Are new streetcars, a Beltway interchange and western Dulles access in D.C.’s transit future?


Workers test the new streetcars on H Street NE in January 2014. A Benning Road spur and an additional line running from Union Station to Georgetown are among new proposed streetcar projects in the District. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
Columnist March 28, 2014

The District, Maryland and Virginia governments are proposing to add to and subtract from the Washington region’s long-range transportation plan.

The most interesting subtraction is the District Department of Transportation’s intention to remove the project creating bus-only lanes on H and I (Eye) streets NW downtown. The plan needs more study, DDOT says.

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. View Archive

Removing something from the regional long-range plan doesn’t kill it, just as adding a project doesn’t guarantee that it will be built. But this periodic review offers insight into the status of transportation planning and the intentions of our local governments.

The regional program is known as the Constrained Long-Range Plan, and its keeper is the Transportation Planning Board. The board, which includes representatives of the Washington region’s governments and its transportation agencies, is scheduled to vote on the amendments April 16.

Below are highlights of the changes proposed for the long-range plan.

Workers test the new streetcars on H Street NE in January 2014. A Benning Road spur and an additional line running from Union Station to Georgetown are among new proposed streetcar projects in the District. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
The District

The District proposes three new streetcar projects.

A Union Station-to-Georgetown line could run along H Street NW to New Jersey Avenue NW and continue on K Street, ending at Wisconsin Avenue. This one would link up with the H Street NE-Benning Road line now in its test phase. The streetcar tracks would be laid in a regular lane through the eastern portion of the route, but a transit-only lane would be created on K Street between Mount Vernon Square and Washington Circle. The District estimates that this could be ready in 2020.

An M Street line would run from Good Hope Road SE across the 11th Street bridge to M Street and end at Maine Avenue SW. On the east side, it would link with the planned Anacostia streetcar line at Good Hope Road. This also could be done by 2020, the District says.

A Benning Road spur would link the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line with the Minnesota Avenue Metro station. That could be done by 2018.

The District also wants to study the potential specialized lanes to manage traffic on the 14th Street bridge, the Southeast-Southwest Freeway and Interstate 295.

One study would look at converting the two northbound lanes on the 14th Street/Rochambeau Bridge to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV 3) lanes during the morning rush and the two southbound lanes to HOV 3 for the afternoon rush. This would match the HOV configuration on the Virginia side of the Potomac River.

The 14th Street bridge is actually a set of adjacent spans with different names. The four northbound lanes on the Arland D. Williams Jr. Bridge and four southbound lanes on the George Mason Memorial Bridge would still be open to all traffic. The District says the study would also consider a later conversion of the HOV lanes into high-occupancy toll lanes in which carpoolers could ride free while others paid a charge.

Another study would examine the possibility of HOV lanes on the Southeast-Southwest Freeway from the Francis Case Memorial Bridge, on the west side, to the 11th Street bridge, on the Anacostia River side. This study also would consider a later conversion to HOT lanes.

Another study would look at the possibility of HOV and, later, HOT lanes on I-295 from the 11th Street bridge south to the District/Maryland border, near the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge.

The bus-lanes project proposed for removal and further study would create bus-only lanes at rush hours on H Street NW, between 17th Street and New York Avenue, and I Street NW between 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Maryland

The State Highway Administration is resubmitting a plan to complete the Capital Beltway interchange at the Greenbelt Metro station by 2020. Today’s partial interchange allows access to the station from the inner loop but not the outer loop. Construction would also add auxiliary lanes between the Greenbelt Metro station and the Route 201 interchanges.

This project was removed from the long-range plan in 2010 for financial reasons. It’s an example of how plans can get added and subtracted without either killing them or guaranteeing construction.

Virginia

The Virginia Department of Transportation proposes to widen Route 1 from Fuller Road to Russell Road, in Prince William County, and to widen Route 123 from Route 7 to the Beltway, in Fairfax County. The Route 1 project could be done by 2025, and the Route 123 section by 2021.

Perhaps the most debated project on the entire list is Virginia’s proposal for an access highway on the west side of Dulles International Airport. VDOT has three alternatives for this route. The department says it expects to select its preferred alternative before the Transportation Planning Board’s April 16 meeting.

These are the three alternatives.

→Build a four-lane roadway from Route 50 at the planned extension of Northstar Boulevard to Route 606 at the new Dulles Airport access point.

→Convert a portion of Route 50 to a limited-access highway and widen it from four to six lanes between the extension of Northstar Boulevard and Route 606. Convert Route 606 to limited-access and widen it from four to eight lanes between Route 50 and 1.5 miles north of the new access point to Dulles Airport.

→Build two airport express lanes in the median of Route 50 between the extension of Northstar Boulevard and Route 606. Upgrade and widen Route 606 from four to eight lanes from Route 50 to the new Dulles airport access point.

The Dulles access highway is a separate proposal from the highly controversial Bi-County Parkway plan for a new north-south route on the west side of the Manassas National Battlefield, but the two are related in the planners’ intended travel network and in the adjacent communities’ concerns about development and pollution.

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