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Metro’s ‘Momentum’ campaign begins long slog toward congestion relief

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The draft for Metro’s long-range plan comes with a toy catalogue for commuters: a new rail link across the Potomac River, new stations, more rail cars, longer trains, extra downtown tunnels, walkways between stations, fast bus lines.

Unfortunately, the catalogue made public last month comes with price tags beyond the wildest dreams of any toy seller.

Metro officials have a pretty good idea what they’re up against in trying to gather support for such goodies. Like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” they’re trying to build momentum.

They’ve even written a theme, titled “Momentum,” to build the kind of support among decision-makers that Ralphie longed for. But unlike Ralphie, who focused solely on obtaining a Red Ryder BB gun, Metro planners are dreaming of merry seasons more than a decade away.

That’s wise. They have many more opinion leaders to persuade than Ralphie did. And Santa doesn’t have this kind of money.

Besides, the projects on Metro’s list aren’t exactly shovel-ready. Many will be very difficult to build and finance. So transit officials hope to goad the region’s leaders into motion by starting what’s likely to be a protracted conversation about the capital’s mid-century transit system.

Cautionary tales

Metro officials’ look-ahead effort doesn’t begin from a dead stop. But you can’t blame them for being anxious to advance the discussion about transit needs. Consider this rather discouraging list of 21st-century ideas, drawn from Washington Post news reports:

●“Metro must build a new subway line through the heart of downtown Washington by 2015 to avoid gridlock on its rail system and serve the region’s voracious appetite for more transit service, engineers told the agency’s directors yesterday.” — May 4, 2001

●“District officials are exploring a way to isolate buses from the rest of the traffic on K Street NW, allowing them to travel the middle of the downtown’s major east-west corridor at a fast clip.” — Aug. 20, 2002

●“Metro is considering rerouting some Blue Line trains between Virginia and the District during weekday rush periods by having them cross the Potomac River on the Yellow Line bridge near the Pentagon.” — Feb. 12, 2008

That last one actually happened. But it took more than four years to rearrange the trains. Metro calls it Rush Plus. Meanwhile, there’s no rapid bus line on K Street or anywhere else, and Metro riders won’t be traveling through a new tunnel by 2015.

Transit goals

It’s not just about finding money and buying things. Part of the Momentum program involves Metro kicking itself to do things, and part involves pushing the region’s business, political and civic leaders — the same groups that got the transit system first built — to think about what they want done next and how it will all fit together.

Metro board members commented favorably on the draft of Momentum when it was presented to them last month. Board member Mary H. Hynes said she saw it as “a place to begin the really hard conversation that needs to happen in the region.”

Metro 2025

Shyam Kannan, the director of Metro’s planning office, estimated it would cost $6 billion in 2012 dollars to increase the capacity of the existing system and improve the effectiveness of the rail and bus networks by 2025.

Here’s what that round of investment would buy:

●Full eight-car train service at a cost of $2 billion. That would increase capacity at peak hours in the peak direction by 35 percent. But there are consequences. For example, unloading eight-car train after eight-car train at Gallery Place-Chinatown would further worsen crowding on the Red Line platform — something that also would need to be dealt with by 2025.

●Complete the Metrobus Priority Corridor Network for $600 million. Rapid-transit bus service along 24 corridors, sometimes along bus-only lanes, could add 100,000 riders to the regional bus system and reduce traffic.

●Improve capacity and train movement in Metrorail’s core for $1 billion. Pedestrian tunnels connecting Metro Center to Gallery Place and Farragut North to Farragut West would reduce train-to-train transfers.

●Improve trip-planning information in the region for $400 million. Make Metro a completely “self-service system,” Kannan said.

●Add switches and side tracks for $500 million. These would increase Metro’s flexibility in moving around trains and easing crowding.

●Prepare for bus-service growth in emerging corridors for $500 million. This would add about 400 buses and a garage.

●Increase rail service between Pentagon and Rosslyn for $1 billion. This could be done by redesigning track connections or building a separate station in Rosslyn.

Transit 2040

All that isn’t enough to meet the region’s mid-century need, Metro officials said. The 2025 programs should be followed by more extensive plans. Metro could lead some efforts and work with local jurisdictions, or play a supporting role on others. The Momentum program identifies these major concepts, likely to combine for a cost at least three times the 2025 investment:

●Add rail lines in the region’s center. Rail service passing through Rosslyn and L’Enfant Plaza eventually maxes out, even with the 2025 improvements. So the program envisions a new north-south tunnel under 10th Street SW/NW, heading west at Thomas Circle so the Green and Yellow lines could operate in separate tunnels. A second tunnel through Rosslyn to Georgetown and along M Street to Thomas Circle would add east-west capacity.

●Build links among lines at Pentagon. The program would expand on the 2025 concept for Rosslyn. Orange and Silver line riders could gain a connection via Pentagon to what’s now the Yellow Line bridge, possibly with a second station at Pentagon.

●With capacity enhanced in the region’s core, planners could consider extending the Orange Line to Centreville and Bowie and the Blue Line to Potomac Mills. That service also could be provided by fast buses or light rail.

●Metro could help local jurisdictions figure out how to create light-rail or rapid-bus connections along heavily traveled corridors, such as New Carrollton-King Street and North Bethesda-Tysons.

●Metro could support efforts to connect the District and Virginia via streetcars, and to link the MARC and VRE commuter rail services.

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