit of helping the communities along the way, many of which are just the kind that could plan constructively around transit. Just like the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor 30 years ago, there are aging and often struggling commercial properties which could become mixed-used transit-oriented communities serving people who work to the south in Fort Belvoir or to the north in Alexandria, Arlington and DC.

Image from Fairfax County.

Building any new rail line, however, is quite expensive. Most of the area is low density. Meanwhile, there's another rail line already here: VRE, which goes to Woodbridge (and has a station not far from Fort Belvoir).

Why not make VRE run far more frequently? It could even combine with MARC to create Metro "express lines." With fewer stops, these would provide a quicker route to the Pentagon and downtown than any Blue or Yellow line extension would.

The biggest obstacle is that VRE doesn't own the tracks, which also serve as the primary east coast freight line. CSX is planning to run even more freight here, which is why they're expanding the tunnels on Capitol Hill as part of the National Corridor plan.

The freight trains don't necessarily need to go through downtown DC. In fact, it's probably better if hazardous material weren't being transported a few hundred feet from the Capitol. NCPC looked years ago at adding a freight bypass, but it's expensive and encountered political opposition in Southern Maryland.

Image from NCPC.

Without building the freight bypass, Virginia could still improve capacity on the VRE Fredericksburg Line by adding passing tracks and a third track as much as possible. Some of that is already happening to accommodate more Amtrak service. Plus, improving this line can enhance intercity rail to Richmond.

Any added Metro service would increase the numbers of passengers coming into the central sections of the Metro system (Arlington and DC). As that ridership grows Metro will need to run the maximum possible numbers of trains on the Blue-Yellow segment, but to do that, they'll need one of the core expansion projects to separate lines.

That's either a new M Street Blue Line subway from Rosslyn to Georgetown to downtown, so the Blue Line trains don't have to merge with Orange and Silver trains at Rosslyn, or a separate Yellow Line tunnel from Southwest to either downtown or Union Station, so Yellow Line trains don't have to merge with Green at L'Enfant Plaza.

The other option is more express buses. Virginia has looked at projects which add special bus exits on and off the freeways, so buses can run in HOV or HOT lanes, get off and stop at a station near the freeway, then hop back on. Light rail could also serve the corridor.

These options are far cheaper. If the tens of billions of dollars required for such a project were sitting in a special bank account marked "TO BE USED FOR TRANSIT IN SOUTHERN FAIRFAX AND EASTERN PRINCE WILLIAM," then a combination of buses and light rail is likely the most productive use of the money. However, that's never the way it works, and planning a big transit project may be the best option compared to the likely alternative, which is planning big and destructive highway projects.

In the next part, we'll talk about the political and public opinion ramifications of talking about such a project.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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thank you for a good post dave.

A few points.

A. yes theres a lot to be said for improved VRE service, but as you note, the freight integration/capacity improvement issues get complex. (I think MARC/VRE integration for through commuters makes a lot of sense. Philly does something like that).

B. Ive heard folks talking about LRT. Im not sure if theres a good route down the REX corridor from Huntington (would they really give up the lanes on Rte 1?) If down the CSX corridor, I would think heavy rail isnt that much more expensive.

C. Assuming heavy metrorail, while there are community rationales to do a yellow line extension, with the possibility of lots of TOD down that way, I suspect it would be far more expensive and take longer than extending the blue line.

D. This still doesnt address the question of whether it makes sense to extend transit (beyond slightly increased VRE service) beyond Ft Belvoir to Woodbridge. I wonder if HOT lanes down there (with better BRT accommodations than current HOT lane projects have) would make more sense?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 20, 2011 12:54 pm • linkreport

Woodbridge would be a hard sell, but I've always thought there should be a metro line right down 395 from the Pentagon station to the end of the blue line.

With all the additional BRAC realignments it makes more sense now than ever before, let alone all the businesses and residential there already.

by freely on Sep 20, 2011 1:00 pm • linkreport

I think the Yellow line extension down the US 1 corridor makes the most sense, in terms of metrorail expansion.

1. US 1 is dying to be redeveloped and in need up upgrading as a high quality rail corridor.

2. The yellow line station at Huntington was designed for future expansion. At least that is what I have always heard.

3. It should definitely serve Ft. Belvoir. I have met many people in Arlington and Alexandria making the commute down there. Of course, you may have security issues related to whether the tran can actually enter the base, etc. and getting people from the station to parts of the base. But that is probably more of a DOD/Ft. Belvoir issue internally.

