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What's a better connection for Montgomery and Fairfax?

The American Legion Memorial Bridge helped usher in an era of suburban growth for Montgomery and Fairfax counties, which combined have over 2 million residents and 1.1 million jobs. As both counties have grown, the bridge remains the only link between them, and one almost exclusively dependent on single-occupancy vehicles.

Photo by bankbryan on Flickr.

The George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis (CRA) recently completed a study, Beyond the Legion Bridge, with recommendations on how to improve connections and offer more transportation options between Montgomery and Fairfax counties.

Today, there aren't any HOV or express lanes across the bridge, nor is there any direct transit service. Meanwhile, traffic on the bridge continues to grow as almost all travel demand between the counties flows across the bridge as motor vehicle traffic.

Population & Employment Growth, 1960-2010

Traffic Counts 1965-2040

Why is traffic getting worse? CRA found that while the number of daily commuters between Montgomery and Fairfax has fallen over the past 20 years, the number of long-distance commuters going to or from outer suburban counties like Frederick, Loudoun or Prince William has increased, creating more traffic on the bridge. Meanwhile, 37% of trips over the Legion Bridge come from through-travelers or heavy trucks, adding to the burden placed on the bridge by commuters.

In 2009, Maryland and Virginia's departments of transportation studied a 14-mile segment of I-495 and I-270 between Tysons Corner and Gaithersburg. They looked at a variety of potential changes, including restriping the highway to create more lanes, creating reversible lanes, or widening the bridge altogether.

The study found that minor improvements would not have much impact and even massive projects with price tags as high as $2.65 billion would only have modest impacts on congestion. Clearly, no amount of money or engineering expertise applied to moving more vehicles over the bridge will solve the congestion problem.

Small fixes could create some breathing room

Given these challenges, what can leaders in Maryland and Virginia do? In the short term, I suggest three relatively simple strategies to mitigate the negative effects that traffic congestion has on the economy and quality of life.

  • Reduce demand for trips during peak period: For starters, we need to reduce the number of vehicle trips during rush hour. In the short term, we can do this by encouraging carpooling, vanpooling, transit use, alternative work hours, and telecommuting. These strategies will help the growing number of commuters who essentially have no existing option but to use the Legion Bridge and its congested feeder routes. This requires a coordinated effort from both states.
  • Provide alternatives for heavy trucks: Though heavy trucks make up just a small share of trips over the Legion Bridge, they have substantial impacts on its effectiveness. Since neither county has much of a manufacturing or warehousing base, most goods traveling on the bridge are either passing through or are going to retailers in each county. We should find potential alternate routes or bypasses for through trucks, while taking a look at how goods headed to each county get there.
  • Limit unnecessary bridge traffic: Some commuters who live in Montgomery County use the bridge only to reach the George Washington Parkway on their way to the District or Arlington. Low-cost solutions such as transit incentives, commuter buses or vanpools could give them an alternative. Meanwhile, more could be done to discourage through-traffic from outside the region from using the Legion Bridge, especially during the afternoon rush hour.
Long-term, a big fix is transit

While these interventions would relieve some pressure on the Legion Bridge, their benefits pale in comparison to those of a direct, high-capacity transit connection between Montgomery and Fairfax counties, specifically between Bethesda and Tysons Corner. They are already two of the largest employment and commerce hubs in the region, and plans for both areas direct future growth around their Metrorail stations.

Though they're only seven miles apart, it's hard to travel between them on transit. A Metrobus route ran from Bethesda to Tysons Corner from 1998 to 2003, but failed because there wasn't a dedicated lane to make it more reliable.

Even after the Silver Line opens, a Metro trip between Bethesda and Tysons will take about an hour via Metro Center. A direct transit link, whether heavy rail, light rail, or express bus, would provide a faster and more efficient connection.

Political and business leaders on both sides of the Potomac have shown a willingness to think big and make necessary investments in road and transit infrastructure. Both Montgomery and Fairfax counties are also working to reduce car trips by building transit lines, like the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, and the Silver Line.

Option 1: Extend the Purple Line

Where would a new line go? One option would be to extend the Purple Line from its planned terminus in downtown Bethesda to either the future McLean or Tysons Corner Silver Line stations or the existing Dunn Loring Metro station. This 8-mile route could have additional stops at commercial nodes along the way, like Kenwood and Sumner in Maryland, and Langley and McLean Village in Virginia.

The public already owns much of the necessary right-of-way for this route. In Maryland, the line could run along Little Falls Parkway and the Capital Crescent Trail, while in Virginia, it could use Route 123. However, there would have to be a new bridge over or tunnel under the Potomac River somewhere south of Little Falls Dam, which could be very expensive.

Option 2: Use I-495

Another option could be to add a transitway along the Capital Beltway between Grosvenor and Tysons Corner. This could be an express bus route, which could predictably make the 12-mile trip in about 15 minutes, compared to over an hour under current rush hour conditions. Or it could be a heavy rail line, which would boost capacity, allow for additional stops, or even offer a one-seat ride between Shady Grove and Dulles Airport.

Other than the cost, this option's biggest shortcoming is that it doesn't make a direct connection between Bethesda and Tysons Corner. A third option would be to build both routes, though this would obviously be even more expensive.

What about the Techway?

Soon after the Legion Bridge opened, Maryland and Virginia began discussing another highway connection over the Potomac River. Called the Techway by supporters or the Zombie Outer Beltway by opponents, the project has had many fits and starts over the years.

At the moment, neither state has any serious plans to build it, though some officials and advocacy groups have kept the plan alive.

Even if a new crossing were built, history and academic research suggest that new highway infrastructure does not remove congestion from existing roads. Instead, new highways tend to stimulate additional residential and commercial development which, in turn, increases the overall volume of traffic in a given area. The highway still might get built one day, but if so, its presence would still not likely address the demand along the Legion Bridge corridor.

Looking ahead, Montgomery and Fairfax counties need better connectivity to protect the economy, public services, and quality of life that both counties have spent decades building. Achieving this goal will require both a unified vision from political and business leaders in both Maryland and Virginia, and a long-term commitment to investing in the necessary improvements.

David Versel is a Senior Research Associate with the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis. 


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Ha option 1 is my old concept. Glad someone else is also suggesting it

I think option 1 should have both transit and road improvements included to reduce cost and finally get a new road crossing between MD and VA which is badly needed (just as much as transit).

by Tysons Engineer on Jul 1, 2013 12:11 pm • linkreport

The best option is to extend the purple line. McLean would blow up with improved development.

by NikolasM on Jul 1, 2013 12:13 pm • linkreport

Extending the Purple Line makes the most sense. Which is why it's never going to happen.

I agree, though, that eventually there will be need of another road crossing. If for no other reason than the fact that having only one major road crossing between Fairfax and Montgomery Counties in that area is a little restrictive...drivers need options, too.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Jul 1, 2013 12:15 pm • linkreport

Extending the Purple Line in the shown right-of-way is our best option. Has anyone seen a cost estimate? I'm thinking it wouldn't be too expensive on land, but the river crossing would be very pricey.

Also, the Purple Line could be fully circumferential: use the shown routing in the article, then route it south down Gallows Road, then utilities ROW between where Gallows and Little River Turnpike each cross the Beltway. Then it could run down Little River/Duke Street, stop at King Street Station and jump down to the Wilson Bridge. On the Maryland side, send it Oxon Hill to St. Barnabas to Silver Hill. Then go southeast down Pennsylvania Avenue, and use the Beltway until New Carrolton, possibly jutting inward to give access to Morgan Boulevard Station and FedEx Field.

