Council Approves Bus Rapid Transit Lanes for Route 1

The Monroe Avenue Bridge project is part of a transit plan approved by the Alexandria City Council that would create express bus lanes to serve the growing Potomac Yard area.
The Monroe Avenue Bridge project is part of a transit plan approved by the Alexandria City Council that would create express bus lanes to serve the growing Potomac Yard area. (Potomac Yard Development Llc)
By Leef Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 1, 2006

The Alexandria City Council has decided to locate bus rapid transit lanes on Jefferson Davis Highway, paving the way for a bus service connecting the Braddock Road Metro station with Crystal City and similar services being developed in Arlington.

Under the plan, which was approved by unanimous vote on May 20 and designates the roadway as a transit corridor, city planners have effectively shifted the transportation focus along Route 1 in Alexandria from suburban road projects and automobile travel to a more diverse multi-model approach designed to get people out of their cars.

Officials said the change was needed to accommodate a major expansion of the Potomac Yard area of Arlington and Alexandria. They said it would eventually transform travel and commuting patterns for current residents and those living in thousands of new homes expected to be built there over the next five years.

"Our region has seen dramatic increases in traffic congestion, and we've come to the realization that we have to do a lot more than just [traditional] bus service to manage traffic," said City Council member Rob Krupicka (D).

After years of meetings and studies, city planners said they determined that the best way to serve the community and improve traffic flow on Route 1 -- which suffers from paralyzing congestion on weekends when shoppers hit the Potomac Yard shopping center en masse -- is to create a bus rapid transit system at a cost of about $10 million. The system could one day be converted to light rail at a cost of tens of millions of dollars.

Although there was debate about where the bus route should be located -- some favored routes inside the new Potomac Yard development -- officials believed more riders would be served by putting it on Route 1.

"It finally came down to the fact that most people preferred the Route 1 corridor," said Richard J. Baier, director of the city's Department of Transportation and Environmental Services. It "was the right choice," he said.

Officials said the bus system will have its own dedicated lanes and would make a limited number of stops to quickly move passengers along the five-mile route.

"Think of it as the Acela train of bus service," Baier said.

The route would begin at Four Mile Run and travel along Potomac Avenue -- a road located inside the new Potomac Yard development -- and make a right onto East Glebe Road. There, buses would enter dedicated lanes on Route 1, eventually crossing the Monroe Avenue Bridge, and then would use the existing road network to reach the Braddock Road Metro.

Arlington approved a bus rapid transit system to serve Crystal City and its portion of the Potomac Yard development last year. Alexandria officials said the two systems would be linked.

"We'd be looking for a seamless service with one provider," Baier said. "That's the ultimate goal. We're trying to make this very, very easy" for riders.

Current development plans call for the land south and east of the current strip mall, once a bleak rail yard, to be transformed into a neighborhood with a Main Street, shops, a hotel, office space and more than 1,600 homes.

The Arlington portion of Potomac Yard also will be radically transformed, officials said. Just north of the existing mall, the National Gateway project would ultimately have six office buildings and 2.85 million square feet of office space. Two 11-story condominium buildings are already rising there, and a third building, with condominiums and retail space, is planned.

Baier said the developer has agreed to move the curbs on the east side of Route 1 to accommodate the dedicated bus lanes. The city is negotiating how many other features the developer would be responsible for.

Officials said the bus rapid transit would probably supplement existing local bus service along Route 1.

This fall, transportation planners will present recommendations to the City Council on how they believe the transit system should be aligned -- in the median or along the side of the road.

"The whole point here is to move a lot of people as effectively and quickly and conveniently as possible to avoid congestion," Krupicka said. "Someone has to make a choice: 'Do I get on [a bus] on a dedicated lane or do I get stuck in traffic?' "

Krupicka believes more people "will make the choice to get on that dedicated transitway."

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