4. I believe that there has been talk of this idea before. I thought there was supposed to be a US 1 corridor study this year by either VDOT or DRPT or some combination thereof.

5. Extending the yellow line doesnt cause as much congestion in the core as adding to the blue or orange lines dealing with the issues through Rosslyn. I would think that the yellow line bridge across the Potomac and the line in DC could better cope (increased yellow and existing green) versus (orange, silver, blue).

by AllanVA on Sep 20, 2011 1:05 pm • linkreport

No. It's not about "extending WMATA" it's about doing the right transportation planning for the Metropolitan area specifically and the boondocks, i.e., PW County, specifically.

by Richard Layman on Sep 20, 2011 1:13 pm • linkreport

" However, that's never the way it works, and planning a big transit project may be the best option compared to the likely alternative, which is planning big and destructive highway projects."

Other that the i-95 HOT lanes, are there are highway projects in this area in the next 10 years?

by charlie on Sep 20, 2011 1:14 pm • linkreport

David - Interesting article. I think it will be really interesting to see this concept framed by the success of the silver line over the next several years. If the pricing / ridership doesn't work out then long distance extensions are going to be really hard to sell.

by OddNumber on Sep 20, 2011 1:19 pm • linkreport

Extending to Woodbridge is a hard sell. There is more opportunity for VRE expansion and TOD there.

Ft. Belvoir access is important. Blue line seems easier. There is a abandoned spur line that goes from Newington then through the north section and main post of the base. Bridge crosses Rt 1. How the Army would deal with this and whether they would allow it is a big if. Seems like extending from Springfield would be easy. I could even see some kind of interim busway or DMU train line working here if the Army and all the other stakeholders could work together (another big if).

Yellow Line extension to Ft. Belvoir would be the choice if you wanted to make the case for revitalizing Route 1, transforming land use, and building TOD. The rewards could be enormous, but this is no doubt the messier, more expensive, and more contentious proposition with a lot more engineering issues too.

by spookiness on Sep 20, 2011 1:41 pm • linkreport

If you really want to service Ft Belvoir you extend the Blue Line south. Most of the jobs are located just south of the Franconia Station. The big employers at the main FT B. are NGA, Defense Logistical Agency (DLA) and DeWitt Hospital. The NGA is about mile directly to the west of Franconia and DLA is about 2-3 miles south. Most of the support contracting for NGA and DLA is occurring in the Franconia (Near the Franconia Station), Newington (Loisdale Rd and Backlick) and Central Springfield. Rt 1 is currently seeing little growth due to BRAC. DeWitt is south of RT 1 but not too far from DLA. Plus the abandon rail spur from Newington and 95 running south to RT1 helps things out.

by Rj on Sep 20, 2011 1:46 pm • linkreport

Metrorail extension to Woodbridge makes little sense. I think the yellow line could be extended down Route 1 for several miles to maybe the north end of Fort Belvoir at the farthest. Past that and it makes less sense.

The Orange line should be extended to the Fair Oaks/Fair Lakes area, though.

Points south of Fort Belvoir are ripe for VRE TOD. Planners should go see places that have successful TOD near commuter rail stations and push for more funds and whatever else is necessary to get more frequency.

by Vik on Sep 20, 2011 1:49 pm • linkreport

My chief objection to VRE as opposed to Metro to Woodbridge is simple: VRE currently has no station close enough to properly serve Fort Belvoir. If that issue can be dealt with I think that VRE wouldn't be a bad idea. However, for longer-term planning I still think a Yellow Line extension would warrant consideration.

- Route 1 NEEDS some kind of long-term revitalization plan, and a Metro line would serve it well.

- A lot of the neighborhoods abutting the highway are low-income, and I think they would be well-served by train service.

- An extension to Fort Belvoir could be easily paired with a Blue Line extension from Franconia. Besides which, don't forget that there's going to be the new museum on base - whichever extension you choose, I think a Metro station there would be a no-brainer.

- My own preferred Yellow Line route would pass the fort and go through Lorton, too. (I know there's a VRE station, but well-planned, a Metro line could augment that rather than compete with it.)

- I'd love to be able to walk to a Metro station. (What? I'm not allowed to be a little selfish?)