I'll make a quick map in GIMP and post it here.

by ImThat1Guy on Jul 1, 2013 12:16 pm • linkreport

Toll it, add transit. Toll it, add transit. Toll it, add transit.

by drumz on Jul 1, 2013 12:16 pm • linkreport

An improved Chain Bridge, or a new bridge nearby, would help lower Montgomery County and inner Fairfax County, too.

by Frank IBC on Jul 1, 2013 12:18 pm • linkreport

The Purple line extension is the obvious route, much like the Circular line in London, we will have one eventually. I can't imagine what the resistence would be from the Bethesda to the Potomac considering the hystronics over the existing Purple line route!

by Thayer-D on Jul 1, 2013 12:20 pm • linkreport

Exactly. I don't think lower Montgomery County or inner Fairfax would want that "help". However, it is the best option.

by William on Jul 1, 2013 12:25 pm • linkreport

Further, just due to natural limitations (like Great Falls) any new auto bridge is going to be extreme western Fairfax/Eastern Loudoun County. That will drive sprawl through the roof as there won't be any current compelling reason to add transit at that location. And definitely fuel cross-river trips. That would just add to the traffic burden than do anything to decrease it.

Transit is the only solution because it can actually reduce the current pressure on the bridge and have a much smaller footprint across the potomac gorge. Two tracks takes up way less room that 6-8 lanes.

Finally, I understand times are tough but if you live in Loudoun but work in montgomery county you really need to consider whether its prudent to be making that commute. Yes, it would be great if the states would just build a new bridge but that comes at a massive cost and the states must consider the benefits of that investment and frankly, better enabling 30+ mile commutes by car doesn't cut it.

Besides every person on a bus/train is someone not on the legion bridge.

by drumz on Jul 1, 2013 12:26 pm • linkreport

Extend the Purple Line from Bethesda to Tysons:


Three, count 'em, THREE trains from Bethesda and points east to McLean Station and points west.

That's sure to "get people out of their cars" in droves!

by ceefer66 on Jul 1, 2013 12:26 pm • linkreport

Hey, I agree with ceefer! Cool :P

by Alan B. on Jul 1, 2013 12:35 pm • linkreport

@William: I'm not sure about resistance in Fairfax...there might be some attempt on the part of the county government to make it happen. If they can see it as something that would benefit Tyson's Corner, they might make a play for it; they've been driving the redevelopment of that area so much. Local resistance? I'll bet...but I'd be willing to guess that the county would try harder to overcome it than they might elsewhere in the area.

@drumz: Why toll it?

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Jul 1, 2013 12:37 pm • linkreport

As exciting as an extended Purple line is, I see way too many obstacles to expect that to happen soon. And while Mclean people might like some densification at the village center, I don't think they really want very much.

OTOH an outer beltway, even if its still possible, is undesirable IMO on many grounds.

meanwhile, MoCo is built a network of BRT lanes. And Fairfax has HOT lanes from Tysons to Springfield. I still think the clear medium term answer is to rebuild/widen the Legion bridge itself, and the additional lanes must NOT be conventional general travel lanes. They could be BRT lanes, HOV lanes, or perhaps HOT lanes (which would help with the financing) That would enable buses from the entire MoCo network to speed quickly to Tysons. It would also allow FFX Connector buses serving Springfield, Burke, etc to reach employment centers in MoCo. If there is political resistance to transit only lanes, HOV3, HOV3, or HOT lanes would represent compromises.

While it would not be ideal from the POV of moving people from Bethesda to Tysons, it would be competitive with Purple Line extension for Silver Spring, and superior (I think) for mid and upcounty locations in MoCo.

Eventually, as Tysons grows further (and also TOD on the Purple line in Md) an extension of the Purple line would look much stronger.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 1, 2013 12:39 pm • linkreport

Three, count 'em, THREE trains from Bethesda and points east to McLean Station and points west.

What does this even mean?

Currently there are zero trains that go from Bethesda to McLean and hit the points mentioned in between.

by MLD on Jul 1, 2013 12:39 pm • linkreport

My pie in the sky map of the future metro with research in developing a "money tree" paying off:

by NikolasM on Jul 1, 2013 12:41 pm • linkreport

You toll it because its an excellent way to manage capacity immediately while raising funds for its improvements (including a new bridge for transit somewhere else).

by drumz on Jul 1, 2013 12:41 pm • linkreport

"HOV4, HOV3, or HOT lanes"

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 1, 2013 12:45 pm • linkreport

Would absolutely love the Purple line to continue on to Tysons. Once the Purple Line is under construction planning on getting it extended to Tysons should start immediately.

by Richard B on Jul 1, 2013 12:46 pm • linkreport

Nice map, Nikolas... I guess we can dream.

by Alan B. on Jul 1, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

Wow, every discussion on this issue just seems to eventually devolve into irrelevant tut-tutting from the camera critics about DC getting too uppity with its speed cameras. When you can't win on the real merits, appeal to a higher power!

by MLD on Jul 1, 2013 12:48 pm • linkreport

State DOT evaluated six alternative inner/outer beltway transit alternatives years ago that eventually led to the Purple Line route. Among them was a Purple Line extended route much different than the one proposed here. Curious that no mention was made of it in this study,

That extension was underground from Bethesda to Kenwood, then on the surface up River Road and crossing the River into VA above Langley and on to Tysons Corner. One benefit is that it would largely spare the Capital Crescent Trail, except during construction of the cut and cover section to Kenwood.

The CCT r-o-w is narrower west and south from Bethesda than in the section toward Silver Spring, and trying to build transit on the surface in that section will be technically and politically much more difficult.

by Wayne Phyillaier on Jul 1, 2013 12:54 pm • linkreport

As much as I support improving upon our mass transit infrastructure, I can't see how extending the Purple Line would do any good. For one, light rail doesn't support the speeds or frequency to conveniently get people across the river to commercial centers like Tysons (and for people living in VA, why would they commute outward to smaller commercial centers?). What job centers would it even pass by- is it passing by the CIA? Would the Purple Line extension even follow the direction of daily commutes, allowing people a convenient switch?

Also, the stops in between Bethesda and Tysons seem to either be low density or unfit for transit- what would a community like McLean, ripe with politicians, government officials and CEOs, do with light rail that doesn't even pass through D.C.?

by Jason L. on Jul 1, 2013 1:01 pm • linkreport

"Even after the Silver Line opens, a Metro trip between Bethesda and Tysons will take about an hour via Metro Center." It would be somewhat shorter with a pedestrian tunnel between Farragut North and West. I think the long talked about pedestrian tunnel should have been built as part of the Phase 1 Silver Line project. Would have been a comparatively small cost increase to the project.

