A rendering of the perspective, as seen with the beltway, of the MGM National Harbor.
(Courtesy of MGM Resorts International )

MGM has decided it will allow public buses to drop passengers off in front of its National Harbor resort slated to open next year, officials said.

The addition of a bus stop at the $1.3 billion resort is an answer to calls for access to public transit at the casino where 3,600 people are expected to work– about 50 percent of whom are expected to be Prince George’s County residents. But, some transit officials say a second bus stop is needed to really meet the  needs of the workers and visitors to the facility.

An earlier transportation plan by the Nevada-based gaming giant banned public buses from the resort, while it asserted that guests would not be using public transportation and the number of employees using transit to get to work would be “almost non-existent.”

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Neighborhood residents, labor union and transportation officials called that plan shortsighted, citing growing demand for public transit at National Harbor, an area with about 7,000 employees and 11 million annual visitors– and one of the fast growing job hubs in Prince George’s.

This week, MGM National Harbor General Manager Bill Boasberg said after negotiating with Metro and the county, the company decided to put a bus stop on National Avenue, near the casino’s employee entrance.

“It is right next to an entrance into the casino, easily accessible, and easy to get to for the employees,” Boasberg said, noting that the company continues to work with Metro on the design to “meet everybody’s needs.”

Metro said it is pleased with MGM’s decision to add a bus stop that will accommodate riders traveling to the casino, but said it is still in discussions about adding a second stop to serve the riders leaving the facility. The bus stop that MGM has identified is at National Avenue, a one-way street where buses would stop on their way to downtown National Harbor where the bus turns around to get back to the Metro station. Metro is asking for stop at Harborview Avenue where buses would pick up riders on the way back from the harbor.

“We remain hopeful that a necessary second bus stop will be added to allow riders to travel outbound from the site,” Metro spokeswoman Morgan Dye said. “With only one bus stop, riders traveling outbound would have to get on the bus for a circuitous ride through downtown National Harbor, where operators have a scheduled break, before traveling in their desired direction.”

MGM officials said the bus stop on National Avenue is for arrivals and departures. They said they don’t have additional information about a second stop.

In a March 6 letter to the county, Metro urged MGM to reevaluate the future needs of transit users at the resort. At the nearby Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, at least 10 percent of employees use the bus to get to work, Metro said. Based on that data, the agency projects that MGM’s employees could generate up to 320 round trips daily.

“This is indicative of a moderate transit demand that must be accommodated in a safe, convenient manner adjacent to the MGM property,” Robert O. Potts, Metro’s acting assistant general manager, said in the letter. “The general public will expect to be able to access the MGM facility via bus stops and accessible sidewalks/pathways as they would any other major destination in the Washington metropolitan region.”

The letter was in response to the earlier MGM plan estimating that only 1 to 2 percent of the resort’s workforce will use public transportation.

The MGM National Harbor resort, which is under construction on a 23-acre site overlooking the Potomac River, is scheduled to open in the second half of 2016. It will have 3,600 slot machines, a 300-suite hotel, a 3,000-seat theater, and upscale shops and dining. It will have capacity for 31,500 people.

Bradley Frome, a top economic development official in Prince George’s who has been involved in the negotiations with MGM, said allowing buses to serve the site is critical for its workers.  He said the county expects a good number of those workers will depend on public transit.

“This is going to make their commute to and from work, for those who rely on public transportation, that much easier, that much more convenient,” he said.

Moving forward, Frome said the county will work with Metro and the county’s own transit system, The Bus, to modify the bus routes serving National Harbor, and align the service to the shifts of employees at the new gaming facility.  Any adjustments, he said, would also keep in mind the workers who already take the bus to National Harbor, now a top regional entertainment hub with waterfront restaurants and hotels.

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Boasberg, who recently moved to the Washington region from Las Vegas to run the new property, said a Metro station at National Harbor would be great in the future. For now though, he doesn’t see the lack of transportation options as a problem.

The casino is in an ideal location, he said, just a mile north of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and southwest of the intersection of Interstate 495 and Indian Head Highway.  The transportation plan includes 130 bike spaces, a taxi stand with room for up to 12 cabs, and parking, drop-off and pickup space for up to 10 tour buses. There will be 4,800 parking spaces on site.

Boasberg said he expects the parking garage would provide enough parking for visitors and workers who drive to the site.  In a 2014 report to the county, however, MGM acknowledged that the parking spaces on site may not be enough, so plans are to guide overflow traffic to other areas when the garage is 90 percent full.

“Now with Uber and taxi, the people are going to find a way to visit us,” he said.  “We will work with local hotels on transportation plans, and I am going to have my own fleet of limos here. We will be able to serve our customers well.”