I've sometimes thought about the feasability of extending some sort of transit as far as Potomac Mills, but that would be a bit much to ask for. Unless VRE could manage it. And then manage the weekend service, because I suspect it would be quite advantageous for people.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Sep 20, 2011 2:01 pm • linkreport

Damn. You start this series on the last day before I go away for a week?

The Yellow Line should be extended not only from Huntington to Ft Belvoir, but further to Lorton/Gunston, Woodbridge, and then along the PW Parkway to Manassass and the extended Orange Line.

by Jasper on Sep 20, 2011 2:05 pm • linkreport

But the service would degrade and frankly, DC should stand up with some guts and vote against any system expansion that it is not tied to system expansion at the core of the city (specifically the separated blue line, but other improvements as well).

Good point Richard. (From Richard's link,above)

by Jazzy on Sep 20, 2011 2:46 pm • linkreport

Oh, and off course, there's a good reason to extend metro (in all directions). We want TOD, right? Doing it right, right away is a lot easier than going through a number of Tysons changes. Southern Fairfax and PW County have plenty of space for TOD infill.

by Jasper on Sep 20, 2011 2:53 pm • linkreport

While any ideas for expanding mass transit are worthy of discussion, the greater focus should be on expanding capacity in the downtown core (and Rosslyn). As anyone who rides Metro knows, the three major downtown transfer stations, Gallery Place, L'Enfant Plaza, and Metro Center, are crowded. And trains that service these stations are crowded too. Things only get worse when a train has to be off-loaded and taken out of service.
As David points out, an M St/Mass Ave east-west line could alleviate some of the congestion around Rosslyn, Gallery Place, and Metro Center.
Again, as David writes, the extension to Woodbridge could bring thousands of new passengers through the downtown core at a time where Metro trains are at or near capacity.
Bottom line: While it is nice to dream about a vast network of subway lines, the region and transportation authorities need to first focus on improving access in and around the core.

by Tom Leonard on Sep 20, 2011 3:04 pm • linkreport

Well, TOD is badly defined. It's really about transit intensification and development. Anyway, the idea of TOD and Prince William is almost an oxymoron.

It's not that PW shouldn't have a great transpo plan and program, but how much of their trips are generated by DC related stuff, and how much mode shift can be induced through the extension of the transit system.

You really need to read Belmont--it's the best book in planning imho since Jane Jacobs. His point about polycentric vs. monocentric development patterns and transit is that polycentric transit systems have minimal impact on reformulating development in the catchment area.

The only thing I figured out that he didn't is at the core of the center city, the WMATA system functions monocentrically to the benefit of DC. There are about 31 stations over a 17 square mile area and within that area (with a couple of exceptions due to urban design reasons) all of the areas are healthy or revitalizing.

And the fact is that the WMATA system was not designed to improve DC, it was more about facilitating commuting by suburban residents.

Counties need to figure out their own way to intensify transit and mode split and development. But hey, most of the development in PW County could probably be accommodated by intensification in Fairfax County...

(Note that Ft. Belvoir is a different issue and is in Fairfax anyway.)

by Richard Layman on Sep 20, 2011 3:10 pm • linkreport

A cheaper alternative would be to rescind BRAC and locate most of the employees in Crystal City, which already has a Metro station AND a VRE station.

by Marian Berry on Sep 20, 2011 3:25 pm • linkreport

@Tom Leonard: I completely agree with your statement that we have to focus on expanding core capacity. But I don't see why that can't be done in tandem with discussions about further-flung extensions. Especially given the state of things in the Route 1 corridor right now. BRAC aside, it's becoming close to impassable.

@Jasper: I'd put a Lorton station somewhat north of the Gunston area, mainly because that's one part of the county that I don't think needs much development. I'd put it closer to the Lorton Station area to facilitate development on that side of Route 1. That being said, I think that (in the event the extension IS built) the county should consider some kind of shuttle service both to the Gunston Neck area (for Gunston Hall and for the various parks on the peninsula) and to Mount Vernon from the closest Metro stations.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Sep 20, 2011 3:39 pm • linkreport

Belvoir is big, big, big. Is there any reason why we wouldn't want to extend both Yellow and Blue to reach the base, and surrounding communities?

by andrew on Sep 20, 2011 3:46 pm • linkreport

the base is big, but are the activity centers within the base widely dispersed?