As for the Option 1 Purple Line extension, that route is through some very wealthy neighborhoods along the Potomac. A bridge and property taking there would likely be a total non-starter. A tunnel under the Potomac that also goes under the homes for maybe 1/2 mile on either side of the river would be expensive. The overall route concept is a good one as Langley is a major jobs center (just don't ask how many) and light rail along Rt. 123 through McLean to Tysons would pull in a lot of transit riders. The NIMBY factor and powers that be in McLean that would fight the LRT are not to be underestimated however.

by AlanF on Jul 1, 2013 1:02 pm • linkreport

What Mclean would get would be frequent service to Tysons (and as side benefit, easy access to the Silver Line, though I imagine most from there will still drive rather than take a transit option involving a transfer). I don't see why the speeds and frequency would not be enough to be a very useful route from Bethesda to Tysons. OTOH I don't know the volume would be enough to justify the substantial cost (and is the route through McLean possible without taking away an existing travel lane on 123, something VDOT has not yet seen their way to doing?)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 1, 2013 1:06 pm • linkreport

While it would be many times more expensive I wonder if heavy rail between Tyson's and Bethesda/Friendship Heights continuing on through upper NW DC to say Fort Totten wouldn't make more sense in the long (long, long) term. Maybe with a stop at Langely haha.

by Alan B. on Jul 1, 2013 1:21 pm • linkreport

The truth is, if Metro were safer, more reliable, and less unpleasant, an ~ 1 hour trip between Tysons and Bethesda would lure a lot of drivers making that trip away from an ~1 hour rush hour drive. But as the post says, the increase in traffic has come from people who don't live & work at Tysons or Bethesda.

So one problem for either the Silver Line or for a transit link between those places is the mode or line switch required at those points (which could eat up half or more of the time savings over the Silver Line/Red Line alternative). Even a 15-minute bus link between the two starts to look unattractive if you're boarding the Metro in Loudoun, riding to Tysons, switching to a bus (or to light rail), then switching back to the Metro at Bethesda, and even worse if you're starting with a bike ride or a car trip to get to the Metro station in Loudoun or outer Fairfax to begin.

I'm astonished that:
37% of trips over the Legion Bridge come from through-travelers or heavy trucks
I don't know how to fix that problem, but it seems like lessening that traffic is likely to do as much for the Legion Bridge as any outer crossing (which is probably also needed and should be tolled with few exits if limiting sprawl is the objective) is likely to do.

by Bitter Brew on Jul 1, 2013 1:24 pm • linkreport

"Even a 15-minute bus link between the two starts to look unattractive if you're boarding the Metro in Loudoun, riding to Tysons, switching to a bus (or to light rail), then switching back to the Metro at Bethesda"

I dont know that a BRT system would be particularly attrative as a link to the Silver Line (presumably no one will run express buses from LoCo parallel to the Silver Line, although one can't be sure). For someone going from Gaithersburg or Olney to Tysons, it could be a one seat ride (excluding the first mile in Md). Ditto for someone coming from Burke or Fairfax Station on express buses to Bethesda.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 1, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport

I dont think a bridge is such a non starter. Land grabs, grade crossing, and street running definitely are but railroad bridges aren't the same as road bridges. They can be far more aesthetically pleasing and adding in those aesthetic elements does not cost nearly as much.

by Richard B on Jul 1, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport

So here's the circumferential routing. I didn't do the optional RFK routing or other options because the Maps Engine (or possibly just my browser) stated to act up.

View Purple Line in a larger map

by ImThat1Guy on Jul 1, 2013 1:35 pm • linkreport

Option 1 would be opposed strongly, vigorously and perpetually by McLean residents. Few elected officials would want to stand the firestorm that would occur. The idea of adding major density around rail stations in McLean proper simply is DOA.

Option 2 would work for Maryland Express Lanes and express service between Bethesda and Tysons. According to MDOT, a new American Legion Bridge would need to be constructed. The existing one cannot be further expanded.

For a rail line to be built in the Beltway corridor, there would need to be additional RoW obtained in Virginia. There is not room today to do both an Express Lanes expansion and a rail expansion. Acquisition of additional RoW would be problematic at best and an outright war against the plan. Also, it's unlikely that elected officials would exercise eminent domain.

Bottom line - when Maryland is ready to replace the American Legion Bridge and construct Express Lanes, we will see good express bus service between Bethesda and Tysons. But there will not be a rail connection in anyone living's lifetime.

by tmt on Jul 1, 2013 1:36 pm • linkreport

To get from Bethesda to Tysons by rail would require a LOT of expensive railbed--probably on the order of 11-13 miles--with inadequate density between the two to warrant intermediate stations. It's really not financially feasible, putting aside the political difficulties.

by Crickey7 on Jul 1, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

@Bitter Brew

The Baltimore Light Rail Blue Line has 7.5 minute headways and has to contend with running on the surface through downtown.

It is not unreasonable to expect potential 5-6 minute headways on the purple line during rush hour. That isnt 2-3 minutes that heavy rail can offer but it makes connections possible.

It likely wont get up to the same speed the Baltimore light rail does, as it doesnt have much open track but remember that in north Baltimore the light rail gets up over 70mph in some sections.

In the end, light rail is just a name. You can build a bare bones light rail system that is little better than a street car or you can build a premium system that is on par with you bottom rung heavy rail systems. Time will tell what MTA has in mind but from my understanding they are thinking of something much faster than the bus.

by Richard B on Jul 1, 2013 1:44 pm • linkreport

eh, there are folks born today who will past 2100.

I would agree that a Purple Line to Tysons before 2050 is unlikely.

I cannot see clearly beyond the 2050 horizon. At that point we go beyond the time frame of the Tysons plan. If that plan is successful, Tysons will then be a vibrant urban center, and short of office space absorption coming to a halt, it will likely be poised for further growth. At that point the mix of County residents will be substantially different. Its even conceivable that by that point VDOT will take a different view of what constitutes LOS. I also would not want to hazard a guess on the demographics and attitudes of McLean at that point.

Meanwhile, though, to get to that point, we need medium term solutins, which likely will focus on BRT lanes.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 1, 2013 1:45 pm • linkreport


I wholeheartedly agree we should be focused on BRT between Tysons and Bethesda. Reliable express bus service between those two locations would make a major difference in slowing the auto traffic on I-495 and then other roads in both Maryland and Virginia.

by tmt on Jul 1, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

I wouldn't focus on Bethesda. BRT will have its greatest comparative advantage for areas right on or up county from the beltway in MoCo. Ultimately DA is right, Bethesda to Tysons should be rail. But it will be decades before that is feasible, and meanwhile Bethesda to Tysons can piggyback on the BRT lanes, and possibly even improved connections between the Red and Silver lines in downtown DC.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 1, 2013 1:57 pm • linkreport

Thanks all for the comments and feedback. In general, I appreciate the comments about the many financial and political pitfalls of this scale of infrastructure investment, but that was the case with every other major piece of infrastructure in our region, so it's no reason to avoid the conversation. I undertook this research precisely because it's a serious issue for our region's future about which little constructive conversation was occurring.

I want to respond to a few specific comments:

Wayne Phyillaier: I was not familiar with the transit study that you referenced. How long ago was it completed? Do you have a link to it?

Alan F: I would disagree that the Farragut North/West ped tunnel would have much effect on Bethesda-Tysons transit. That connection may save 5 minutes and the cattle call that is Metro Center, but I don't see it as a deal maker for those pondering using transit to make an around-the-Beltway trip.

AWalkerintheCity: I agree with your comments about the limited utility of BRT between Grosvenor and Tysons. It would have to be part of a longer line to be most effective. It also underscores my point about a heavy rail line in the Beltway ROW potentially offering a one-seat ride from Shady Grove to Dulles.

