Metro abandons plan to eliminate southern Prince George’s County bus route

November 5, 2013

Metro has withdrawn a plan to discontinue a bus route in southern Prince George’s County and instead is proposing to add a new route to provide another transit option for the late-night and weekend workers at the popular National Harbor resort.

Metro initially had proposed ending the NH1 bus route from Branch Avenue, along Oxon Hill Road to National Harbor. Officials said eliminating the low-ridership route would allow the agency to start a new service from National Harbor to Alexandria.

But the proposal was widely criticized by Prince George’s County leaders, including County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who said bus service to Virginia shouldn’t come at the expense of cutting service in Prince George’s. County leaders called on Metro to instead add service to an area where workers have long dealt with difficult commutes because of the limited transit options.

Jim Hamre, director of bus planning for Metro, said Monday that the agency decided to retain the NH1 route after hearing significant opposition to the proposal. Metro is now proposing to launch the NH3, a new route that would provide late-night and weekend service from National Harbor to the Southern Avenue Metro station in Temple Hills.

The Metro Board Customer Service and Operations Committee is expected to review the revised proposal Thursday as part of a larger package of adjustments the transit system wants to make starting in December to address ridership growth, crowding and bus performance.

Hamre said that if the NH3 route is approved, National Harbor workers will be able to take the bus to the Southern Avenue station to catch the last train leaving for Greenbelt around 11:30 p.m., starting in late December. Bus service also will be provided after midnight on weekends for connections to other bus lines at Southern Avenue.

Currently, the Prince George’s transit system, TheBus, provides service between the resort and Southern Avenue, but TheBus runs only on weekdays and makes its last trip from National Harbor at 6:30 p.m.

The proposal for the new route comes after growing demand from workers in an area that has become an employment hub and a regional destination with entertainment, retail shops, restaurants and hotel and convention accommodations. Public officials and labor and community leaders have said that the continuing success of National Harbor, which opened in 2008, will require more investment in public transit.

The proposed new route could ease the commutes of some of the workers, especially those who work very late at night. The NH1, they complain, stops running around 11 p.m., before many of the late-night shifts end.

Aubrey Thagard, a top economic development aide to Baker, said the county is pleased with the new proposal, which he said also will help address projected demand for transit with the opening of Tanger Outlets later this month, which is adding about 900 jobs to the area.

“This will obviously go in the right direction to helping some of the late-night shift workers at National Harbor and providing access to Metrorail service,” Thagard said.

Metro said plans for a bus that would run across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to the King Street Metro station, providing a link from the waterfront resort to Alexandria, will have to wait. Although there is enough demand for the service, Hamre said the agency will first have to find the resources to create the link. The addition of the NH3 will cost about $84,000 and will be funded by the Maryland Department of Transportation, Metro said.

Community leaders cheered Metro’s new plan, saying the additional service will benefit the National Harbor neighbors and workers who depend on public transit.

“I applaud Metro for listening to the wishes and the needs of not only the residents but in particular the workers in and around National Harbor,” said Zeno W. St. Cyr II, president of the Riverbend Citizens Homeowners Association in Fort Washington. “Increasing the hours of operation of bus service is a first step to begin to address the needs.”

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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