Posts about Konterra
Today is the one-year anniversary of Greater Greater Washington's first transit fantasy maps. One year ago today, I assembled some pie-in-the-sky Metrorail expansion proposals by M.V. Jantzen and Richard Layman into a fantasy map and then another. The links I got from this and subsequent maps was the first big boost to this nascent blog's readership. In honor of that, it's time for another map.
This one came out of Friday's discussion on Prince George's transportation plan. Specifically, that plan recommends extending the Green Line to Laurel, Fort Meade, and eventually BWI. As several commenters pointed out, however, we do have train tracks going to all of those places today. MARC runs passenger service on them, but far too infrequently to really enable people to travel back and forth, except those who commute at set times every day.
What if Metro ran service on these lines? We could have trains from Maryland continue through to Virginia, as MARC and VRE hope to do one day. The only real obstacle is CSX, which also runs freight service. What if we could move their freight service off these lines, or widen the trackways to add enough tracks?
We could have a Metro system something like this:
The only new tracks here are the separate Blue Line through DC, which would add enormous capacity to our Metro system (though also at great cost), and the already-planned Purple and Silver Lines. The new Pink, Lime and Teal lines follow existing MARC and CSX lines. I've added some infill stations, both on Metro (like Potomac Yards, Oklahoma Avenue, and Jefferson Memorial) and on the new lines (like Arboretum, Fort Totten, and the Capitol).
MARC goes all the way to West Virginia and Perryville, beyond Baltimore. We don't actually want Metro-frequency service all the way there. For this map, the lines end at a place that seems somewhat reasonable, and about the same distance from DC as the future end of the Silver Line. Less frequent service could still continue all the way to those edges and beyond.
This wouldn't just move people from distant towns to DC. It would also create the express service Metro lacks but which is so beneficial to cities like New York. There aren't four tracks out to Bethesda, but the Pink Line actually is a Red Express, getting people from Silver Spring to Union Station in just two stops, and from Rockville in six, far less than sixteen by the Red Line. The Lime line functions as an express from Greenbelt and College Park or from Franconia-Springfield and King Street.
Is this wise? Some say we really need to focus development around our existing Metro stations and inside the Beltway, not on putting scarce economic development and transportation dollars toward encouraging more people to live in Germantown and Konterra or to work at Fort Meade or Fort Belvoir. Still, BRAC is happening whether we like it or not, and Maryland really wants Metro to BWI to compete with the future Silver Line to Dulles. If we are going to develop out there anyway, let's at least take advantage of the transit infrastructure we already have.
Prince George's County leaders are very proud that Konterra Town Center is moving forward. It's a huge development at I-95 and the future Intercounty Connector in Laurel. It's even bigger and just as auto-dependent as their other totally transit-inaccessible edge city, National Harbor, which, after building itself far from transit, started complaining about the lack of transit.
The county is working hard at making the same mistake with Konterra, which will generate a huge amount of traffic on the ICC, 95, and the Beltway. Konterra is "New Urbanism," but New Urbanism in a highway-only area generates as much traffic as old sprawl. Meanwhile, Prince George's County contains the first and second lowest ridership stations in the Metro system (Morgan Boulevard and Cheverly) among its 15 underutilized stations. Many PG County Metro stations have large, sparsely developed land around them, whether low-density housing, huge park-and-ride lots, industrial warehouses, or all of the above. And the eastern ends of the Orange and Blue Lines are the parts of the Metro system with the greatest excess capacity.
It may be a bit politically easier to build a huge development in the middle of nowhere. And I can understand the appeal of building a shiny new city without hewing to existing constraints or NIMBY neighbors. But it's a recipe for a traffic disaster. The article quotes Dennis Cook, of the West Laurel Civic Association, who worries that Konterra isn't planning the right numbers of jobs and residences to minimize the amount of new commuter traffic.
Maryland officials, with pressure from the developers, are pushing for a Green Line extension to BWI which would go through Konterra. That would be enormously expensive, and we already have a train to BWI: MARC. Instead of spending billions on the Green Line, Maryland should beef up MARC to transit-level service, perhaps adding extra passing tracks so more trains can coexist with Amtrak. Plus, MARC already goes through already-settled areas (like Laurel) which could benefit from development.
If Prince George's had no place to build, a New Urban community would be better than more classic sprawl. But they have plenty of good places inside the Beltway and next to Metro stations.
Update: Ryan Avent argues Prince George's has few appealing options, given their poor financial position, and better regional planning and financing could create a better outcome for everyone.
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