Stimulus money won't fund plan to transform K Street transportation

By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Washington region was awarded almost $59 million in federal stimulus money to begin building a vast network to speed bus traffic, but a request for $76 million more to transform K Street into the centerpiece of the plan was denied.

The money will fund 15 improvements in Maryland, Virginia and the District, including bus shelters, dedicated bus lanes, a transitway in Alexandria and new rapid bus service to the Pentagon.

Funding to create bus lanes on K Street will have to be found elsewhere.

"This money is a real jump-start for the larger system we want to do," said Ronald Kirby, director of transportation planning at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which pursued the federal grant. "Obviously, we'll be looking for other ways to fund K Street. We've agreed we're committed to that and we'll figure out how to do it ourselves."

The grant was awarded as the U.S. Department of Transportation underscored a shift in federal policy toward transit-oriented projects in announcing plans for $1.5 billion in stimulus money known as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.

More than half of the 51 projects funded and an overwhelming share of the money went to projects to improve freight rail lines, commuter bus and rail service, and to create pedestrian and bicycle paths.

Though billions in other federal stimulus money have been directed toward roads, John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said Wednesday's announcement reflected "this administration's strong interest in emphasizing multimodal [transportation] over highways."

"This is not anywhere near the proportion that generally flows to highways," Horsley said. "The $1.5 billion was created for interesting projects, and they figured they could satisfy the highway needs through other [funding] components."

The three biggest grants were for projects intended to improve freight rail service. Major improvements to Norfolk-Southern's Crescent Corridor, mainly in Tennessee and Alabama, were allocated $105 million. Chicago got $100 million to address a freight bottleneck. And improvements to CSX lines in Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio received $98 million.

No highway project was given more than $50 million. The 51 projects funded were selected from among 1,400 applications.

Locally, a request for additional funding for transportation improvements in Bethesda was rejected. But in the meantime, Congress has authorized $300 million in spending to ease the transfer of personnel when Bethesda's National Naval Medical Center absorbs some of the duties of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which is to close next year.

The federal Transportation Department selection panel also turned down $18.5 million for improvements on Interstate 66 in Fairfax and Prince William, and did not agree to supply $15 million to enhance the Rosslyn Metro station entrance.

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