BRT or Rail?

BRT or Rail?

Rapid Transit Action Committee members make a pitch for Bus Rapid Transit option.

Since Ken Reid does not want to wait 25 years for rail to come to the Dulles Corridor, he favors Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), an option he said is cheaper and can be implemented sooner.

Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) member Kenny Klinge and the Loudoun and Fairfax county Board of Supervisors have already given their support for rail, ruling out BRT.

Even so, Reid and Tom Hirst, members of the Rapid Transit Action Committee, got the Supervisors at the Transportation Committee meeting on Monday to listen.

"Alternatives need to be given serious consideration because the population and traffic is continuing to get worse in the region," said Supervisor Charles Harris (D-Broad Run), who attended the meeting, along with the three committee members William Bogard (R-Sugarland Run), Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) and Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin). "Some of the ideas and concepts they are presenting certainly have use in Loudoun County, and Hobie Mitchel made the comment several times that BRT would play some role in the Dulles Corridor and will be part of the solution, because heavy rail to Dulles is very expensive," he said, referring to Leonard "Hobie" Mitchel, member of the CTB that favors the rail option.

THE TRANSPORTATION Committee gave Hirst 30 minutes to give his presentation, which ended up lasting a full hour, said Reid, who made a few comments at the meeting. "We're not asking them to go against rail, but we don't think we'll get it for 20 to 25 years," he said. "We got some very good responses."

Since the state asked the FTA for $600 million for the rail project for the next five-year appropriation cycle, Reid expects the project to be built in stages with rail to Tysons Corner first and not before 2010. BRT is estimated to cost less than $300 million from Tysons Corner to Loudoun, as stated in the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and can be extended further than rail into the suburbs and into Leesburg, Reid said.

"We will only get two rail stations. Everybody has to drive to get to the stations," Reid said. "With BRT, we could have stations throughout the county. ... That's really what we're talking about is giving people an alternative to driving. In Loudoun, there's not many alternatives."

Klinge does not believe that BRT will happen. "The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will determine whether rail or BRT should be installed in the Dulles Corridor. If the FTA favors BRT, the option will not be built since the county and state players involved with the project want rail," said Klinge, Northern Virginia representative for the CTB and chair of the Dulles Corridor Task Force.

IN FALL 2002, the boards of supervisors for Loudoun and Fairfax counties, the CTB, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) adopted the locally preferred alternative of building a 23-mile rail line from Falls Church to Route 772 in Loudoun with another stop at Route 606. The county and state are required to provide 50 percent or the local share of project costs, which is estimated at $3.2 billion, and the federal government the rest.

"It does the job. It carries people. It carries people quickly," Klinge said. "BRT can carry but a third of people of what the rail system can despite what Mr. Reid says."

BRT can carry about 30,000 people a day, while rail's capacity is more than 100,000 people, Klinge said. Though the Dulles Greenway, which has four lanes each way in the Dulles Corridor, has not reached congestion levels, the toll road's usage will increase with the opening of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, expansion of the Washington Dulles International Airport and continued commuting from and to the west, he said. "What you would do by having a rail system out there is to shortstop them, getting them out of their cars onto public transportation. That particular corridor is made for public transportation because of the density," he said.

BEFORE THE MEETING, Bogard said he would only support the rail option and after attending gave bus a consideration. "Within the Dulles Corridor, the ultimate answer is rail. Someplace in the mix, there is room for bus and bus would make sense given some parameters," he said. "I'm not ready to scrap rail. ... We need to be planning for [rail] and working toward it to see where we should go."

Bogard gave his reasons for supporting rail, pointing out that before 2000, the funding formula for building transit was 80-20, or 80 percent federal and 20 percent local, for BRT and 50-50 for rail. The formula now is 50-50 for both options, and though rail may cost more to build, it also has a higher fare box recovery, he said.

Another disadvantage to BRT is that rail and BRT cannot share the right-of-way in the corridor, so the bus line would have to be removed before rail could be built, leaving the system unusable during construction, he said. "If there's no advantage to BRT, we should go directly to rail, so you have an integrated system in the metropolitan Washington area," he said.

The Transportation Committee asked Hirst and Reid to research the cost and capacity of BRT and identify the number of passengers the system can handle. In response, the Rapid Transit Action Committee may conduct independent analysis for the research, Reid said.

In the meantime, the FTA needs to approve the final EIS and issue a Record of Decision before construction on the locally preferred alternative can begin. The FTA has given preliminary approval and may give final approval within the next six months. "As soon as we get the go-ahead, we'll start," Klinge said.