Richard B: Your point about LRT meaning many different things was very eloquent and much appreciated. LRT is often understood to be low-speed, but it can be nearly as fast as heavy rail at a lower price and with less impact on surrounding neighborhoods.


by David Versel on Jul 1, 2013 2:48 pm • linkreport

True, light rail can be pretty nebulous term requiring one to seriously look at what's being proposed to see what it entails and how close it is to heavy rail or what not.

Can someone explain if the cars being used by the purple line could run on Metro tracks? It could be cool to have it arrive at the tyson's cluster and just run between those stations and then back to the red line in some sort of configuration. Failing that you could just give the cross river part to metro and work out some sort of new line that is similar to yellow line (mostly shared track but with its own crossing, wouldn't even add to the number of cars currently crowding the rosslyn tunnels).

Would it be that much crazier to do a Tysons/Union Station metro line than extending the purple line?

by drumz on Jul 1, 2013 2:57 pm • linkreport

If 37% of the problem is heavy trucks or long-trip interstate traffic, then transit won't reduce that. The solution for that is expanding the interstate network -- not a Western beltway for commuters, but a direct route from Fredericksburg north to Hagerstown, so traffic from Richmond and the Norfolk ports to OH/PA can bypass DC.

We need transit, too. How about combining options 1&2: extend the purple line LRT out Old Georgetown Road to the Rockledge Corporate Park/Montgomery Mall, where it would meet a high-speed train or express bus service running between Grosvenor and Tysons (and probably Greenbelt, Forest Glen, Annandale, etc)

by Novanglus on Jul 1, 2013 3:11 pm • linkreport

"Toll it and build transit"

Yeah, because a hyper regional toll gouging local drivers 3 billion dollars to pay for half the silverline wasn't enough.

When was the last time that a transit project was ever in part paid for out of fares? Better yet, when was the last time a non-transit project was in part funded by transit fares?

The word "never" comes to mind for both, and there is absolutely no way that bridge will ever be tolled to pay for transit. End of story.

by Tolls on Jul 1, 2013 3:26 pm • linkreport

One of the points of mandating tolls/fares is to manage demand, not necessarily pay for the operation/upkeep of something. Ideally, it does both. Complaining about transit fares also proves nothing about whether a road could be managed better via tolling either.

People who complain about tolls on the DTR realize that the trains that will run down the middle of it are taking drivers off the road thus freeing up space for those still on there. Moreover, they realize that Silver Line riders will be paying to ride said trains, no?

by drumz on Jul 1, 2013 3:30 pm • linkreport

When was the last time that a transit project was ever in part paid for out of fares? Better yet, when was the last time a non-transit project was in part funded by transit fares?

There is a reason for this. There are benefits of transit use that accrue to people who do not use transit. Why should transit riders be forced to pay for benefits that other people gain?

Likewise, SOV travel has many costs that non-drivers bear that are not paid for by drivers.

by MLD on Jul 1, 2013 3:35 pm • linkreport

DTR was, IIUC tolled from when it was constructed. Tolling lanes that have already been available, free, is unlikely to be feasible in northern Virgnia or suburban Maryland any time soon. Tolling new capacity is quite possible though. So HOT lanes are a possible alternative to BRT only - Im not sure the extant to which that has to detract from transit functionality, in exchange for the funding source.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 1, 2013 3:36 pm • linkreport

Can someone explain if the cars being used by the purple line could run on Metro tracks?

Well, it is technically possible, but will not happen. There are three major obstacles: 1-Power Supply, 2-Signalling, and 3-Platform Height.

1. Metro uses third rail, Purple Line LRVs will use overhead catenary. It would be possible to install catenary on the Metro line, and both systems would probably be 750 volts DC, so this would be the easiest problem to overcome.

2. The Purple Line LRVs would basically need two separate signal systems, one Metro compatible, and one for the light rail portion. I'm pretty sure this would be possible, but it would be complex and expensive.

3. This is the main reason this is not going to happen. Metro has high platforms, the Purple Line will have low platforms. They are not compatible at all. There would have to be a separate low platform built on one end of the existing platform, and on the elevated sections in Tysons, there just isn't room for that.

There are probably regulatory reasons why this won't happen also, but those are the main technical ones.

by kinverson on Jul 1, 2013 3:50 pm • linkreport


Thanks, that's why we use civil engineers and not internet commenters.

If the purple line in Tysons ever was a reality hopefully it'd be more than just a way to get to one metro station but rather connect through and add capacity in parts of tysons just a little bit further from the metro stations.

by drumz on Jul 1, 2013 3:55 pm • linkreport

@ Alan B

"While it would be many times more expensive I wonder if heavy rail between Tyson's and Bethesda/Friendship Heights continuing on through upper NW DC to say Fort Totten wouldn't make more sense in the long (long, long) term. Maybe with a stop at Langely haha."

Why not just use the Yellow line and send it west after Columbia Heights to Tysons and Maybe even on the Dunn Loring via the Beltway. It would be a win-win you somewhat get a east/west route in DC north of Downtown via a transfer from the Green Line plus trains to Tysons from Upper NW or Lower Montgomery County

by kk on Jul 1, 2013 3:58 pm • linkreport

@ the 37% of non-local traffic on the bridge.

Maryland has this sign on 95 south in Calverton, that lists time to VA taking the inner and outer loops of the Beltway. It's very misleading to a non-local. Even as a local, i'd like to be reminded of the distance to each so I can accurately guage the level of traffic. As a non-local, who's goal is to continue south on 95 past the DC area, this sign is almost always going to make it look like it's better to take the Legion Bridge to get to VA. It's about 1 mile shorter but probably a lot more time to take the outer loop than the inner loop from College Park to Springfield. The sign should direct all non-local traffic to the inner loop, or at least post a sign saying "time to Springfield inner loop, time to springfield outer loop". I bet if non-locals really knew what they were getting into, most would avoid the Legion Bridge.

by Gull on Jul 1, 2013 3:59 pm • linkreport

The word "never" comes to mind for both, and there is absolutely no way that bridge will ever be tolled to pay for transit. End of story.

Never is a long time. :)

by oboe on Jul 1, 2013 4:03 pm • linkreport

They should suspend a bike/ped path below the bridge and connect it to the C&O Canal and MacArthur Blvd on one side and Live Oak Drive on the other. That would take a few cars off the road.

by David C on Jul 1, 2013 4:05 pm • linkreport

About Purple Line Loop ... great idea! I would love to be able to get on it in Old Town for a trip to Tysons. While the Silver Line would make it possible, it would be a three-seat ride for me currently (Yellow - Blue - Silver).

About the Legion bridge and the Belyway ... I agree with Gull. They should install better signage, maybe even those real-time traffic signs they have on I-95 that the time to a specific exit. It would help to balance the thru traffic going each way around the Beltway.

by Thad on Jul 1, 2013 4:09 pm • linkreport

Trail connections would be great. And one should be built whenever a rail bridge is built as well if its further downstream.

by drumz on Jul 1, 2013 4:09 pm • linkreport

Other purple line conceptual map is from Sierra Club:

It would be nice if the City Paper would repost the article from c. 1990 by Mark Jenkins, which is where I first was exposed to the Purple Line concept.

AlanB's point about a FW-FN connection as part of Silver Line planning is another good hindsight idea. I said it should have been required to do a second Potomac Crossing and jump start the separated "blue" line.