by Richard Layman on Sep 20, 2011 3:53 pm • linkreport

Oops, remember that building even a "surface" subway station costs a lot of money. New York Ave. cost about $120MM (above ground). Apparently the proposed cost of the infill Potomac Yard station is $240MM--I think this will be at grade. So you need to be somewhat judicious. It'd be cheaper to create a streetcar network in the general area that would connect to stations, than it would to build lots of subway stations.

by Richard Layman on Sep 20, 2011 3:56 pm • linkreport

I live in Woodbridge, VA and use the VRE Woodbridge station. The reason VRE's service is limited to rush hour is because of their contract with CSX which limits when they can operate and how many trains. Plus they only have 71 new railcars and 20 new locomotives. Most trains are filled to compacity.

The resaon CSX limits VRE train is because the line is saturated with Freight, VRE & Amtrak trains. In order to add more trains they'd need more track capacity which cost allot of money they don't have. The line has either 2 or 3 sets of tracks depending on where you are.

by Davin Peterson on Sep 20, 2011 4:09 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman:

the base is big, but are the activity centers within the base widely dispersed?

The two main nodes of development currently in play are the Fort Belvoir North area and the area around the hospital, on Route 1. Both of those could be served by a Blue Line extension. As, with a little jiggling, could the site of the Army Museum, when it is built. Adding the Yellow Line to the mix, though, would vastly facilitate development of the Route 1 corridor, and it would take a lot of pressure off of the highway itself, which is a huge consideration right now.

To me, it's a situation of "do it right or not at all", but we all know how those turn out...

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Sep 20, 2011 4:09 pm • linkreport

Honestly, as much as a separated blue line or yellow line in the core would be outstanding I don't expect it to happen in the next 30 years. It took the Tysons line nearly 30 years to come together. Look at how virtually nothing has happened with regards to a separated blue line since the first time it appeared in a potential WMATA expansion map 8-10 years ago. What a joke.

Our local governments are too weak to champion more underground metrorail inside the district. The price tag for such an underground line would probably be 20 billion plus. Where is that coming from? Virginia and Maryland will fight tooth and nail against contributing much of anything to a new trunk line that resides almost entirely in DC. Their commuters stand to benefit from increased core capacity but nonetheless Richmond barely ever wants to pay for NoVa infrastructure nevermind something they can potentially freeride off another jurisdiction.

Without core expansion capacity metro will be maxed out well before that 30 years is up. Which is why the streetcar project within DC is so important as an alternative means for commuting for DC residents. Streetcar can potentially happen much more quickly due to far lower costs than heavy rail and the district being able to manage the project independently rather than have to secure funding and build consensus with VA/MD.

I wish this wasn't the case. In my utopian DC the Yellow Line and Blue Line are separated and their is a inner Brownline loop that connects U Street, Gtown, Navy Yard, Hilleast and Union Station. But that's about as likely as a unicorn that craps rainbows becoming mayor. Streetcar and continued substantial cycling improvements are all we have hopes of happening inside DC in the next 10-15 years.

by Paul S on Sep 20, 2011 4:34 pm • linkreport

I'd hesitate to discourage any extension of Metro. While expansion of the core is more important than extending farther out, accept that Metro will grow in a patchwork. The problem is not that Gerry Connolly is pushing to extend Metro south, but that no one is championing growth in the core.

A line to Woodbridge would be wise because it's a rare opportunity to encourage TOD in that region (more so than VRE would, or has).

Ideally it could be paired with expansion north of King St. Have it connect to a new river crossing over the Wilson Bridge. Or, give Virginia more stations and have the line connect to the Silver Line in East Falls Church, via the beltway or Seven Corners.

by Michael on Sep 20, 2011 4:47 pm • linkreport

@ Michael: The problem is not that Gerry Connolly is pushing to extend Metro south, but that no one is championing growth in the core.

I think the only way to get more stuff in the core is to overload it even more than it is now. The Silver Line and any extensions will help create that overcrowding even more than today.

by Jasper on Sep 20, 2011 4:56 pm • linkreport

Or, give Virginia more stations and have the line connect to the Silver Line in East Falls Church, via the beltway or Seven Corners.

