The buses would run frequently, and riders would pay before they board. The service is expected to boost public transit along the Route 1 corridor and provide an easy transportation link between Arlington’s well-established Crystal City and the booming Potomac Yard area in Alexandria’s northeast.
“We see this as the poster child for what transit service should be,” said Jack Requa, Metro’s bus chief. “This will be the first time that the buses will own the street and be able to move freely without interruptions from cars and taxis” and other vehicles.
The Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway, currently under construction and scheduled to debut in spring 2014, would be a test of the type of so-called bus rapid transit that several jurisdictions in the area envision as a way to speed up public transit without the huge costs of building rail lines.
Montgomery County has touted an ambitious plan to build a 160-mile system of express bus lanes. The proposal, however, is stalled in the planning stages, with a recent study suggesting the plan is not practical.
In the District, Metro and the D.C. Department of Transportation are exploring bus-only lanes along H and I Streets NW, one of downtown’s busiest bus corridors. And Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) recently announced a sustainability plan that sets a goal of increasing the use of public transit to 50 percent of all commuter trips, which would reduce traffic congestion.
Bus rapid transit systems are generally not popular when they take a lane away from cars, but some transportation officials see them as part of a comprehensive transit network in the area. In the mix are the possibilities of buses traveling on shoulders and the construction of toll lanes where buses can travel faster, as is the case in the new Interstate 495 HOT lanes.
“These ideas for bus priority and bus rapid transit give us a way of improving transit service incrementally and in a relatively short period of time,” said Ron Kirby, director of the Transportation Planning Board at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government. “And it is less costly than building rail.”
In Alexandria, planners are also talking about building a Metrorail station at Potomac Yard, along theYellow and Blue lines. But that more-costly project is viewed as a longer-term plan. Alexandria and Arlington also have plans for a streetcar system that would eventually run in the transitway.
Metro, which runs the nation’s sixth-busiest bus system, with more than 1,500 buses, sees the creation of a system with dedicated bus lanes as a potential money-saver. For years the agency — and its customers — have grumbled about its buses being stuck in traffic, frustrating riders. Because of the delays, Metro officials say, the agency has to run more buses.