The thing is that jurisdictions can plan for expansion and build it without having to take responsibility for the impact of the extensions on other parts of the system. That makes no sense to me, but that's the way it is.

by Richard Layman on Jul 1, 2013 4:40 pm • linkreport

@Crickey7, there are a series of more dense population and job centers along the Option 1 route between Bethesda and Tysons. On the Virginia side, the CIA HQ for one, and McLean town center for the other. McLean has a number of office buildings, retail outlets, restaurants. Reasonably walkable area. The area around Rt. 123 west of the CIA complex is not that low density - some townhouse clusters, retail & office buildings, SFH on smaller lots. There is enough to support 2 to 3 LRT stops between the Potomac River and the Dulles Access/Toll road.

Rt. 123 has a grass median strip for much of the possible route with drainage & grass easements on either side. It is not a boxed in road. So adding LRT tracks to the middle of 123 should be technically feasible with some realignment of the 123 lanes. If a study of this route were ever done, a major question would be to whether run the LRT down 123 or divert it to run through "downtown" McLean.

If a LRT line were to run west on Rt. 123 pass the McLean Metro station, one alternative route would be to stay on 123 under the Beltway, then turn north to run through the Tysons office clusters to terminate at the Spring Hill Metro station.

But I doubt if there will be any serious interest or studies in a Bethesda to Tysons LRT extension until well after the Purple Line is built and running. The regional planners would be reluctant to poke a potential hornet nest in McLean. The political and public focus in the nearer term will be more on widening the American Legion bridge, maybe with HOT lanes extending into MD. Still, a Purple Line extension to Tysons would be useful (someday).

by AlanF on Jul 1, 2013 4:42 pm • linkreport

It's funny how folks like "Tolls" thinks that only transit receives government subsidies.

No road in this country has ever paid for all its own costs, even toll roads - not even the only private toll road in this country, the Dulles Greenway.

And it's also funny how they refuse to realize that every person riding subsidized transit equals one less car on the roads, and thus creates more capacity for other drivers.

by Frank IBC on Jul 1, 2013 6:24 pm • linkreport

"Can someone explain if the cars being used by the purple line could run on Metro tracks?"

No. They both use Standard Gauge, as does most of the world, but the loading gauge is completely different. The platforms of the Silver Line will be much, much lower than Metro, and the cars will almost certainly be a different shape. Plus Metro uses a third rail, while the Purple Line, like pretty much any light rail or streetcar system, will use a pantograph (overhead wires).

So you could tow a Purple Line car down Metro tracks, but it can't power itself and you definitely shouldn't expect people to be able to get off.

by ImThat1Guy on Jul 1, 2013 8:17 pm • linkreport


No one every said all roads pay their own cost. But it is pretty clear they pay for far more of themselves, than transit pays for itself.

Roads pay cover anywhere from 40-60% of their cost (both construction and O&M)
Transit pays zero in construction and 30-60% O&M.

Pretty stark difference.

by Tolls on Jul 1, 2013 8:19 pm • linkreport

*Standard Gauge is the width of the tracks, to clarify

by ImThat1Guy on Jul 1, 2013 8:26 pm • linkreport

"Roads pay cover anywhere from 40-60% of their cost (both construction and O&M)
Transit pays zero in construction and 30-60% O&M."
Sorry, what? Going to need sources for this.

For instance, Amtrak, while not transit, is still public transportation. And it makes back 90% of its costs from the farebox nationally, taking over 100% back in the heavily-traveled corridors.

Even toll roads don't even come remotely close to paying for themselves.

by ImThat1Guy on Jul 1, 2013 8:28 pm • linkreport

"Cost recovery" (or whatever you want to call it) is a poor measure of the efficacy of transit vs roads. The measure should e how well it moves people. Sure extra lanes may have cost less on the silver lane but it would also move less people, and not have the same benefit for Tyson's.

by drumz on Jul 1, 2013 8:58 pm • linkreport

The commuter rail in Boston has track-level loading in the suburbs, but then you get off on high platforms in North Station. Trains have been built that handle both platform heights.

by goldfish on Jul 1, 2013 9:07 pm • linkreport

@goldfish: yeah, that's true, but:

"at low level platforms the conductor in each car must manually open a trap to allow passengers to descend via stairs onto the platform." ( Plus, the MBTA doesn't have to deal with pantographs and third rails, because all of their commuter trains are diesel.

Even if this is automated (which is not out of the question for commuter services with both low and high platforms), having to ascend and descend stairs at every light rail stop is an inconvenience probably too big to bear, considering the light rail portion is the main portion. And there's no way that the light rail stops will be high-platforms. For one last nail in the coffin, light rail cars would not meet crash-worthiness regulations with Metrorail cars.

The one way I could see this *maybe* working is having a "sled" of sorts ready at every point that the light rail enters the heavy rail. The sled would have to be purpose-built to bring the light rail car up to exact Metrorail platform height, and would need to be self-propelled (with electricity from the third rail). And, it would somehow need to raise the car ~4 feet (height of Metrorail platforms) without being too big for the tunnels. As if these weren't big enough obstacles, it *still* wouldn't meet crash-worthiness.

by ImThat1Guy on Jul 1, 2013 9:33 pm • linkreport

If not Bethesda-to-Tysons, Tenley-to-Ballston rail (or road) would be nice.

by Frank IBC on Jul 1, 2013 9:49 pm • linkreport

"If not Bethesda-to-Tysons, Tenley-to-Ballston rail (or road) would be nice."

You've got plenty of road: Glebe over Chain Bridge, down Canal Road, then up Arizona and then Nebraska Avenues.

by ImThat1Guy on Jul 1, 2013 10:06 pm • linkreport

That route has room for improvement. 200 feet downhill then 200 feet uphill again, with lots of twists and turns. A high-level bridge in the same location would be an improvement, a direct connection between Arizona or Nebraska Avenue and Glebe Road would be much better.

by Frank IBC on Jul 1, 2013 10:11 pm • linkreport

See "things we've tried before" in 1998:

And the scaling back thereof, three years later in 2001:

I rode the 14A-D a few times, but it took too long and starting it at Westpark instead of Tysons Corner was a huge mistake.

Here, FWIW, is the old schedule:

by Craig on Jul 1, 2013 11:07 pm • linkreport

Studies show that less people are commuting between Fairfax and Montgomery, not increasing to justify expensive transit options. Transit would be great for improved regional mobility but would not relieve Legion Bridge traffic. The only solution which seems more likely is extending the HOT lanes into Maryland and up the I-270 corridor (where plans are to build from I-370 to Frederick). Repurposing HOV lanes to HOT lanes and minor widening of the Beltway would allow for this. I do not see how the HOT lanes could be extended further than I-270 without major opposition. I do not know if this would require rebuilding the Legion Bridge ($$$$) or if it possible to widen the bridge. Still cheaper (maybe even for free) than extended the Purple Line through some of the most expensive real estate in the US.

