Addressing Metro Capacity

Addressing Metro Capacity

To the Editor:

The following open letter was addressed to Aubrey Layne, Jr., Virginia Secretary of Transportation.

The opening of the Silver Line is a major milestone for our region. We applaud all of the leaders with the vision and tenacity to bring this project forward. We would be remiss, though, if we didn't emphasize the significant need for new Metro funding made clear by this effort. The Blue Line through Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax now must work at significantly reduced capacity with reduced trains during peak hours from 7 trains an hour to 5. This means Blue Line commuters will have an increased average wait time of 12 minutes between trains, up from 8.5 minutes.

The Yellow and Blue Lines through Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax play critical roles in our region's economic development as both move through the Carlyle and Potomac Yard areas of Alexandria as well as Crystal City in Arlington. Carlyle is a growing mix of residential, jobs and retail with over 3,400 residents, 48 storefronts and over 5,141,465 square feet of existing office space. Potomac Yard is quickly expanding, with nearly 2,000 residential units built or under construction in south Potomac Yard. Crystal City, the heart of Arlington’s business district is home to 36 million square feet of mixed-use development, more than 17,000 residents and about 54,700 jobs. By 2040, Crystal City and Pentagon City are estimated to add a total of 8,500 more residents, and 35,500 more jobs. Each of these high-density transit communities depends on transit to grow and thrive. The lost capacity in the Blue Line is detrimental to this economic development potential. Also, reducing the capacity of the core of our Metro system, as we all know, limits the ability of the system to grow outward, further stifling economic development and potential transit utilization.

We are confident our region, just as it rallied for the Silver Line, can rally to address these significant structural issues in our Metro system capacity. We would like to work with partners at the local, state and federal levels in continuing to support robust economic growth throughout the region. Washington Area Metro Transit Authority’s (WMATA) strategic plan “Momentum” and its Metro 2025 initiatives provide clear steps to enable future growth, and to improve service to existing Metro stations. Two of those initiatives are moving to all eight car trains during peak periods and expanding core Metro stations, such as building a second Rosslyn station, to handle the increasingly heavy loads. The order of magnitude estimate for reaching 100 percent eight car trains is $2 billion in 2012 dollars, while the estimate for a new Rosslyn station is $1 billion. Unfortunately, current funding streams are insufficient for both of those initiatives. Just to maintain our existing system, it is estimated that Metro will need $1 billion annually. To successfully expand the core and system capacity they will need an additional $500 million per year through 2025. Metro’s Capital Funding Agreement continues through FY2016 and they are working to seek a renewed commitment from regional partners, but they need new funding streams.

In searching for short-term solutions for Blue Line riders facing a longer commute, Metro has proposed and implemented various changes to bus service for the mitigation of those impacts. There are limited-stop buses, buses to bypass the added congestion at Rosslyn Station, and Metro has also increased the number of Yellow Line trains running during peak hours to provide Blue Line riders with an alternate route. These short-term solutions show a commendable effort to alleviate some of the burden now placed on Blue Line riders, but we must make long-term improvements to the Metro core and system capacity a priority. Investing in our Metro system is imperative to encouraging healthy growth of the Washington-Metro area. We should not keep expanding the Metro system until we can ensure doing so will not impair service quality that is already strained.

We are asking that you support the Metro Momentum plan and also that you help us bring together Northern Virginia regional leaders to develop a comprehensive funding plan that identifies state, local and other resources that can be woven together to address our Blue Line needs. In the near future, current bond funding will end if we do not restore it and replace it with new sources. We will need to identify new sources of funding to support bonds as well as our Metro system in general. We are writing to ask that you help us commit to creating an short, medium and long term funding plan that will ensure the core of our Metro system as well as hoped for growth can be supported well into the future. Well functioning infrastructure is critical to the economic growth of our region. We will be contacting you to set up a meeting to discuss the issues facing the Blue Line and the Metro’s inner-system and how we can work to find real solutions to our Metro funding needs in person.

Del. Rob Krupicka, Sen. Adam Ebbin, Del. Kaye Kory, Sen. Barbara Favola, Sen. Janet Howell, Del. Patrick Hope, Sen. Linda “Toddy” Puller, Sen. Richard Saslaw, Del. Mark Sickles, Del. Richard “Rip” Sullivan and Del. Marcus Simon