A "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for the Metrorail Blue Line
Metro Blue Line extension into Prince William? Virginia lawmakers want a study," where Virginia legislators are looking to appropriate $2 million to study the extension of the Blue Line from Springfield in Fairfax County to Quantico in Prince William County.
1. Go along with Virginia legislators desire to extend the Blue Line to Quantico, even though this is normally too long a distance for heavy rail.
In return for:
2. Accelerating the creation of a second tunnel at Rosslyn crossing into DC; and
3. Leveraging the project to create a Separated Blue Line in DC, resurrecting a long abandoned plan that was raised in 2001 and scuttled in 2003. This would provide service to Georgetown and along M Street, another subway connection at Union Station, and service to H Street NE.
And doing it starting "now" not in 10 years...
Circa 2001 Metrorail expansion planning. I have written many times of the old plan to build a "separated Blue Line" WMATA Metrorail line.
This would have created a second crossing under the Potomac River at Rosslyn and continued into Georgetown, perhaps along M Street to Union Station and then further east along H Street NE.
When this graphic accompanied a Washington Post article ("Crowds Could Derail Decades of Progress," 3/25/2001) about the proposal, just as a group of us were working on H Street revitalization matters, it was electrifying.
2003 Recession: WMATA drops expansion plans. But in 2003, during a recessionary period for Greater Washington, WMATA dropped expansion planning in its entirety ("Metro Construction Projects Creak to Halt; Economic, Political Changes Cancel Expansion Plans, Spur Job Cuts, Early Retirements," Lyndsey Layton. Washington Post, July 13, 2003. pg. C.01), deferring responsibility for expansion planning to the separate jurisdictions.
Silver Line planning not affected. Virginia continued on with its planning for the Silver Line, which it was pursuing separately anyway. Insanely, they were allowed to do so without having to pay for capacity expansions in the core. They said it wasn't their responsibility, even though the expansion would challenge system equilibrium.
Washington DC didn't take the opportunity to leverage the Silver Line as the way to create a separated blue line. Only Arlington kept hopes alive for a separated blue line in its Master Transportation Plan.
I started writing about the likely problems from this in 2006.
-- "The "Downtown" Circulator and Rosslyn, Virginia," 2006
-- "Blinking on urban design means you limit your chance for success," 2006
-- "Winners and losers with the Dulles subway project," 2007
-- "Silver Line Metro expansion a classic example of the need to have true regional transportation planning," 2011
-- "Ultimately, WMATA blue line riders have been dissed by the State of Virginia, not WMATA," 2013
-- "The Silver Line WMATA story that WJLA-TV missed," 2014
Ten years later, WMATA starts expansion planning again. With evident problems forecast concerning capacity in the core, WMATA has refocused on expansion planning. They've gone through a couple iterations, one the Momentum plan ("Metro proposes $26 billion overhaul," Post, 2013), including more recent releases which I haven't written about.
The major element of the newest plan is to add a crossing at Rosslyn, which they hope to do by 2030 ("Metro Looks At Building New Lines To Address Tunnel Congestion, But What’s Realistic?," WAMU/NPR).
I've never been pleased with this planning program, because it satisficed proposals based on what they could get all jurisdictions to agree to, rather than advocating for the best outcomes. It adds capacity within the current footprint but nothing beyond it.
We all know how the Silver Line worked out: badly. The subway lines had already been stressed by failures in the signalling system, culminating in the Fort Totten crash in 2009, which killed 9 people. But the addition of the Silver Line made things worse, crashing the system overall.
-- "Redundancy, engineered resilience, and subway systems: Metrorail failures will increase without adding capacity in the core," 2016
Fantasy planning and the Paul Meissner maps. The redundancy post made many arguments, including the problems that result from "inter-lining," which rather than containing problems when they occur, spreads them to other lines. It called for making many changes to the Metrorail system, focused on separating the lines. The main concept was a separated Silver Line, instead of a separated blue line.
From that, I connected with a GGW reader and commenter, Paul Meissner, who agreed to create a couple maps, one showing the current rapid rail system, including railroad services, and an idealized fantasy map, based in part on previous plans and proposals.
There was push and pull. He was the graphic designer, which gave him more say in the process (i.e., "possession is nine-tenths of the law") and output so the ideas were a mix from both of us and I had to compromise.