A pedestrian path would also be much desired in a new or expended Legion Bridge as there are major trail systems on both sides but no connection above Chain Bridge. Alternatively a suspension span over Mather Gorge at Great Falls would work. But regardless the bridge is a major missing piece of regional pedestrian infrastructure.

by Cyrus on Jul 1, 2013 11:29 pm • linkreport

Your "heavy trucks alternative" suggestion blindly ignores the fact that there pretty much is no alternative. The other long-distance alternatives crossing the Potomac are I-81, US 15, downtown bridges, Wilson bridge, and 301. Any North/South through trucks are probably taking the Wilson bridge instead (or, if they're really long distance, I-81). West/South through trucks have a choice between 15 and the American Legion, but that route is a base half-hour longer without traffic, so I don't know how viable it is for truckers. If 15 and 234 were a high speed limited-access highway (i.e., Outer Beltway, which many protest). Short of building other bridges, I don't see any viable bypass alternatives.

The best solution to the American Legion bridge to me is to add some sort of HOV/HOT lane option. As I understand it, the bridge is already in need of being rebuilt; so while it would be an expensive megaproject, it's not worth pretending that we can avoid doing it.

by Joshua Cranmer on Jul 1, 2013 11:46 pm • linkreport

So you could tow a Purple Line car down Metro tracks, but it can't power itself and you definitely shouldn't expect people to be able to get off.

Trains have been built that handle both platform heights.

Metro is powered by 750v DC, as are almost all modern light rail systems. There is no obstacle to installing overhead catenary on heavy rail lines, some, like the blue line in Boston, are powered solely by overhead wires. For that matter, LRVs could have both pantographs and third rail shoes, so there would be no need to install overhead wire on Metro lines. Powering the trains would not really be a problem.

It's the platform height that's the problem. Yes there are trains that can handle both high and low platforms, all MARC trains for instance, and the LRVs in San Francisco, but they are built as high platform vehicles that can access low platforms with steps. This is unacceptable from an ADA perspective, and steps slow boarding anyway. Therefore the Purple line will have low platforms, and you can't board a low platform vehicle from a high platform. This has been discussed here as a reason VRE trains can't run on the Penn line in MD.

It is technically possible for LRVs and Heavy Rail trains to share a station and tracks, just not a platform. In several places in Germany, and I think a couple of other places in Europe, low platform trams share a station with high platform suburban trains. There is a low platform, and then a ramp and/or steps up to a high platform, both on the same track. On the Silver Line in Tysons, the center platforms have no room on either end to build a new low platform. If they were side platforms, or if they had left room between the tracks for a low platform, then it could be done, but as it stands, no.

As if these weren't big enough obstacles, it *still* wouldn't meet crash-worthiness.

I'm not familiar with the regulatory issues, but considering that the Purple Line vehicles will go through grade crossing, with the possibility of striking heavy trucks, I would think that they would have to have pretty stringent crash-worthiness standards. But maybe not.

by kinverson on Jul 2, 2013 8:22 am • linkreport

No one every said all roads pay their own cost. But it is pretty clear they pay for far more of themselves, than transit pays for itself.

Roads pay cover anywhere from 40-60% of their cost (both construction and O&M)
Transit pays zero in construction and 30-60% O&M.

Pretty stark difference.

This distinction only exists because pretty much everything required to operate/maintain the transit system is included in transit O&M, while there are huge swaths of O&M for roads that are not included. Just one example is the cost of policing roads and having police respond to accidents, etc. That is not included in any highway budget yet is an operations cost for highways.

Not to mention the fact that as I said before, transit creates positive benefits for people who do not use it (reducing traffic is one example) while cars produce almost no benefits for people who are not driving but a lot of costs (e.g. pollution) that non-drivers have to bear.

So yes, it is entirely fair that auto users should have to pay for a higher portion of their costs.

by MLD on Jul 2, 2013 8:29 am • linkreport

I don't think turning the Purple Line into some sort of circle line around the city is the answer. Travel times would be too long for it to be a serious means for commuting between Montgomery and Fairfax counties. There needs to be a full-fledged Metrorail line around the city.

by Frank on Jul 2, 2013 8:33 am • linkreport

Ed Tennyson and I propose a TBM drive (tunnel boring machine) tunne; extending the Purple Line from Bethesda to Tyson's Corner, with a single subterranean station at the CIA (similar to Pentagon, but only elevator access).

12 minutes from Bethesda to Tysons (not counting boarding and disembarking time) will attract MANY people to mass transit.

TBMs take quite a bit of effort &money to set up, so they are not very economic for tunnels much shorter than 1 km (0.6 mile), but become very economic on long drives. A six mile tunnel through what appears to be good rock would be, by far, the cheapest solution to connect - likely cheaper than surface rail.

The infrastructure should be designed so that later conversion to Metro from Light Rail could be done easily and relatively inexpensive.

Ed said that the lower bound on ridership could justify building this as a Purple Line extension, but estimating the upper bound would be quite difficult. It might go into Metro type loads.

by Alan Drake (AlanfromBigEasy) on Jul 2, 2013 8:58 am • linkreport

Some people have been talking about LRT and Metro sharing tracks,

I'd like to quickly point out that Metrorail isn't actually standard gauge. It's .25" narrower than standard gauge which means that if WMATA rolling stock were to try to run on standard gauge there would be some serious hunting issues, even at .25"

I'd also like to mention from my experience that LRT can get up to quick frequencies and speeds. I go to school in Boston and the Green Line there is what many people here in the states think about when they think about LRT. But, having lived in Dresden, Germany, where they have a very modern and efficient LRT system,I know the speeds there on the lines can approach 50-60 MPH with considerable levels of comfort, and headways of 2 minutes can be sustained easily. I don't think the proposed route that people are talking about here would warrant 2 minute headways, but I just wanted to point out that given the right alignment and stop location, I believe a LRT line between Tysons and Bethesda could be very beneficial to the region.

Also, does anybody remember what MoCo's (or MDOT's) stance is on extending at least a branch of the purple line to Montgomery Mall is? I know it's kind of off topic but I remember seeing studies of that option a couple years back.

by Dan on Jul 2, 2013 10:20 am • linkreport

any link from MoCo to Tysons will probably be light rail and will probably be an extension of the purple line.
The purple line is going to be your low platform, overhead power arrangement not suited to run on Metro's tracks. It's going to be a reasonably cheap affair. 100-200million per mile. The silver line, which is running almost completely in a ready made right of way is running $600million per mile and it doesn't go underground. The NY 2nd ave is running 2000million per mile but will be underground.

Doubling the price to make part of the purple line, metro ready is silly. More tunnels or aerial structures to further grade separate should be considered on how much they improve the design now. After it is built, if it reaches capacity, the right of way is there and it could be proposed to further improve it to heavy rail standards, for metro like service but not now.

by Richard B on Jul 2, 2013 10:22 am • linkreport

@Alan Drake, a proposal to dig a 6 mile tunnel from Bethesda to Tysons is not going to be taken seriously. The cost of boring the tunnel with a TBM is only part of the cost of a long underground line. Underground stations, air & access shafts, underground power facilities all drive up the cost - by a lot.

An extension of the Purple Line SW of Bethesda would stay aboveground following the former train track ROW. There would likely be a new station near the River Rd crossing; maybe another one between River Rd and the Potomac depending on the cost and whether the route stayed aboveground with a bridge crossing or does a deep dive with a tunnel under the Potomac. A tunnel could emerge at Rt. 123 south of the CIA HQ. Looking at the terrain, a bridge crossing would make more sense, but the obstacles from the NPS, the local community, concerns about the views of the river would be significant. But this will be a transit route that will stay in the talking stage for decades.

