Some fear Metro to Loudoun will increase car congestion

WASHINGTON — Several members of Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors worry the number of cars on crowded roadways will increase, if funding dries up for subsidized commuter buses, which currently carry commuters from the fast-growing county to downtown Washington, D.C. for $8 or $9.

For years, county taxpayers have paid for buses, drivers’ salaries and other expenses to operate the service from 11 Park and Ride Lots to Crystal City, Rosslyn, The Pentagon and Washington.

Currently, board members say passenger fares pay for 80 percent of operating costs, with the goal of making the bus service self-sufficient.

The board is considering a $1 fare hike for long haul service.

With construction underway for two Metro Silver Line stops in Loudoun County, the board’s long term goal has been to connect county transit operations to Metro, and phasing-out duplicate routes.

However, some county lawmakers fear Metro’s arrival will mean taxpayers have fewer commuting options, if funding for bus service dries up.

“I don’t think it’s our job to try to make people get on Metro,” said Chair Phyllis Randall in a Thursday discussion about the county’s longer term transit development plan. “I think we want to actually provide multimodal options.”

Supervisor Ron Meyer, from the Broad Run District said the county will have to contribute the for Metro, regardless of whether there’s increased ridership from county residents.

“I think it’s really pretty outrageous to people who are currently happy with the long haul (bus) system, and take that away from them and try to help Metro,” said Meyer. “We should be prioritizing Loudoun’s riders, not Metro’s revenue.”

Board Vice Chair Ralph Buona, of the Ashburn District, said focusing on bus service is contrary to the county’s long-term goals.

“Long haul is going to compete directly with Metro, it’s going to compete directly with our (Metro-centered) tax districts, it’s going to compete directly with our county-owned parking garages, where we need revenue,” said Buona. “These buses aren’t going away anytime soon, if ever, but we can’t set them up to have a taxpayer-subsidized advantage over Metro.”

Supervisor Matt Letourneau, of the Dulles District, says he doesn’t favor eliminating county bus service, and says county residents will likely be willing to continue to pay for “what is essentially an express, nonstop, door-to-door service, and it’s going to cost a premium, because that’s a premium type of service.”

However, Letourneau said the county’s ability to add buses is shrinking.

“The Washington region is sending 1,900 buses into downtown D.C. every day, the D.C. City Council, the mayor, and others are expressing great concern about congestion in D.C. because there’s so many buses,” says Letourneau. “That is not going to be a long-term way to move people, because there’s simply no room.”

Randall said the board would talk more about its long-term transit funding priorities next month.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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