I once platted a route that would connect a hypothetical Yellow and Blue Line extension with the Silver and Orange Lines via the Mark Center area. It's really not that hard to do, at least on paper. (Yes, I know, funding and all.) That would solve at least some of the connectivity issues on the Virginia side of the river.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Sep 20, 2011 5:15 pm • linkreport

You guys are kidding yourselves with the idea of rail to Ft. Belvoir. Ft. Belvoir is roughly the same size as the City of Alexandria. There is nowhere you can put a rail line that would service even a modest percentage of the base. Most people will be driving there for the foreseeable future.

I could see expanding the yellow line down US1 but it would have to be a gradual process, done in conjunction with a multi-decade redevelopment plan. I could see expanding the blue line south of Springfield and it could maybe serve the Ft. Belvoir proving ground but that's a far cry from "Metro to Ft. Belvoir". Metro to Woodbridge? No way. It is way too far, would be way too expensive, and there is way too little density along the route. We need to look at other options such as VRE and BRT.

by movement on Sep 20, 2011 5:30 pm • linkreport

There is quite a bit of inhaling going on with the discussion of expanding Metrorail. There is no money to pay for the Silver Line and all of the major road programs that are needed to build an urban Tysons, much less more expansion. The Fairfax County supervisors kicked the ball to the Planning Commission, which fairly admits it does not know what to do to pay for this. The landowners don't want to pay and probably cannot afford to pay. The DTR drivers and employers in the Dulles Corridor are up in arms about excessive tolls that will not bring them any commuting relief. Local citizen and small business groups have told Fairfax County that they don't want to pay more for either the Silver Line or the massive road improvements associated with urbanization. Richmond will not pay. Uncle Sam is dead broke and totally incompetent in the area of transit. Gerry Connolly must be running for reelection already. He is too smart to think Metrorail will be expanded.
People suggesting BRT and VRE are at least dealing with economic and political reality. Metrorail will not expand for many years.

by tmtfairfax on Sep 20, 2011 5:43 pm • linkreport

Triple tracking the CSX line from the First St. Tunnel through to Ppwells Creek (a bit beyond Woodbridge, but triple tracking south of Powells Creek is already funded) and restoring quad tracking between the Long Bridge and interlocking AF (where the NS line joins the CSX) together with adjustments to the stations along the route would run approximately $350M (much of the costing was developed for Virginia's ARRA application). Rebuilding the spur into Ft. Belvoir would cost in the tens of millions (the main problem is crossing Telegraph Rd. which has been considerably widened since the spur was abandoned). Electrifying between Washington and Woodbridge and the Manassas line into Burke (which is the last station before all the at-grade crossings) would run something between $150M and $200M. A bunch of M8s could be bought piggybacking off the Connecticut/Metro-North contract at $20M apiece.

This would be far far cheaper than extending Metrorail and would enable run through into Baltimore as well.

by jim on Sep 20, 2011 5:49 pm • linkreport

"US 1 is dying to be redeveloped"

While that may be a popular opinion on this site, it may not be factually accurate. Whenever I am down there I see full parking lots in front of a lot of businesses. I also don't see a lot of vacant storefronts.

There is also a new Wal-Mart that opened recently and replaced one of those run down "wholesale liquidators" stores, which by any definition is a major step up.

You may hate the idea of a shopping center anchored by a Lowes, (or worse a Michael's craft store) but a lot of people are shopping there, bringing in money and jobs to that area.

In this economy, I don't think that is a bad thing at all. So what if people have to drive there. I would suggest that nearly every single person that chooses to live along that corridor either owns a car, or, if they don't will happily purchase a car as soon as they can afford it. No one is staying away because of the lack of a light rail line.

by twobarns on Sep 20, 2011 6:03 pm • linkreport

Well said, Jim.

Combine that with thru-routing from MARC/VRE and an increased level of commuter rail service, and you'd have some excellent and relatively affordable upgrades to the transit capacity along those corridors. As a bonus, a greatly increased commuter rail (we really need a better term - we're talking about more S-Bahn like service) would serve as an express service for Metro. Work on fare integration and you could have someone transferring to a VRE train at Alexandria for an express run into DC, for example.

by Alex B. on Sep 20, 2011 6:03 pm • linkreport

To those of you who are saying that Ft. Belvoir is "too big" and "too spread out", let me point one item out: the new hospital at Belvoir (itself part of the replacement for Walter Reed), almost all of which is within a 1/2 mile walk of Route 1. Meanwhile, a station along the rail spur would basically be right across the fence from the Defense Logistics Agency.