Also, the discussions about running light rail trains on the Metro tracks are, to be honest, silly, because heavy rail metro systems are designed to run on completely closed systems. Period. Platform heights, rail guage, power are besides the point. Not going to ever happen.

by AlanF on Jul 2, 2013 10:54 am • linkreport

One reason in my concept connection between Bethesda and Tysons that I didnt use Route 123 (instead I used internal area of 495 beyond the HOT lanes) is because of the political issues with routing through old portions of McLean. Yes it isn't the urbanist ideal, but it is the reality.

This wouldn't keep it from being able to connect to Langley which would bring in a lot of riders as well as federal funds for the project. Going inside of the 495 ROW would also keep costs down, as there is a lot of dense development directly adjacent to Dolley Madison through Mclean "downtown" and widening would not be possible.

Routing down 495 would also be far better for the ultimate goal of splitting off demand from the Am Leg. Bridge for drivers, by creating a direct path to Bethesda instead of 495. It would require some upsizing of the GW Parkway (yes I know its a sensitive subject for tree huggers). Ultimately, the crossing will likely need to be a bridge because of the geology of the potomac in this location, which is fine because that way it can be a shared use bridge (for rail and cars) and yes, believe it or not there are beautiful bridges in the world that can be aesthetically pleasing for the crossing.

by Tysons Engineer on Jul 2, 2013 11:00 am • linkreport

@Richard B, "The silver line, which is running almost completely in a ready made right of way is running $600million per mile and it doesn't go underground". Either you made a typo or you should check your math. The projected final cost of the entire Silver Line is currently $5.8 billion. That is for a 23 mile extension, 11 stations, a rail yard, and years of studies & engineering. That works out to around $250 million a mile. The Silver Line goes underground for 1500' in Tysons, BTW.

Phase 1 of the Second Ave subway project in NYC is seriously expensive and has no bearing on potential new Metro route costs in DC.

by AlanF on Jul 2, 2013 11:04 am • linkreport

I was using only phase 1, not the recently contracted phase 2 which doubles the length through very lightly populated regions.

by Richard B on Jul 2, 2013 11:30 am • linkreport

@AlanFromtheBigEasy - we've got a TBM in the area (doing the water board tunnels) - and we should put that thing right to work building subway tunnels once it is done on the current task. Don't let it leave!

by h st ll on Jul 2, 2013 11:46 am • linkreport

Richard B, the total cost for Silver Phase 1 is $2.9 billion for 11.6 miles. That works out to $250 million a mile, close to the cost per mile for the whole project.

I would hardly describe Phase 2 as going though lightly populated regions. The extension beyond Dulles is going through a green region because the population sprawl of Ashburn is mostly north of the Greenway. Infill development will take place rather quickly around the Rt. 606 and 772 stations.

by AlanF on Jul 2, 2013 12:05 pm • linkreport


most of us here are not against road projects to address choke points (like the Wilson Bridge) or road projects with pricing (like the HOT lanes - which is also bus and carpool friendly). The issues are mostly about certain roads that do more to encourage "sprawl" The issues with the ICC I leave to those more familiar with Maryland, and its development patterns.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 2, 2013 12:22 pm • linkreport


New York City drilled an 8.5 mile long tunnel - larger diamater, through harder rock, MUCH deeper, concrete lined it and cleaned it well enough for potable water for $750 million 2003 to 2011.

The only underground station that we propose - and only as an option - is the CIA HQ. The other proposed stops for surface rail are likely to be weak. The riders attracted by fast express service will be more than those from weak stations, so we just run under them.

Per my reading of underground safety regulations, the other tunnel, with pedestrian crossovers every 1,000' US, 400 m EU (from memory) is all that is required for safety egress.

Electric trains require little ventilation. The constant push of the trains circulates are pretty well, but I am not an expert on US regulations. Swiss regulations would not require an air shaft for a 10 km tunnel.

by Alan Drake (AlanfromBigEasy) on Jul 2, 2013 1:01 pm • linkreport

Regarding a purple line crossing of the Potomac at Little Falls, I see many comments regarding tunneling beneath the Potomac and a bridge as a non-starter. This is a mistake. Given the topography of the area, why not use the examples of valley and water crossings through Rock Creek National Park as a guide to bridge the Potomac, also encompassing National Parkland?

A transit bridge could be done with beauty to conform with the landscape. It could actually enhance the parkland, bring attention to its beauty as commuters pass through (and act as a daily conservation advertisement), and furthermore be a much more cost effective solution.

by stevek_occoquan on Jul 2, 2013 9:38 pm • linkreport

If we're going to build an 8 mile long tunnel (or whatever) I doubt connecting Bethesda to Tyson's Corner would be at the top of our list. Not that it's a bad project, just that on a list of priorities where would people put it?

by David C on Jul 2, 2013 9:43 pm • linkreport

I am not a city planner, but if you look at a map, isn't the problem that there is all this development with road infrastructure between the 2 areas. I am all for mass transit, but wouldn't some direct high bandwidth highways solve part of this problem. Extend Md-200 down travilah road, Build a river crossing, and build a 4 lane road down to Reston. Then build another crossing basically from Germantown to Sully Road and Rte. 7.

I don't disagree with the concept of induced demand, but not building roads isn't a solution to congestion. Building roads alone is obviously not a solution to congestion either.

I like the idea of a subterranean (spelling?) metro tunnel from Bethesda to Tysons as well. But I have a feeling that that doesn't solve the problem, because I don't think that most of the traffic is from Tysons to Bethesda. There aren't any river crossings for like 20 miles upriver.

by Joe on Jul 2, 2013 9:49 pm • linkreport

@David C

On the contrary, if you look at traffic patterns the Tysons to Bethesda route is of critical importance.

It will provide a split flow for traffic on the American Legion bridge, a top priority, as well as provide the ability to pull of some of the crossings of the rosslyn bridge and create an orange bypass.

The biggest mistake people make is to say, there is congestion in this area so lets work on that area. You shouldn't look at where congestion is occurring, you should look at where its generating. While the blue line is popular, that corridor doesnt have nearly the current or future TOD demand that the dulles and orange line corridors do.

The best way to improve the blue line is to separate half of the orange and silver demand from its crossing, thereby allowing it to return to lessened headways.

by Tysons Engineer on Jul 3, 2013 8:43 am • linkreport

But TE - most of the demand current and likely future from the orange and silver line TOD is going to be either commuters within virginia, or commuters to DC. The question is not if thats a growing corridor with lots of potential, but if demand MoCo to that corridor is going to have the potential to justify the cost of the facility proposed. As virginia increases residential density in Tysons and in other locations that feed to it (in FFX, in Falls Church, and even in LoCo) and as a higher proportion of people from more built out parts of NoVa commute to Tysons rather than the District, it may be that more and more people who work in DC will choose to locate in MoCo, and fewer commuters to Tysons and NoVa tech corridor will so choose. If thats an argumnet against the seperate blue line (and that has been so raised) I think its at least an equally strong argument against spending TOO much on the Fairfax - MoCo connection.

Again, don't get me wrong, I do think there will be investments in such connections. The new wider Legion bridge with managed lanes to connect the express bus networks, and possibly a Purple line crossing as both Tysons and the Purple line mature.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 3, 2013 9:41 am • linkreport

The whole region would benefit from a dedicated metro loop line around the city. Probably too ambitious for the Purple line, but connecting it to major suburban and outer-city commercial centers would open things up a lot, like bringing it all the way around from Bethesda-Tysons-Crystal City-Anacostia-Minnesota Ave-Hyattsville-Silver Spring. Think of the development it could ring to some of the struggling areas and how much it would open up the congested ones.

