Every weekday morning, the parking garage at the Springfield-Franconia Metro station fills up, and it's standing room only on the Blue Line cars during morning rush hour. A new garage is going up to ease the parking need, but the Metro cars, which are now limited to four- and six-car trains, won't be changed anytime soon.
One option put forward to alleviate some the overcrowding at the Metro Station is to reinstate the Springfield-to-Pentagon express bus.
"We do have overcrowding at the Metro stations," said Rick Stevens, Metro's director of business planning and project development. He added that Metro has looked at a number of ways to deal with the problem, including reviving the express bus.
Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) looked at the express bus as a bittersweet solution. As a member of the Metro board, he's aware of the complexities with car capacity, parking and buses.
"The good news is [Metro's] exceedingly popular," he said, but the buses "may be coming back."
Years ago, the Pentagon express bus used to leave from Springfield Mall, hop on the high-occupancy-vehicle lane, and go straight to the Pentagon. It was popular then but was stopped when the Metrorail provided service from the mall to the Pentagon.
Vaughn Stokes is a former Springfield resident who moved out to Stafford and commutes by car. Time is his main factor. Driving from his house takes one hour, and stopping in Springfield, parking and getting on the Metro adds time. Taking the Virginia Railway Express takes an hour and a half.
"Time's more important than expense," Stokes said. "Personally, I'd rather pay 10 cents in gas tax and put in more lanes."
Stokes sees one problem with using the express buses.
"The express lanes get plugged up," he said. "If it's the same time and there's more risk, people aren't going to take it."
Springfield resident John Petit thought it would come down to a personal choice for those standing on the train.
"If [Metro]'s too crowded, I think it would be a good idea," he said.
Lee District transportation commissioner Bob Heittman is involved with reviewing ways to relieve the crowded conditions at the Springfield-Franconia station. He knows the bus to the Pentagon is not for everyone, though.
"It is a great option to some people," he said. "People that are rail-oriented will stick to the rail."
EIGHT-CAR trains are needed on other Metro lines as well. None of the electric systems are outfitted for the longer cars. Stevens did note it was considered 25 years ago but postponed because of cost. It isn't a matter of doing it one line at a time, though. Common corridors have to be upgraded at the same time.
"They will be upgraded as we need them," Stevens said. "The demand on some lines is greater than others."
Metro cars cost $2 million each, but they have to be used in pairs. A bus costs $425,000 plus the costs of paying a driver, fuel and oil.
The time frame Stevens estimated for the bus is somewhere around five years. The existing parking garage at Metro has 4,100 parking spaces, and the new garage will add another 1,000 spaces, potentially bringing a few thousand more riders every morning. It is due to open in the September-October time frame. Currently, 800 vehicles a day park at the garage at Springfield Mall, which will possibly be relieved when the new garage opens.
Stokes looked at the commuter systems at other big cities that have high-speed rail.
"I think we need a high-speed train," he said.
Another option at the station is Amtrak service. As of April 28, Amtrak trains have been making stops at the Springfield-Franconia station. Monday through Friday, Train 77 heading southbound stops at Springfield at 8:26 a.m., as does Train 76, heading northbound at 6:02 p.m. for commuters making connections from Richmond. On Saturday and Sunday, at 8:54 a.m., a southbound train stops as well. Although Amtrak is not designed for regular commuters, it provides another option for longer distance travelers to transfer to a Metro or Virginia Railway Express (VRE) train. VRE monthly passes are honored by Amtrak, according to Amtrak spokesperson Karina Van Veen.