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Bus rapid transit and two new Metro stops could transform Richmond Highway

Rendering of the bus rapid transit proposed for Richmond Highway (Fairfax County)

Major changes could be coming to Richmond Highway.

Fairfax County wants to extend Metro’s Yellow Line and build a Bus Rapid Transit system that will run from the Beltway to Woodbridge.

The improvements, discussed as part of a study that focuses on increasing and diversifying transit options along the busy commuter route, would support long-term growth and economic development, county officials say.

“It will bring Richmond Highway into the 21st Century,” Supervisor Daniel G. Storck (D-Mount Vernon) said. “It is about bringing mass transit and Metro down Richmond Highway so that we have the same amenities and same opportunities as other parts of the county.”

The Fairfax Board of Supervisors has approved a resolution supporting bus rapid transit for the corridor.

Officials envision a transformation of the Route 1 corridor from what is essentially a drive-through highway into a main street where people can live, work and play and have easy access to transit. They say building a bus system that uses dedicated transit lanes to more quickly and more efficiently move masses of people could help spur economic development just as Metrorail ignited growth in Tysons in recent years.

The plan is to carry out the improvements over the next 25 years, starting with the widening of the road from four to six lanes, a process that has already began between Telegraph Road and Mount Vernon Highway. The first of phase of the BRT system could be in place in 10 years, and the extension of Metrorail from the Huntington station with new stops at Beacon Hill and Hybla Valley is projected by 2040.

“We are not just planning for what Route 1 might look like in a couple of years,” Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee) said Monday at a community meeting on the project. “We are planning for what Route 1 is going to look like for decades and we got to get it right, we got to go multimodal and we got get going quick.”

The BRT system is planned with nine stops in Fairfax and connections to major employment centers. It will start three miles away from the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway, a five-mile stretch of bus-only lanes service between between the Crystal City station in Arlington and Braddock Road station in Alexandria. That transitway is the Washington region’s introduction to bus rapid transit.

Similar BRT projects are under consideration on Route 7, where Northern Virginia transportation officials have proposed a route from the Spring Hill Metro station in Tysons to the Mark Center in Alexandria, with a connection at the East Falls Church Metro. It would run 11 miles, mostly on dedicated bus lane.

Montgomery County, in Maryland, is considering an extensive BRT system to reduce traffic and help people reach jobs in the heavily congested Rockville Pike and Route 29 corridors.

In Fairfax County, officials say bus rapid transit could transform Richmond Highway, which passes through shopping centers and residential communities, but lacks bike paths, bus shelters, and, in some places, sidewalks and ramps needed for accessibility.

The bus system would also answer to the transportation needs of many of the corridor’s residents, who depend on transit to get around.  As many as 2,000 households who live within half a mile of the corridor do not own a car, according to the study, and the majority of the transit users in the corridor do not have access to an automobile.

Metrobus’s Richmond Highway Express line is the only service that stretches the length of the corridor, with connections to Metrorail at the King Street-Old Towne and Huntington stations. Fairfax Connector runs a bus from the Huntington Metro to the Lorton VRE station.

Then there’s the population and job growth projected to occur in Fairfax. In a recent Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments study, Fairfax’s job growth is projected to be 37 percent by 2040, while the county will continue to rank first in the number of residents with more than 1 million residents, and growing by 25 percent.

In the Route 1 corridor, planners say the projections suggest the addition of 45,000 new residents and 18,000 new jobs by 2040.

The corridor is already experiencing change, with the construction of new high risers and a growing military presence at Fort Belvoir. In the past six months, Brock said, he’s heard of at least 10 projects that are in conceptual or design phase.

Some residents view the plan as a solution to the growing traffic congestion.

“It is harder and harder to use your car. You have to have a lot of patience otherwise you will be frustrated,” said Frank Cohn, 90, who has lived in the Mount Vernon area for 40 years.

“Of course I am not going to be around when this thing is finally finished but I think it is very important to have the input now so the children and grandchildren can enjoy a better place,” he said. “Right now we get more and more vehicles and the congestion gets worse and worse. Unless something is done they are going to be in real trouble.”

The project is still in the early planning stages and largely unfunded, but officials say the county will seek federal and state grants. In January, Fairfax received a $3.9 million state grant for design of the BRT portion of the project and so far the county has received about $10 million for the road widening project. But a lot more would be needed to bring the full vision to fruition. The bus rapid transit and the other road improvements could cost about $1 billion. In addition, the 3.1-mile Metro extension is estimated to cost $1.5 billion.

The county ruled out light rail as an option after determining that implementing a robust bus system would be more time and cost effective.

“We need to speed this up. We need to get this done in far less than 10 years,” said Storck.  “We would like to see the first BRT runs happening in five years. We think that is doable.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story said the new bus rapid transit would connect to the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway. The Richmond Highway system will not connect to the Transitway. It will start about three miles away in Huntington.