The D.C. region’s transportation network experienced unusual growth in 2014, despite several setbacks.
Much of the expansion occurred in Northern Virginia, which added 11 miles of Metrorail track and 29 miles of widened highway along Interstate 95. But every part of the Washington region completed major projects while launching others. Gains were made for drivers, transit riders and cyclists.
The setbacks fell most heavily on transit riders. Because of several changes in 2014, many Metro riders are paying more, and several projects were delayed or canceled.
These were the top 10 projects, programs and proposals of 2014:
The 95 Express Lanes project is more than twice as long as the new part of the Silver Line and will affect many more commuters. Carpoolers who made a success out of the High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes must get specialized transponders. Solo drivers will gain access to lanes formerly restricted to the carpoolers and exempt vehicles, if those solo drivers are willing to pay a variable toll. Meanwhile, drivers in the regular lanes may find them less crowded.
Silver Line starts. Like the 95 Express Lanes, the Metrorail extension is one of the nation’s major transportation projects. The five new stations opened this summer will reshape land use and travel patterns in Fairfax County. The most popular stations so far are the terminal at Wiehle Avenue, with its heavily used parking garage and bus hub, and the Tysons Corner station, near the malls. But the others will evolve as office and residential development evolves.
Streetcar dumped. The Arlington County Board’s decision to abandon the Columbia Pike streetcar project was the year’s biggest setback for advocates of surface transit. In Maryland, the election of Larry Hogan (R) as governor sent a chill through supporters of the light-rail Purple Line project. He is not a big fan.
Meanwhile, the District’s streetcars underwent lengthy tests on H Street and Benning Road NE but still haven’t taken on passengers.
ICC finished. The easternmost part of Maryland’s Intercounty Connector was completed this fall, along with a new interchange at Konterra Drive just to the north on Interstate 95.
The eastern terminus is now at Route 1 in the Laurel area of Prince George’s County. Segments of the ICC carry 45,000 to 50,000 vehicles on weekdays, but some drivers continue to perceive it as underused, having accepted congestion as the normal state for the D.C. region’s highways.
Metro fares. In the summer, Metrorail fares rose an average of 3 percent while Metrobus fares were pegged at $1.75 regardless of payment method. Parking went up 10 cents everywhere in the Metro system, and an additional surcharge was imposed at some parking areas in Prince George’s.
For many commuters, that was only half the financial story for 2014. The other half was the reduction in the federal transit benefit that began in January. Taken together, they amounted to a big hit on Metro riders, particularly the long-distance train riders.
I-395 kerfuffle. The District Department of Transportation got the entire region’s attention when it passed along to the federal government a developer’s request to shut down Interstate 395 through the Third Street Tunnel for more than a year.
This was unintentional. The department had not shared that idea with the public, despite the potential impact on 90,000 daily travelers.
In December, the Federal Highway Administration flung that grenade right back where it came from, informing DDOT that if the developer wanted to close one of the capital’s main commuter arteries, DDOT would need to study the idea first. Studies could take years, effectively killing the proposal.
Arlington interchange. Although it didn’t rank as one of Virginia’s megaprojects, the rebuilding of the Route 50 interchange with Courthouse Road and 10th Street nonetheless had a major impact on commuters during the construction that began in 2011.
That ended this fall. Drivers on the south side of Rosslyn now have a less heart-pounding way of merging on and off Route 50, and the interchange is looking better, too, thanks to the addition of artwork.
D.C. bike lanes. The District Department of Transportation and cycling advocates this month celebrated the addition of nine miles to its network of bike lanes. The latest route is along Fourth Street between School Street SW and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. It links the cycling lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue with the Southwest Waterfront and the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood.
The District, like many other big cities, has a long-term commitment to making cycling easier and safer for commuters.
Montgomery interchange. The Maryland State Highway Administration began work on a long-awaited project to ease congestion at a Montgomery County crossroads that slows travel for thousands of commuters: Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road.
By early 2017, four through lanes of east-west Randolph Road will be submerged under north-south Georgia Avenue, and Georgia will get an extra lane in each direction through the area on the east side of the county.
Transit center. It was a very active year for the beleaguered Silver Spring Transit Center, filled with finger-pointing and hand-wringing over the most delayed transportation project in the D.C. region. But as far as commuters were concerned, nothing happened in 2014.
In December, the transit center presents the same peaceful facade to the public that it did in January.
Resolution of the concrete construction issues could make the opening of the transit center one of the top stories of 2015.
If it opens in 2015.