WASHINGTON — Northern Virginia is now one step closer to having an entirely new transportation option for the Washington region.
The Arlington County Board approved a $10.5 million contract Saturday for construction of the Arlington portion of the 4.5 mile transitway connecting Braddock Road Metro, Potomac Yard, Crystal City and Pentagon City.
Buses will begin running 44 percent of the 30 station route including Potomac Yard in dedicated lanes that are separate from general traffic. Eventually, Arlington and Alexandria plan to convert the route to a streetcar line.
Metro will operate the route and plans to call it “MetroWay” to signify that the transitway is a different kind of system than any other in the Washington area. One route will run the entire stretch from Braddock Road Metro to Pentagon City Metro, while a shorter route will run between Potomac Yard and the Crystal City Metro.
Riders will pay on the platform at the stations before boarding the bus, using a SmarTrip, cash or credit card.
The fares will be enforced by spot checks from Metro Transit Police.
The heart of the system will have one bus every six minutes during peak hours, and one bus every 20 minutes on weekends. It will replace the current 9S service which does not run on the weekends.
Arlington County planners expect 3,600 riders a day on the buses when they debut next year. They say the dedicated lanes will save riders up to 10 minutes depending on the time of day.
Each station will cost between $345,000 to $530,000. That covers road work with sidewalks, building station platforms, benches, trash cans, shelters, bike racks and real time arrival screens.
Alexandria was able to get its construction underway earlier because of a different type of federal funding, but in the wake of the Super Stop dispute, Arlington planners say they were certain to make sure the costs per station were similar in both jurisdictions.
The Arlington County Board approved the contract unanimously, including streetcar opponent Libby Garvey.
“Why on Earth would we want to put down tracks and wires? Why on Earth would we want to go any farther? Because this does everything that we need,” Garvey says.
“The reason it’s better is about ridership and capacity,” Arlington Streetcar Now Chair John Snyder says.
“This interim step will increase ridership and capacity, and that’s a good thing, but to get where we want to go and do the right thing, we’ll have streetcars in this exact same alignment. The money that’s being spent here will also contribute to the streetcar project.”
“When we bring the streetcar in and we add the connectivity out to Skyline to the jobs that are out there and the jobs that are along Columbia Pike, we actually create a whole other set of ways for people to somewhat easily commute across this whole corridor,” Arlington Board Member Mary Hynes says.
She says it is especially important as Metro Blue Line service is reduced because of the addition of the Silver Line. The “Rush Plus” changes that add Yellow Line trains through the heart of the city rather than Blue Line trains through Rosslyn are expected to become permanent so that Metro can increase the total number of trains from Virginia into the District.
“The implementation of this new transitway is the cornerstone of all of the planning that we’ve done around Crystal City,” Terry Savela of the Crystal City Citizens Review Council says.
“This particular contract is a very good interim step toward the longer term vision – hopefully not too long-term of a vision – for streetcars in Crystal City connecting to one of the biggest residential areas in Arlington, which is Columbia Pike,” Snyder says
“Knitting the two together along with Metro will add value for both communities and really make them one singular community,” he adds.
The Columbia Pike streetcar has faced some vocal opposition, but is supported by the majority of the county board and remains in the county’s plans.
Fairfax County has also approved its portion of the Columbia Pike line.