Pr. Wil­liam yearn­ing for Metro line

Su­per­vi­sors plan vote on Con­nolly’s pro­posal for fea­si­bil­ity study

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY FAIZ SID­DIQUI faiz.sid­diqui@wash­post.com

A long­time push to bring Metro to Prince Wil­liam County, ex­pand­ing the sys­tem’s 117 miles of rail into the Route 1 cor­ri­dor or far­ther west to Manas­sas, faces im­mense hur­dles. Such a mas­sive re­gional un­der­tak­ing would have to be ap­proved by Congress and the three ju­ris­dic­tions served by Metro.

That doesn’t mean that Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large), chair­man of Prince Wil­liam’s Board of County Su­per­vi­sors, and other elected of­fi­cials aren’t go­ing to give it a shot. On Tues­day, the board will con­sider a res­o­lu­tion to sup­port a bill, in­tro­duced by Rep. Gerald E. Con­nolly (D-Va.), that would al­low a fed­er­ally funded fea­si­bil­ity study on ex­pand­ing Metro to the county. Con­nolly is seek­ing to add the board’s ap­proval to a list of sup­port­ers that in­cludes the Prince Wil­liam Cham­ber of Com­merce, the Dale City Civic As­so­ci­a­tion and the town of Dumfries.

But re­gard­less of a po­ten­tial study’s find­ings, Metro says it can­not de­vote re­sources to ex­pan­sion un­til a back­log of core-ca­pac­ity needs across the sys­tem are ad­dressed, in­clud­ing a com­bined $6 bil­lion in im­prove­ments that are not ex­pected to be started un­til 2025.

Con­struc­tion, then, would be at least a decade away, Metro Plan­ning Di­rec­tor Shyam Kan­nan said, and prob­a­bly fur­ther off — 2030. The al­ready crowded Ross­lyn Metro sta­tion— maxed­out by traf­fic on the Or­ange, Sil­ver and Blue lines— can’t han­dle any ad­di­tional trains, he said, so a new sta­tion would have to be built or ca­pac­ity in­creased for trains to be­gin serv­ing res­i­dents deeper into North­ern Vir­ginia.

“Un­til our core-ca­pac­ity is­sues are re­solved, both fully funded and built, there is no room for sys­tem ex­pan­sion at this point,” Kan­nan told county su­per­vi­sors. “That would in­clude any ju­ris­dic­tion, in­clud­ing Prince Wil­liam.”

Stewart called the pre­sen­ta­tion a sober­ing dose of the “cold, stark re­al­ity” of bring­ing Metro to a county — fast ap­proach­ing a pop­u­la­tion of nearly 500,000 — whose res­i­dents take 10,600 Metro­rail trips daily. He ad­mit­ted that the county does not have the den­sity or scale of de­vel­op­ment needed to meet Metro’s cri­te­ria for ex­pan­sion but added that it could by the time any track is put down.

For Metro ex­pan­sion to be fea­si­ble, Kan­nan said, Prince Wil­liam would need any two of the fol­low­ing cri­te­ria: a den­sity of at least 12 to 18 house­holds per acre and 19 to 26 em­ployed res­i­dents per acre; a rid­er­ship of at least 3,500 to 7,000 per mile; and an en­vi­ron­ment that is 50 per­cent to 65 per­cent de­vel­oped, by a Washington Metropoli­tan Area Transit Au­thor­ity met­ric.

A fed­er­ally funded study is the ini­tial hur­dle in an ex­tended process that could span sev­eral decades, said Su­per­vi­sor Frank J. Principi (D-Wood­bridge), who in­tro­duced the res­o­lu­tion sup­port­ing Con­nolly’s bill. The first fea­si­bil­ity study for the Sil­ver Line, he noted, was con­ducted in 1985. Pas­sen­gers didn’t board one of its trains un­til 29 years later.

Principi in­vited Kan­nan to a re­cent meet­ing to give board mem­bers an idea of what the ex­pan­sion process, fa­mil­iar to neigh­bor­ing Fair­fax and Loudoun coun­ties, would look like. He said his con­stituents of­ten ask him about bring­ing Metro to Prince Wil­liam, and he ac­knowl­edged the chal­lenges of do­ing so.

