Greater Greater Washington


Metro proposes new Wilson Bridge bus service

As part of its round of service changes for June 2014, Metro has proposed rerouting the NH1 line, which serves National Harbor, to run across the Wilson Bridge to Old Town Alexandria. The new service could help connect communities on both sides of the Potomac that aren't always easy to go between by transit.

Existing bus service to National Harbor. Map by the author.

Two routes serve National Harbor today: the Metrobus express NH1 between the Branch Avenue Metro station and National Harbor, and the Prince George's County Transit route 35 between Southern Avenue Metro and National Harbor.

Metro's proposal would instead send the NH1 to King Street station in Alexandria. The distance between National Harbor and Branch Avenue is about the same as to King Street. But King Street is located in a much more vibrant area than Branch Avenue, meaning guests and residents of National Harbor may find the altered routing of the NH1 more helpful.

Proposed bus service to National Harbor. Map by the author.

Workers at National Harbor who live on the Virginia side of the Potomac will also benefit greatly from this service. Those who live in Maryland or Southeast Washington will still have access to Southern Avenue via route 35. During late evenings and weekends, when the 35 does not run, the NH1 will also serve Southern Avenue.

Repeating history
When bus service first began at National Harbor, the service operated from Southern Avenue. This was an important link for workers at the isolated resort. Southern Avenue station has more bus lines, and is more convenient to neighborhoods in Southeast Washington.

But in 2009, Metro rerouted the bus to Branch Avenue at the request of National Harbor. Some argued that this was so visitors wouldn't have to transfer at Southern Avenue, which is located in a less affluent area. With a more express routing over the Beltway, workers were now forced to travel farther out of the way using multiple bus lines or the more expensive Green Line to reach the NH1.

In response, Prince George's started the 35, which restored the connection to Southern Avenue and stops in the neighborhoods along the way.

Virginia connection

In addition to linking National Harbor and Alexandria, the rerouted NH1 has the ability to restore a service lost in 2004. Prior to June of that year, the N11 and N13 routes linked Branch Avenue and Suitland stations to King Street. This allowed riders from southern Prince George's to easily reach jobs in Alexandria, while residents of Alexandria could reach jobs at the Suitland Federal Center without going downtown.

These routes only ran during rush hour. The N11 connected Branch Avenue to Alexandria in the morning and the N13 connected Alexandria to Suitland. The buses ran the opposite direction in the afternoon.

Without those lines, riders now have to ride all the way to L'Enfant Plaza and change. Many people making the commute probably drive the shorter distance over the Wilson Bridge instead.

The NH1 will not completely restore this convenient connection. However, it will allow riders to use transit between Southern Avenue and King Street by using the Prince George's 35 and the NH1 and transferring at the Oxon Hill Park and Ride. Riders from other routes running along Indian Head Highway, which include the D13, D14, P17, P18, P19, W15, and W19 routes, will also have that option.

Ridership on the N11 and N13 was apparently not high enough to justify the lines back in 2004. However, transit connections across the Potomac outside of downtown would shorten trips for many riders.

If the NH1 is successful in attracting riders, hopefully Metro will consider adding other routes to connect destinations across the Potomac from each other.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. Hes a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Planning Department. His views are his own and do not represent the opinion of his employer. 


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I don't love NH, but I think this is key to a future rail transit option from Old Town across the river to NH and beyond (or in the alternative the Purple Line coming south from New Carrollton and into VA). As people get used to traveling back and forth (again) between VA and MD at this junction, it will create more trips back and forth and justify a future rail option. I, for one, would use the proposed bus option for a 'night on the town' in NH, or once the big outdoor mall there opens and it's crazy holiday shopping time.

by JDC Esq on Sep 6, 2013 12:17 pm • linkreport

Weren't we promised transit connections when the new Wilson Bridge was built?

That being said, I can't see Prince George's County being happy with this decision, especially if it helps NH to become an extension of Alexandria, rather than the centerpiece of the county.

by andrew on Sep 6, 2013 12:32 pm • linkreport

There's absolutely nothing stopping Prince George's from providing their own 35X service between National Harbor and Branch Avenue.

Nothing except for the fact that the county has never prioritized spending on transit.

And if the county wanted this to be the centerpiece of anything, they shouldn't have put it in the middle of nowhere. But that's another lesson the county has never managed to learn.

by Matt Johnson on Sep 6, 2013 12:36 pm • linkreport

Sounds like a plan, and a much better way for NH guest to get there from Reagan. Taking any train to Alexandria and a bus is much easier than taking a train, changing to another train and then taking a bus.

by Jasper on Sep 6, 2013 1:08 pm • linkreport

Will stop anywhere else on the VA side of the river other than King St Metro? Looked on the Metro site and couldn't find a description of the route ...

by Thad on Sep 6, 2013 1:31 pm • linkreport

Okay, found the solution ... in MD document ... it will stop at both Eisenhower and King St stations.

by Thad on Sep 6, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

I think another important aspect is helping with Blue Line issues as the Silver Line comes into service. Blue Line will be cut back to 6 trains per hour PEAK. Certainly won't help everyone but people going PG/SE to Alexandria could use bus via King St instead of transering through DC. Wouldn't be the best for most people but options are good.

by BTA on Sep 6, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

Actually it might only be 4-5 trains per hour Peak on the Blue Line which is crazy.

by BTA on Sep 6, 2013 1:41 pm • linkreport

And while I'm on the subject maybe they need to run it past King St to Franconia as part of the Blue Line bus supplement plan? Might help with some of the title VI issues (if any) on cutting back Blue Line service.

by BTA on Sep 6, 2013 1:50 pm • linkreport

@ BTA:I think another important aspect is helping with Blue Line issues as the Silver Line comes into service. Blue Line will be cut back to 6 trains per hour PEAK. Certainly won't help everyone but people going PG/SE to Alexandria could use bus via King St instead of transering through DC.

