When elected officials from Montgomery and Fairfax counties get together Wednesday to discuss the awful travel conditions between the two jurisdictions, one of the topics will be the potential for an express bus service. It’s a great idea, a natural idea, and one that failed in its last trial.
I’m thinking of the SmartMover, a bus service that on paper at least was as smart as its name. It provided service between Tysons Corner and points in Montgomery County across the American Legion Bridge.
Here’s how Douglas M. Duncan described the service in the fall of 1998, when he was the Montgomery county executive:
“Montgomery and Fairfax counties are two of the largest population centers and most dynamic job centers in the metropolitan area, and it’s absolutely critical that we connect the two jurisdictions with transit service, such as the new SmartMover buses.”
Who could argue with that — then or now?
Governments on both sides of the Potomac provided subsidies for the service, which was operated by Metro. Sounds like something that would attract the drivers who look so miserable as they drive down I-270 each morning and join the equally congested Capital Beltway.
It didn’t. The express bus service was cancelled in December 2003. The basic problem seems to have been that the buses had to get into the same traffic that everyone else was in. That made the schedule unreliable, and created a disincentive to ride.
The Legion Bridge isn’t like the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge. It doesn’t have lanes set aside for transit use. (When are we going to start using those lanes, anyway?)
So I admire the officials from the two counties for wanting to get together and talk about one of the region’s most vexing traffic congestion issues, but sympathize with the degree of difficulty they face in finding ways to reduce the traffic.
While the governments of Virginia and Fairfax County are enthusiastic about the construction of the express toll lanes that will widen the Beltway, Maryland has no similar grand plans for its side of the river.
There is some work under consideration, but it would mostly be about improving collector/distributor lanes north of the Legion Bridge. That would help, but wouldn’t be a radical change in one of the Beltway’s worst bottlenecks.
Montgomery County and Maryland have several plans to create rapid bus service on the west side of the county, but so far nothing that would speed commuters bound for the huge employment center that is Tysons Corner.
The one definite transit link to look forward to is the addition of the Silver Line to the Metro system. When that opens, probably in 2014, a Montgomery County commuter could take the Red Line to Metro Center and switch to the Silver Line to reach one of the four stops in Tysons, or continue on to the end of the line in the Reston area.
The session with elected officials from the counties and with transportation staffs will be held at Metro’s headquarters, 600 Fifth St. NW at 1 p.m.