“This is not a cake­walk,” he said last week. “This is not go­ing to be sim­ple. Un­til we get a fea­si­bil­ity study in place and we get to those find­ings, we’re just not go­ing to be an in­formed com­mu­nity about what our op­tions are, what our price tag is as­so­ci­ated with it.”

In his pre­sen­ta­tion to su­per­vi­sors, Kan­nan said that the Yel­low Line bridge, one of Metro’s two Po­tomac River cross­ings — the other is the Ross­lyn tun­nel— is at ca­pac­ity. To ad­dress ca­pac­ity is­sues in the sys­tem’s core, which han­dles 80 per­cent of morn­ing trips, Metro would need to in­stall ad­di­tional es­ca­la­tors, stair­ways and mez­za­nines in 12 core sta­tions, re­store rail ser­vice to a point of re­li­a­bil­ity and in­crease the preva­lence of eight-car trains, which make up about 33 per­cent of the sys­tem.

“At Ross­lyn, the sta­tion now — which hosts Blue, Or­ange and Sil­ver — we are push­ing as many trains through that sta­tion as physics will al­low,” Kan­nan said. “Un­til we have ad­di­tional ca­pac­ity through that con­strained sta­tion, we are un­able to add ad­di­tional train ca­pac­ity into Vir­ginia.”

Kan­nan also laid out the costs of tak­ing on such an ex­pan­sion. Build­ing rails would cost be­tween $100 mil­lion and $600 mil­lion per mile (with tun­nel­ing as the most ex­pen­sive op­tion), ac­cord­ing to Metro’s pre­sen­ta­tion, while sta­tions would come at a cost of $80 mil­lion to $300 mil­lion each. Eight-car trains, which would be the stan­dard by the time any such ex­pan­sion might be un­der­taken, will cost be­tween $17 mil­lion and $22 mil­lion each.

The com­pa­ra­ble Sil­ver Line, which opened in July 2014, cost about $255 mil­lion per mile of track, Kan­nan said.

Con­nolly said a Prince Wil­liam ex­pan­sion has wide­spread sup­port among county res­i­dents and elected of­fi­cials, who see the po­ten­tial for at­tract­ing new busi­ness and residential growth. Metro’s prob­lems of to­day, he said, should not be seen as a bar­rier.

Just last week, the Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board said Metro­rail’s safety prob­lems are so se­vere and per­sis­tent that fed­eral of­fi­cials should take a much stronger role in mon­i­tor­ing it. In ad­di­tion to safety prob­lems, Metro has been un­der in­creased scru­tiny over a mul­ti­tude of man­age­ment and fi­nan­cial fail­ures.

“That’s a here-and-now is­sue,” Con­nolly said. “We can’t make de­ci­sions that are prob­a­bly 15 and 20 years out based on to­day’s prob­lems in Metro. Oth­er­wise, we might as well say, ‘Metro is com­plete, we will never con­sider another ex­ten­sion be­cause we’ve got prob­lems to­day.’ This is about the fu­ture.”

Stewart, too, said Metro could be a boon to Prince Wil­liam. But he is re­al­is­tic about its im­pli­ca­tions for the county down the line.

“If we did join the Metro path, it would be in­cred­i­bly ex­pen­sive and pretty much de­vour our trans­porta­tion pro­grams in Prince Wil­liam County,” he said. “We’d have no money left for any roads— that’s for sure.”

Con­nolly said hopes were sim­i­larly low for the Sil­ver Line, the mas­sive ex­pan­sion pro­ject he fought for on Capi­tol Hill. It had ba­si­cally stalled in the mid-1990s, and it “con­sumed” 19 years of his ca­reer, he said.

“It was dead. Gone. No­body was go­ing to do it,” he added.

Principi said that re­gard­less of the hur­dles, a grow­ing re­gion should look into ex­pand­ing its transit sys­tem.

“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said. “I think we can do both as a re­gion. I mean, this is the na­tion’s cap­i­tal. I think we have the ca­pac­ity, the re­sources to do this.”

DO­MINIC BRACCO II/THE WASHINGTON POST

Core-ca­pac­ity is­sues need to be re­solved be­fore any ex­pan­sion — in­clud­ing into Prince Wil­liam — can start, aMetro of­fi­cial says.

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