@twobarns: I live on Route 1. You are correct that there are several successful businesses along the corridor with full parking lots. But based on my civic association meetings, the Mt. Vernon Council committee meetings, and town halls and surveys by both Sup. Hyland and Del. Surovell, the residents here support denser development along Route 1.

by Froggie on Sep 20, 2011 6:42 pm • linkreport

I don't know how anyone could suggest that Route 1 isn't ripe for development, which is the same thing as "dying for redevelopment", whether it's in bad shape now or not. It's a densely populated area with strip malls everywhere and very little transit. It's better suited to grow than most places in the county, which is trying to plan its future growth since it's just about built out.

by Vik on Sep 20, 2011 7:18 pm • linkreport

"Instead of mostly empty trains out to the ends of lines in the morning, many people are riding those trains to federal facilities like those at Medical Center and Suitland."

Anecdotally the number of people transiting *to* work to Suitland on Metro is a fraction of those hopping on the train in the opposite direction (as well as a fraction of those heading to the federal center by car). The Green line to Branch Ave past the Navy Yard during the morning rush maybe has 3-4 people between any given set of doors.

by Kolohe on Sep 20, 2011 7:47 pm • linkreport

I'm with Marian. Why spend untold billions of dollars on extending Metrorail (not to mention waiting decades) when the easiest and most cost-effective solution is to move the jobs and people back to where the infrastructure already exists.

Usually the simplest solution is the best.

by Juanita de Talmas on Sep 20, 2011 7:49 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.

I wasn't actually thinking of merging VRE and MARC. I was thinking of superseding them: of WMATA negotiating with CSX, NS and Amtrak and funding, with FTA help, the capacity improvements necessary, of extending SmarTrip (or son of SmarTrip) to cover these routes (and for virtual tunnels, like that intended for the Farraguts, to be implemented where the routes intersected with Metrorail). MARC would still run trains from Aberdeen (and eventually from Newark DE); VRE would still run diesels from Fredericksburg and Broad Run (and eventually from Gainesville and Haymarket); but WMATA would take over the inner parts of the routes.

It is, I think, within the scope of the Metrorail compact that WMATA could implement a rail service running along existing rail lines, with the consent of the two states and the District, that's integrated into the existing Metrorail service. The capacity expansions are largely adding trackage in existing rights of way, which should qualify for NEPA Categorical Exclusions. Station upgrades are within existing footprints which should mean, at worst, FONSIs.

If we really had an administration that wanted to spend money on this sort of thing, the bureaucratic hurdles to doing so are fairly low.

by jim on Sep 20, 2011 8:17 pm • linkreport

There should be no extensions of any lines besides the Green or Yellow (the shortest lines) anything other than those two needs to be a fully new line no an extension or spur (Silver Line)

by kk on Sep 20, 2011 9:07 pm • linkreport

Juanita de Talmas +100

Metro already struggles with trying to be both a commuter rail line and an urban subway. Lets focus on building up housing, retail and office space in the core.

by chris on Sep 20, 2011 10:33 pm • linkreport

The costs involved to bring heavy rail metro to Prince William anywhere but the I-66 corridor would be very costly - at least 2 or 3 billion. The median of I-66 is graded, flat, and already owned/reserved as a future metro could probably extend the orange line 3 stations at commuter train distances (Fair Oaks/Lakes, Centreville, and Sudley Road with perhaps 2 slots for future expansion) for less than a billion. I-66 is far enough away from the Manassas VRE spur (a good 5 to 7 miles parallel away) that it would not be a redundancy. Any imaginary extension of the blue line would completely duplicate the VRE/CSX line, which doesn't really make sense. The VRE stations themselves are fairly robust - there are large garages as the Burke, Manassas, Woodbridge, and Lorton Stations, TOD is already planned at Lorton VRE and Woodbridge VRE. I think David hit the nail on the head - the issue is the freight trains. If they could run commuter trains more frequently on the existing lines, then you have met your need. I think re-branding VRE and MARC as "METRO Express" lines, and mapping them on the main METRO map (even if they were still administered by VA and MD) would go a long way towards getting folks to recognize the potential of our existing commuter rail corridors.

by stevek_occoquan on Sep 21, 2011 12:48 am • linkreport

jim -- fwiw, you should read my presentation on metropolitan mass transit planning. I disagree with you that WMATA should be responsible for planning. They should be seen as an operator, and the MPO should do the planning. WRT who provides what type of service (heavy rail, railroad, etc.) those are other issues. SmartTrip too should be seen as a regional responsibility (e.g., your point about integration of payment schemes). It actually does functon that way, just through WMATA and the Compact, but excluding passenger rail.

