The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY ROBERT THOM­SON thom­sonr@wash­

The draft for Metro’s long-range plan comes with a toy cat­a­logue for com­muters: a new rail link across the Po­tomac River, new sta­tions, more rail cars, longer trains, ex­tra down­town tun­nels, walk­ways be­tween sta­tions, fast bus lines.

Un­for­tu­nately, the cat­a­logue made pub­lic last month comes with price tags be­yond the wildest dreams of any toy seller.

Metro of­fi­cials have a pretty good idea what they’re up against in try­ing to gather sup­port for such good­ies. Like Ral­phie in “A Christ­mas Story,” they’re try­ing to build mo­men­tum.

They’ve even writ­ten a theme, ti­tled “Mo­men­tum,” to build the kind of sup­port among de­ci­sion­mak­ers that Ral­phie longed for. But un­like Ral­phie, who fo­cused solely on ob­tain­ing a Red Ry­der BB gun, Metro plan­ners are dream­ing of merry sea­sons more than a decade away.

That’s wise. They have many more opin­ion lead­ers to per­suade than Ral­phie did. And Santa doesn’t have this kind of money.

Be­sides, the projects on Metro’s list aren’t ex­actly shovel-ready. Many will be very dif­fi­cult to build and fi­nance. So tran­sit of­fi­cials hope to goad the re­gion’s lead­ers into mo­tion by start­ing what’s likely to be a pro­tracted con­ver­sa­tion about the cap­i­tal’s mid-cen­tury tran­sit sys­tem.

Cau­tion­ary tales

Metro of­fi­cials’ look-ahead ef­fort doesn’t be­gin from a dead stop. But you can’t blame them for be­ing anx­ious to ad­vance the dis­cus­sion about tran­sit needs. Con­sider this rather dis­cour­ag­ing list of 21st-cen­tury ideas, drawn from Washington Post news re­ports:

“Metro must build a new sub­way line through the heart of down­town Washington by 2015 to avoid grid­lock on its rail sys­tem and serve the re­gion’s vo­ra­cious ap­petite for more tran­sit ser­vice, engi­neers told the agency’s direc­tors yes­ter­day.” — May 4, 2001

“District of­fi­cials are ex­plor­ing a way to iso­late buses from the rest of the traf­fic on K Street NW, al­low­ing them to travel the mid­dle of the down­town’s ma­jor eastwest cor­ri­dor at a fast clip.” — Aug. 20, 2002

“Metro is con­sid­er­ing rerout­ing some Blue Line trains be­tween Vir­ginia and the District dur­ing week­day rush pe­ri­ods by hav­ing them cross the Po­tomac River on the Yel­low Line bridge near the Pen­tagon.” — Feb. 12, 2008

That last one ac­tu­ally hap­pened. But it took more than four years to re­ar­range the trains. Metro calls it Rush Plus. Mean­while, there’s no rapid bus line on K Street or any­where else, and Metro rid­ers won’t be trav­el­ing through a new tun­nel by 2015.

Tran­sit goals

It’s not just about find­ing money and buy­ing things. Part of the Mo­men­tum pro­gram in­volves Metro kick­ing it­self to do things, and part in­volves push­ing the re­gion’s busi­ness, po­lit­i­cal and civic lead­ers — the same groups that got the tran­sit sys­tem first built — to think about what they want done next and how it will all fit to­gether.

Metro board mem­bers com­mented fa­vor­ably on the draft of Mo­men­tum when it was pre­sented to them last month. Board mem­ber Mary H. Hynes said she saw it as “a place to be­gin the really hard con­ver­sa­tion that needs to hap­pen in the re­gion.”

Metro 2025

Shyam Kan­nan, the di­rec­tor of Metro’s plan­ning of­fice, es­ti­mated it would cost $6 bil­lion in 2012 dol­lars to in­crease the ca­pac­ity of the ex­ist­ing sys­tem and im­prove the ef­fec­tive­ness of the rail and bus net­works by 2025.

