Columnist

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I recall that when the Silver Line was proposed, one of the ideas was to use a light rail. The idea was to get people from the city to Dulles International Airport, so the light rail concept mimicked the MARC option for getting to Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport from Union Station, or the NJ Transit link to get from Manhattan to Newark Airport.

I understand that concept wasn’t approved, but with all this commotion over congestion in the Rosslyn tunnel, I pose this question: Why can’t the Silver Line operate from Dulles Airport (or Loudoun County) and stop at Falls Church? This would keep the Orange/Blue balance as is and help prevent the three-way fiasco that seems to be brewing.

As someone who has taken the 5A Metrobus to Dulles Airport several times, I am used to taking multiple transit methods. Thus, changing trains at Falls Church does not present an unfair burden to me.

Otherwise, I think Metro should face reality and kill the current configuration of the Blue Line. The only area that line now serves independently is Arlington Cemetery. All other stops are also serviced by the Orange or Yellow lines, depending on the time of day.

Although it might take some investment, Metro should consider running a shuttle train between the Rosslyn and Pentagon stops similar to the S trains in the New York subway system.

Chris Greaver, Mount Rainier

DG: Back before planners settled on a heavy-rail line to link the District and Dulles Airport, there was a debate on several options, including a bus rapid transit system. The airports authority wanted a heavy-rail link joining up with the rest of the regional Metrorail system, not a bus or light-rail system that would require air travelers to transfer from a plane to a bus or light-rail car to Metrorail to reach destinations in the Washington region’s core. A Metrorail link also appealed to Fairfax County planners hoping not only to end the dependence of Tysons Corner residents on cars but also to reshape its geography around train stations.

So the plan for what we now call the Silver Line was a hybrid, reflecting various interests. And it wasn’t a plan created by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The Metro board had to take a vote to accept the results.

Over the next few years, we’ll have many discussions in which it will be important to remember that the Silver Line plan was not the creation of a transit agency. One thread of that discussion will be the “three-way fiasco” Greaver describes: Metro’s effort to squeeze the Orange, Blue and Silver line trains into the Rosslyn tunnel for their trips through the District.

Some of the issues raised by Greaver relate to engineering, and others to attitude. To turn back Silver Line trains at East Falls Church or to replace a Blue Line segment with a shuttle isn’t possible with the current design of the tracks. Reversing trains during rush hour would be a nightmare for riders on other trains who would have to wait out the process.

Most commuters are not as willing as Greaver to switch modes of transportation. They would like to have the same seat for the entire trip. Transit planners know that, which is one reason they are reluctant to design systems that require commuters to get off one thing and onto another.

When Blue Line service was cut back last year in the first stage of the Silver Line adjustment, many riders dismissed Metro’s recommendation that they instead take a Yellow Line train and then transfer at a D.C. station.

Expressing confusion

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am unfamiliar with the Tysons Corner area and all the distractions of the eternal road construction just make things worse. The onset of the express mess borders on cruelty!

Question: When taking Interstate 66 east, I have for years gotten off onto the Capital Beltway’s inner loop (Interstate 495 North) by exiting to the left.

Is that still an option for all, or is that now a part of the 495 Express Lanes? I am aware that I could exit to the right, but I usually have a passenger and can use the HOV lane to avoid that congested mess. Has anything changed at that interchange that infrequent users such as myself should know about in respect to which exit to use, and for what?

W. Kay, Clifton

DG: Yes. The exit on the left side now takes all travelers onto the express lanes. That means that if you and one passenger have been cruising along in the HOV-2 lane, on the left side of I-66, you must move four lanes to the right so you can take the exit that joins the regular lanes of the inner loop.

You could stick with the left-side exit, but then you would have to pay the toll, and you’d need to do that via an E-ZPass transponder. A driver who had at least two other people aboard could claim the free ride for carpoolers on the express lanes, but only by using that new type of transponder called the E-ZPass Flex.