Virginia, not Maryland, is where transit action is today

November 13, 2013

If you’re reading this sign, you’re in Virginia and on your way to the region’s biggest improvement in transit. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

I sense there’s a stereotype in thinking about the D.C. region’s transportation plans. I say “Virginia,” some people respond “roads.” I say “Maryland,” some people respond “transit.” It’s as though there were some Potomac River divide in philosophies on how to improve travel conditions.

Reality is much more complicated, as it needs to be in any metropolitan area.

I let my pet peeve on this show Tuesday night during a really fun forum held by the Action Committee for Transit on the role transit issues could play in Maryland’s 2014 elections. Fellow panelists were Josh Kurtz, a  longtime political reporter who writes for Center Maryland, and Ari Ashe, who covers transportation issues for WTOP radio. Our most excellent moderator was Kytja Weir, former transit reporter for the Examiner and now with the Center for Public Integrity.

While Ashe was answering a question, and mentioning transportation projects in the two states, I blurted out my sense that Virginia doesn’t get enough credit among transit advocates for being on the verge of opening one of the biggest transit projects in the nation, the first phase of the $6 billion Silver Line. Meanwhile, what’s Maryland got? The biggest transportation project in recent years for the D.C. region is the Intercounty Connector, scheduled to open its last link to Route 1 next year. Statewide, there’s also the Express Toll Lanes project north of Baltimore.

What’s the biggest thing actually happening in Maryland transit? It’s probably the planned start in December of weekend service on MARC. That’s not exactly a Silver Line. Anything else? The Purple Line light rail, the Corridor Cities Transitway and bus rapid transit are important programs, but they’re years away from operating. In fact, they’re so far in the future that the Silver Spring Transit Center may be open first.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, we’re on the verge of having five new Metrorail stations, including four that are the gemstones in an ambitious makeover for auto-dominated Tysons. Those stations have no Metro park-and-rides. To support them, the Fairfax Connector and Metrobus are undertaking a large-scale revamp of bus routes.

And what serves as one of the best models on the planet for transit-oriented development in Tysons? Transit-oriented development in Arlington County, Va.

And don’t get me started on D.C.’s “war on cars.” The District’s biggest transportation project so far this century is the rebuilding of the 11th Street Bridge, opening up new freeway links across the Anacostia River.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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Katherine Shaver · November 13, 2013