Here’s what that round of in­vest­ment would buy:

Full eight-car train ser­vice at a cost of $2 bil­lion. That would in­crease ca­pac­ity at peak hours in the peak di­rec­tion by 35 per­cent. But there are con­se­quences. For ex­am­ple, un­load­ing eight-car train af­ter eight-car train at Gallery Place-Chi­na­town would fur­ther worsen crowd­ing on the Red Line plat­form — some­thing that also would need to be dealt with by 2025.

Com­plete the Metrobus Pri­or­ity Cor­ri­dor Net­work for $600 mil­lion. Rapid-tran­sit bus ser­vice along 24 cor­ri­dors, some­times along bus-only lanes, could add 100,000 rid­ers to the re­gional bus sys­tem and re­duce traf­fic.

Im­prove ca­pac­ity and train move­ment in Metro­rail’s core for $1 bil­lion. Pedes­trian tun­nels con­nect­ing Metro Cen­ter to Gallery Place and Far­ragut North to Far­ragut West would re­duce train-to-train trans­fers.

Im­prove trip-plan­ning in­for­ma­tion in the re­gion for $400 mil­lion. Make Metro a com­pletely “self-ser­vice sys­tem,” Kan­nan said.

Add switches and side tracks for $500 mil­lion. Th­ese would in­crease Metro’s flex­i­bil­ity in mov­ing around trains and eas­ing crowd­ing.

Pre­pare for bus-ser­vice growth in emerg­ing cor­ri­dors for $500 mil­lion. This would add about 400 buses and a garage.

In­crease rail ser­vice be­tween Pen­tagon and Ross­lyn for $1 bil­lion. This could be done by re­design­ing track con­nec­tions or build­ing a sep­a­rate sta­tion in Ross­lyn.

Tran­sit 2040

All that isn’t enough to meet the re­gion’s mid-cen­tury need, Metro of­fi­cials said. The 2025 pro­grams should be fol­lowed by more ex­ten­sive plans. Metro could lead some ef­forts and work with lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions, or play a sup­port­ing role on oth­ers. The Mo­men­tum pro­gram iden­ti­fies th­ese ma­jor con­cepts, likely to com­bine for a cost at least three times the 2025 in­vest­ment:

Add rail lines in the re­gion’s cen­ter. Rail ser­vice pass­ing through Ross­lyn and L’Enfant Plaza even­tu­ally maxes out, even with the 2025 im­prove­ments. So the pro­gram en­vi­sions a new northsouth tun­nel un­der 10th Street SW/NW, head­ing west at Thomas Cir­cle so the Green and Yel­low lines could op­er­ate in sep­a­rate tun­nels. A sec­ond tun­nel through Ross­lyn to Ge­orge­town and along M Street to Thomas Cir­cle would add east-west ca­pac­ity.

Build links among lines at Pen­tagon. The pro­gram would ex­pand on the 2025 con­cept for Ross­lyn. Or­ange and Sil­ver line rid­ers could gain a con­nec­tion via Pen­tagon to what’s now the Yel­low Line bridge, pos­si­bly with a sec­ond sta­tion at Pen­tagon.

With ca­pac­ity en­hanced in the re­gion’s core, plan­ners could con­sider ex­tend­ing the Or­ange Line to Cen­tre­ville and Bowie and the Blue Line to Po­tomac Mills. That ser­vice also could be pro­vided by fast buses or light rail.

Metro could help lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions fig­ure out how to cre­ate light-rail or rapid-bus con­nec­tions along heav­ily trav­eled cor­ri­dors, such as New Car­roll­ton-King Street and North Bethesda-Tysons.

Metro could sup­port ef­forts to con­nect the District and Vir­ginia via street­cars, and to link the MARC and VRE com­muter rail ser­vices.


TOP: The Washington Met­ro­pol­i­tan Area Tran­sit Author­ity un­veiled a new full-scale mock-up of its next gen­er­a­tion rail­car (like Ral­phie’s dream Red Ry­der), the 7000 se­ries, in Oc­to­ber 2012. ABOVE: An older train (oth­er­wise known as re­al­ity) pulls into the McPher­son Square sta­tion.


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