Dan Malouff of BeyondDC many years ago laid out a regional passenger railroad system concept which I've further illustrated. That's also linked to in the blog entry I cited above. WMATA is really a metropolitan service (within DC area) while rail should be regional (which I define as connecting multiple metropolitan areas). No way should WMATA be providing train service to WV, PA, DE, etc.

WRT "freight trains" in the corridor, Virginia has been all over that planning wise for more than 10 years (having thee tracks). E.g., I attended an on-board seminar as part of the Am. Planning Assn. meeting in 2005 to "Richmond" but while we were taking the train down, we heard from Virginia DRPT, Amtrak, CSX passenger operations, and VRE.

see the "rail studies" section

The issue of course is funding.

with regard to stevek_occoquan's good branding idea of METRO Express, I don't mind it. Dan's idea is Potomac Express, while I like RACER (Railroad Authority of the Chesapeake Region).

by Richard Layman on Sep 21, 2011 6:01 am • linkreport

A rail extension to anywhere is a good idea.

by Thayer-D on Sep 21, 2011 7:42 am • linkreport

Completely separating the blue line has the most potential for ridership and capacity:

1) Separate from orange/silver between Stadium/Rosslyn
2) Separate from yellow in NoVa between Pentagon/Van Dorn (thru the Mark Center)
3) Extending 1 more stop beyond Franconia to NGA HQ/Ft Belvoir N

Any of those projects would generate thousands of new riders every day.

by Tom on Sep 21, 2011 8:10 am • linkreport


Great ideas. I'd still like to see fare integration and thru-routing of the commuter trains, but I see what you're saying now - that could indeed be a great supplement to the regional service.

To Richard's point that the planning for this should be done regionally - I can't disagree, but I also wouldn't advocate waiting around for that to happen. If it were possible for Metro to implement such a service relatively quickly with off the shelf rolling stock (even DMUs while waiting for electrification and capacity upgrades), that would be a tremendous improvement. Hell, even Metro planning such a service might induce the regional powers that be to act instead.

by Alex B. on Sep 21, 2011 8:58 am • linkreport

Based on your map, it shows VRE lines continuing into Maryland and/or MARC lines continuing on into Virginia. I think this is a great idea because it provides cross-state commuters to commute through the city without making a transfer. Does this beg the question of whether MARC and VRE could form a special purpose entity, similar to WMATA in a way, expressly for running commuter trains in the region? This would provide combined resources and hopefully some efficiencies in the management and operation of lines which serve the region, and not just each state independently.

by Michael on Sep 21, 2011 9:45 am • linkreport

+1000 for Tom -- note that your point 1 was what I argued wrt the "Silver Line" in 2006 probably, that the creation of that line should also be used to drive forward the "separated blue line" in DC.

Alex B-- while I share your sentiment for action, there is no way that WMATA is in the position financially, organizationally, or governance-wise to take up passenger rail any time within the next 5 years...

It would have to be reorganized (as it should anyway) to be more along the lines of the NY State MTA, but with some of the public authority aspects of the Port Authority.

While I say that WMATA needs to do update its plan (and the PlanIt Metro stuff is doing that), I've argued for t2+ years that they need a new public process to evaluate the past 40 years + to rebuild trust.

The same process is needed to plan transpo "regionally" (although I prefer the term metropolitan), led by the MPO but with the co-equal participation of the various transpo commissions in DC, MD, and VA.

by Richard Layman on Sep 21, 2011 10:44 am • linkreport


But TPB isn't in any better of a position, either (financially, organizationally, governance-wise) - and the one advantage that WMATA has is the authority to act in that capacity.