They would end up on a Yellow Line, not a Blue one.

... One of those nice and empty Yellow Lines, as opposed to the sardine-full Blue Line. Congrats WMATA! You have solved the sardine-crush on the Orange Line! By shifting it to the Blue Line. Good job.

by Jasper on Sep 6, 2013 2:00 pm • linkreport

If you're taking the train from Alexandria to SE/PG, wouldn't you want to take the Yellow (Rush+) trains instead of Blue?

Not that this is even a realistic hypothetical. Taking Metro from Alexandria to National Harbor would be staggeringly inefficient.

by andrew on Sep 6, 2013 2:15 pm • linkreport

With bike options, it's not entirely a bad choice to hop off in Alexandria. It's less than a 15 minute bike ride over the Wilson Bridge and to the harbor after that.

As a resident of southern PG, I actually prefer using the Eisenhower stop whenever I try to metro into the district. For that location I have to drive to, but it's much closer to me than Branch Ave since I'm just down the 210 corridor. I also trust my car there all day over Branch Ave.

by Swftkat on Sep 6, 2013 2:29 pm • linkreport

Swftkat: It's 5 miles from King Street Metro to National Harbor -- quite a bit more than a 15-minute ride for me, at least, but still a good transportation option.

by jimble on Sep 6, 2013 2:42 pm • linkreport

Currently, the 35 runs TWO TIMES A DAY in each direction, rush hours only. There's something called the 35S in the midday, but it ONLY runs from Nat'l Harbor down Indian Head Highway, and requires a connection at Oxon Hill P&R to get to the Metro. Unless the 35 is going to run 7 days a week all day long (which, given that NOTHING run by PG County runs on the weekends, is a longshot), I fail to see how this change is worthwhile in any way.

Metro has indicated that they are going to run the NH1 to Southern Avenue when the 35 isn't running. At this point, that means late evening/weekends. If that's the case, then why isn't this something Metro is willing to do all the time? The N11/N13 failed because even though the need for a connection between MD and VA is so very much needed and while King Street was a good anchor, there's almost nothing around Branch Avenue to make it worthwhile. Southern Avenue would work so much better because 1)It's closer to downtown DC and 2)there's a LOT more bus access there. That's the reason the original NH1 was designed to operate from Southern Avenue, after all.

by Justin..... on Sep 6, 2013 2:53 pm • linkreport

Also, don't forget that with the REX bus connection at both the Eisenhower and King St stations, this gives public transit access between the entire Rt. 1 corridor and National Harbor.

by Thad on Sep 6, 2013 3:07 pm • linkreport

@Justin Actually, the 35 was recently expanded significantly:

by nevermindtheend on Sep 6, 2013 4:17 pm • linkreport

The 35 makes TWENTY-ONE roundtrips each day. It runs every 30 minutes, with the first bus leaving Southern Avenue at 5:55A and the last bus leaving Southern Avenue at 5:55P.

by Matt Johnson on Sep 6, 2013 4:35 pm • linkreport

"And if the county wanted this to be the centerpiece of anything, they shouldn't have put it in the middle of nowhere."

1.25 miles from the original DC diamond seems hardly the middle of nowhere. Particularly for Prince George's County. (Upper Marlboro, anyone?)

by Kolohe on Sep 6, 2013 5:07 pm • linkreport

@nevermindtheend, Matt Johnson:

Wait...what? When did THAT happen!?

*checks schedule*

Oh, August 1st? Okay, that's why I didn't know that. Thanks for pointing it out to me!

by Justin..... on Sep 6, 2013 9:30 pm • linkreport

Would it really be that hard or more expensive to have the route travel from

King St - National Harbor - Oxon Hill P&R - Southern Ave and then the reverse with maybe one or two stops in between making it a Metrobus Express route

WMATA repeats history alot with there bus routes as I have said in many post. Its either that people on this site have not lived long enough in DC or dont care about the bus to notice because this is nothing new almost every single route that has been introduced in the past 5 years was already present 20 years ago and got cut.

by kk on Sep 7, 2013 12:04 am • linkreport

Regarding rail service to National Harbor, it seems improbable. Depending on the route, going to National Harbor is at least 1 mile of track in each direction. That plus additional dwell/trip times and construction difficulty due to all of the highway ramps makes it pretty unrealistic. The Oxon Hill P&R, while worse, is much more realistic option. Not MTA/WMATA's fault National Harbor is in the middle of nowhere.

by ImThat1Guy on Sep 7, 2013 12:15 pm • linkreport

One of the biggest design flaws with National Harbor is that there is no decent public transportation service to it. But, as I've said numerous times here before, PG County seems to have had very poor policies when it comes to public transportation, especially in comparison to Montgomery County, which has an excellent system of both Metro and bus service. I suspect that the poor public transportation system has been one of the major reasons why many retailers and developers bypass the county.

I think that connecting National Harbor to King Street via bus service would be a great idea. I also think that perhaps it would be an even better idea if DC Anacostia Streetcar line eventually stopped there.

by Rain17 on Sep 8, 2013 4:01 pm • linkreport

I know I'm jumping in late here, but...

"The distance between National Harbor and Branch Avenue is about the same as to King Street."

Are you sure on that? I calculate it as about 4.25 miles from the north end of Nat'l Harbor to King St, but 7.5 miles to Branch Ave.

by Froggie on Sep 11, 2013 1:15 pm • linkreport

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