Metro Studies Ft. Belvoir Extension

By Leef Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 20, 2005

Metro officials said yesterday that they are preparing for what will happen to the region's transit system if the Pentagon carries out its plan to move 18,400 jobs to Fort Belvoir in southeastern Fairfax County.

"Intuition tells us there will be an impact, and it could be significant," Chief Executive Richard A. White told the Metro board. "We're trying to get a sense of what that could be."

Fort Belvoir, already Fairfax's largest employer, is not served by Metro, and legislators have said they will push for a federally funded rail extension in the event of such a massive relocation.

Officials estimate the cost of extending light rail from the Blue line to the Main Post at Fort Belvoir at $700 million to $800 million. Metro studied such an extension in 1999 at the behest of Fairfax County Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), chairman of the Metro board.

"At the time, I figured Belvoir would be boom or bust, and I wanted to be prepared for the boom," Kauffman said after yesterday's meeting. "Little did I know it was going to be the big bang."

Kauffman said Metro is pulling together senior staff to examine previous studies -- which include an analysis of extending both Blue and Yellow lines to Belvoir-- as well as calculating cost estimates to help Fairfax officials as they consult with congressional leaders.

What remains unclear, officials said, is where most of these 18,400 employees live. That more than anything, they said, will determine what the proposed relocation would do to the transit system.

"Right now, no one is able to tell us," Kauffman said.

Also yesterday, the Metro board voted to impose tighter controls on public access to information, including data generated by SmarTrip cards, the electronic fare cards carried by an increasing number of Metro riders.

The privacy policy will allow Metro to release SmarTrip data only when presented with a court order or written permission from the cardholder, or for law enforcement purposes. The changes bring its Public Access to Records Policy in closer alignment with the Federal Freedom of Information Act. The policy will take effect Oct. 1.

Board member Chris Zimmerman, who represents Arlington County, said the policy will go a long way toward "making public information public while keeping private information private."

Yesterday's agenda addressed several proposals for improving service. Metro officials said they are doing a better job of keeping escalators and elevators in service but said they don't seem to be conveying that progress to riders. So the staff is developing brochures and signs to alert riders to scheduled maintenance work and advice on alternative station exits.

Some of the proposed signs met with heavy criticism from Montgomery County representative Robert J. Smith, who denounced it as too wordy for commuters to digest as they speed in and out of stations.

"People don't have time to read 'War and Peace' " Smith chided. "Who's going to read all this? . . . We have to find a better way."

Officials said a town hall meeting last month in Fairfax has prompted significant changes. Among them:

· The cheerful sayings that adorn Metro buses -- "Have a nice day," for example -- soon will be replaced with information such as route numbers and destinations.

· Ninety-eight machines that accept SmarTrip transactions will be added in the next year to handle increased demand for vending machines that can consolidate or refund fare cards.

· A policy is being drafted that would allow Segways, the motorized devices used on sidewalks, aboard the Metrorail system. The policy was described as similar to the one that governs bicycles on the subway, which allows them to be walked, not ridden. But they would be forbidden on escalators and in the Metro system during peak hours. Disabled riders would be exempt from the policy if they are registered by the agency to use the device.

Unlike bicycles, Segways will not be allowed on Metro buses. The policy is expected to go into effect in August.

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