I've referenced the maps in a couple pieces, including:
-- "Setting the stage for the Purple Line light rail line to be an overwhelming success," 2017, a multi-part series
-- "Using the Silver Line as the priming event, what would a transit network improvement program look like for NoVA?," 2017
In the map development process, rather than suggesting an extension of the Blue Line, we proposed extending the Yellow Line, terminating at Fort Belvoir. There, the idea was to capture and promote density along Route 1 and service to the military base, which was expanded as a part of the 2005 BRAC closure process. To be frank, this should have happened as a result of that process, which I suggested back then.
A couple months after Paul finished the project, I realized we could have also proposed a separate Blue Line extension to Woodbridge and Dale City, not thinking about an extension as far as Quantico, which is almost 12 miles further.
Extension vs. intensification in transit planning. We need to distinguish between extending the system outward, or intensifying the system by adding capacity in the core, because these types of extensions have different impact. It's the type of expansion that matters, not expansion generally.
Adding capacity in the core improves reliability while extending service outward, especially without increasing core capacity, degrades service. Eliminating expansion in general limits the opportunity to improve system reliability.
Note that in some instances, system extension serves important purposes (e.g., such as to Fair Oaks in Fairfax County, extending the Orange Line, or to Fort Belvoir, which could be reached by extending the Yellow Line) but it shouldn't occur without simultaneously addressing how extension impacts the core system.
While normally I would argue that an extension of this length is nonsensical, it's worth considering if it can be leveraged to bring about the separated Blue Line in DC.
Transformational Projects Action Planning and the Blue Line. TPAP is a concept I've developed which proposes to seed master plans with a set of anchor projects as the "transformational projects element" as a way to drive the plan forward in substantive, visionary, transformational, and beneficial ways ("A "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for a statewide passenger railroad program in Maryland" and "Why can't the "Bilbao Effect" be reproduced? | Bilbao as an example of Transformational Projects Action Planning").
I think that the Virginia legislative initiative ought to be leveraged to do three different things:
1. Extend the Blue Line to Quantico (which will get support to do the two other elements).
2. Add the second crossing at Rosslyn to Georgetown and the expanded transfer station.
3. Create the separated Blue Line in DC, along the same lines as the original 2001 proposal, but with a couple twists.
-- The DC routing would add redundancy and capacity in the core, and provide a second subway connection to Union Station, which is necessary for support of railroad passenger expansion plans there. At Mount Vernon Square it would provide another subway line connection to the proposed Maglev rail service.
-- It would add 8-10 new stations within DC, although the section between Georgetown and Mount Vernon Square is already pretty developed, so it wouldn't necessarily add a lot of new development capacity, which is the normal way to pay for the cost of such infrastructure expansions.
-- It would eliminate the need for a gondola transit connection between Rosslyn and Georgetown.
-- After Union Station the line should go out H Street, and then at Oklahoma Avenue, cross through the RFK campus, but underground, to RFK station and continue to the end of the line at Largo.
-- Undergrounding the lines here will add development capacity to the RFK campus.
-- The Orange/Silver Line would similarly go underground at RFK to pick up the current Orange Line routing from RFK to New Carrollton.
4. This means no longer focusing on a separated Silver Line, but pairing the Silver and Orange Lines. Frankly they could both be termed the Orange Line but with two branches.
-- Virginia should also consider an extension of the Orange Line from Vienna to Centreville as outlined in the Meissner map above.
5. An extension of the Yellow Line to Fort Belvoir should also be studied as part of the planning, using a routing in the Route 1 Corridor. Such a routing could extend from Fort Belvoir westward to connect to the Southern Blue Line extension.
-- if the Yellow Line were also to be extended, the addition of an infill Yellow Line station serving the National Mall in the vicinity of the Jefferson Memorial should be added to the program ("A National Mall-focused heritage (replica) streetcar service to serve visitors is a way bigger idea than a parking garage under the Mall").
Separated Blue Line or bust. Note that without the commitment to the second crossing and the Separated Blue Line in DC, I would argue that DC should vote against such an extension thereby dooming it to failure, since a unanimous vote is required.
Speaking of a unanimous vote, this program provides little additional benefit to Maryland. Perhaps there is a way to do so.