by Alex B. on Sep 21, 2011 12:03 pm • linkreport

I say it is about time the metro was extended to Woodbridge! As a life long resident of the area, this is not the first time I have heard mention of this project & yes, many of these plans have all been bandied about. As far back as the mid-80's - prior to the extended HOV lanes, prior to the expanded VRE routes, prior to the Springfield metro station - Woodbridge was promised it's station on the line. Many residents of Prince William County may not realize that a penny tax was added to the price of their gas at the pump in 1986 with the "Then" reasoning that it was going into a fund to bring metro to Woodbridge. As the way with many taxes, if it is not absolutely pinned down and made law, that money gets used other ways. However, that was the rationale I was given on a June day in 1986 when I asked why the gas had gone up overnight, midweek. It was to pay for that expansion. I think it is high-time the Woodbridge station on the metro-line was finally built. When it was touted that the Springfield station was a great accomplishment, I for one was not impressed, I asked where & when the Woodbridge station was going to be finished. When is the Woodbridge station going to be built? Where is the Manassas station for that matter? They would have made my commute the last 25 years a lot less stressful.

by Kat on Sep 21, 2011 12:21 pm • linkreport

Lets keep dumping scarce tax dollars and national debt in this mistake until there is no country left.

THe only question that needs an answer, where will the money come from. Everyone working in the Ft. Belvoir campus will be getting "FREE" metro rides paid for by an ever smaller group of tax payers. Most of thei funding for this will come from debt.

THe better question is can we eliminate a large portion of these workers by adopting efficiencies, eliminateingt overlapping programs, consolidating duplicative programs and simply eliminating old and out dated programs that no longer serve a purpose. If we can get th e wrokforce numbers down, then the bus system may be sufficient.

We cannot afford any more public sector projects that feed public sector growth. The private sector in this country that pays for this mess is getting smaller and poorer.

Government does not make money - it spends it. Adding to the transportation system for a bunch of spenders will only make things worse. Should have stayed where you were - next to the metro.

by gcolgrove on Sep 21, 2011 1:25 pm • linkreport

I live near the Huntington Station and believe that light rail could make sense. I say light rail because of the tradeoff between cost and service level. N. Kings Hwy is too wide for its traffic load (5 lanes because it's a state highway), so that's not a problem. Richmond Hwy would lose 2 lanes, but that may be feasible if the service is good enough.

I'm just a little surprised that BRAC had no money to extend the Blue Line to Newington to serve Ft. Belvoir. A VRE stop would make sense, too, especially if it can be integrated better with Metrorail. It certainly would be cheaper. Combine it with an internal Ft. Belvoir shuttle and you can reduce the traffic load considerably. A Newington Blue Line Station could also be a terminus for I-95 Metrobuses and reduce overall transit times.

by Chuck Coleman on Sep 21, 2011 7:21 pm • linkreport

I lived in Georgetown for 4 years but a year ago moved back to Prince William and now live in a apartment in Belmont Bay.

I have highly supported bringing heavy metro down to Woodbridge all of my life as I have lived here since junior high (went to Bishop Ireton in Alexandria) and it was always a problem going up I-95. There is currently some sort of TOD going up in Woodbridge by the Waterfront. Communties such as Rivergate, Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center and Belmont Bay are kind of bringing some sort of urbanism to the area.

Something I think would be not so costly and able to go up faster is something many of you have said. Light rail or hour on hour VRE.

Even though hard to believe Woodbridge is going out of its "Strip-Mall" Face and is finally getting some light. The Route 1 Facelift and The North Woodbridge District Plan are trying to promote TOD but the transit is VRE and it is very clogged up.

We would love metro but maybe lightrail is the better option.It could go down route 1 with a stop at FT.Belvoir, FFX county Parkway, Woodbridge and Rippon.

by Mal on Sep 22, 2011 12:36 pm • linkreport

Having worked at Ft. Belvoir, yes, the complex is sprawling. Any Metro rail station would have to be served by multiple shuttle bus/van routes to make it workable. That's assuming DoD would even ALLOW a rail station there in the first place. They're hyper sensitive to security issues.

I'd say a Route 1 light rail line from Huntington makes the most financial sense, both in terms of local development and service to Belvoir. Those billions should be spent improving/expanding service at the core. The majority of Belvoir workers commute from SOUTH of Belvoir; Metro isn't even an option. The rest drive in from outside the beltway: Sterling, Dulles, and even parts of Southern Maryland where the mass transit option is time prohibitive.

by monkeyrotica on Sep 23, 2011 8:08 am • linkreport

I just think they need to stop these debates & get the ball rolling already. Traffic sucks, public transportation going south sucks & takes way too long. Light trains, express buses or metro line extensions, or extended VRE services whatever it is, somethings gotta happen soon.

by Walter on Oct 24, 2013 2:27 pm • linkreport

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