Also, just extending Purple line from Bethesda to Tysons would open up Dulles to a lot more people.

by Metro Loop on Jul 3, 2013 10:20 am • linkreport

@ Metro Loop

What would be nice is if the Purple Line was heavy rail so that they could reroute lines around problems or have express trains from all over the system to special destinations if there is construction or track work.

* example when the Red Line was messed up due to the crash if we had a heavy rail purple line we could have sent trains from Wheaton down to Silver Spring over the Purple Line route to Bethesda then to Ft Totten via the western section of the Red line and have minor shuttle buses between Silver Spring and Ft Totten for local riders.

The main problem would be keeping the trains on schedules unless they were to stations where trains could begin/terminate via a separate platform or track so as to not effect other trains behind.

by kk on Jul 3, 2013 11:51 pm • linkreport


Yours is one the most - if not THE most - reasonable and realistic solutions offered thus far.

by ceefer66 on Jul 4, 2013 11:05 am • linkreport


You completely missed my point.

In response to the suggestion of running the Purple Line from Bethesda to Tysons, I noted that it some riders would have to take 3 separate trains to reach their destinations.

For example, someone traveling from Rockville or Twinbrook on the Red Line to Tysons West or Weihle Ave. on the Silver Line would have to change at Bethesda for a Purple Line train to train to say, Tysons East, then change trains AGAIN to reach their final destination. That's a three-train trip.

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] Can you honestly call that a reasonable daily commute when the same trip by car would take less than half the time - even under currently existing highway options (and even less if there was a road and bridge connection between the ICC and Reston)?

The point I was making is that it is unrealistic to expect that enough people would take a 3-train trip between Montgomery and Fairfax Counties, to make it cost-effective given other choices. I realize some here like to take a "let's pretend we're like New York where nearly everybody rides multiple trains to just about everywhere", but this region is not even remotely like NY.

As hard as it may be for some to swallow, transit isn't always the only logical choice.

by ceefer66 on Jul 4, 2013 11:39 am • linkreport

This distinction only exists because pretty much everything required to operate/maintain the transit system is included in transit O&M, while there are huge swaths of O&M for roads that are not included. Just one example is the cost of policing roads and having police respond to accidents, etc.

Another very significant example is the cost of parking regulations which are imposed on businesses and developers. Parking minimums exist soley for the benefit of drivers and gas taxes or other car fees don't pay one penny toward complying with costly parking minimum regulations.

Re: Tunnel

A new transit tunnel between Arlington and DC would likely have a higher return than building a transit tunnel between Bethesda and Tysons.

by Falls Church on Jul 4, 2013 2:49 pm • linkreport

"For example, someone traveling from Rockville or Twinbrook on the Red Line to Tysons West or Weihle Ave. "

Transit is never going to be a great option for someone who lives in mid county MoCo commuting to Reston/Herndon/Dulles, and the current auto options are not great.

But given the availability of relatively inexpensive suburban housing in northwest Fairfax and in Loudoun, there are probably not going to be many people needing to make that commute. There will be some, of course, because of job changes, 2 income couples, and folks who just MUST live in Md instead of Va. But not enough to justify the outer beltway and highway crossing, especially given that in addition to the dollar cost, there would disruption to communities in Loudoun (which is why Loudoun, one of the post "pro-auto lifestyle" counties in NoVa, opposes it, and MoCo opposes it. Fairfax (which wants more TOD esp at Tysons, and less autos coming into the county) also opposes it AFAIK.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 4, 2013 3:08 pm • linkreport

Sorry guys, it does not matter how much you Hate for Maryland to be equal with Virginia in terms of build and widening Highways. They will widen I-495 on the Maryland side and buid a new bridge between Montgomery and Fairfax Counties whether people like it or not.

by Ed on Jul 5, 2013 11:32 am • linkreport

Talking about a purple line extension into Tysons is a good thing. It's hard to imagine money on the table for this in the next decade, but once people start talking, unforeseen opportunities can crop up in the medium-to-long term: lots of politicians like megaprojects, and we have no idea what the political climate well look like in 20 years.

West Bethesda and McLean residents might not like it, but keep in mind that plenty of projects go forward despite opposition (both the purple line and the ICC), even when opponents are rich. Developers and landowners benefit from increasing property values (especially in infill stations like downtown McLean and Kenwood). Fairfax, Montgomery, and PG all get something.

Because this discussion only matters if its realistic, remember that this isn't going to do that much to relieve current congestion because most people aren't driving from transit-accessible places. What it does is shape future development patterns so living near transit becomes cheaper and more viable. Running the purple line a bit south of Tysons to Merrifield and Fairview Park might make sense, but any further south wouldn't attract enough ridership to justify the cost.

by Fantastic5 on Jul 5, 2013 8:09 pm • linkreport

@ Fantastic5

What is considered enough ridership ? What about cut backs so not running all trips the full length and also the possibility of cutting some bus routes.

Considering that when the Purple Line opens you could probably kiss 2-4 bus routes goodbye J4 comes to mind and from reading the plans for buses around Tysons are the Silver Line you have massive cuts and discontinues to Fairfax Connector and WMATA Metro bus that money could go to paying for a extension to the Purple Line over time.

I would say send the Purple Line south straight down Gallows RD to at-least Anandale and then get rid of the 401/402 Fairfax Connector Tysons Westpark to Franconia Springfield, forcing everyone to use the Lightrail; it probably has the longest hours and highest ridership out of any non rush hour only FFC bus.

by kk on Jul 7, 2013 12:31 pm • linkreport

Extending the Purple Line to Tysons via tunnel is very interesting. Someone suggested only putting a stop at CIA. Putting the station entrance just outside CIA HQ might prevent agency objections. If you map it out, a straight line connecting the south end CIA HQ entrance to Tysons, downtown McLean is about halfway between the two. This is a much better option than down the center of VA 123 (missing downtown McLean) and would be less objectionable to the locals. Another stop could be next to the new Intelligence Community College at the old NGA (Defense Mapping) campus in Bethesda (near the Sumner stop on the Option 1 map above). This would make the line Bethesda - Kenwood - Sumner - Langley (CIA) - Downtown McLean - Tysons Corner. (I don't know if a stop needs to be made at the Silver Line McLean station.) Personally, I'd prefer to extend the line east under Leesburg Pike and King Street to Old Town to continue the Circle Line concept rather than to Dunn Loring.

For those worried about speed, the St Louis MetroLink runs pretty fast in suburban Illinois where several stops are 2-4 miles apart.

by Steve K on Jul 9, 2013 12:08 am • linkreport

@Tolls: Plenty of "farebox revenue bonds" have funded transit capital investments in recent years. The larger point, which you might never concede, is that driving imposes negative social (and financial) costs on the rest of us, while transit service creates value for many who never step foot on the system. Those costs are slightly balanced through transit subsidies.

by Payton on Jul 9, 2013 1:38 am • linkreport

Please plan an alternative route with some other bridge alternative to legion bridge. Every day I am spending one hour crossing the bridge. which is waste of my time.

by Mohan on Nov 29, 2016 10:40 am • linkreport

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