What? In the Nation’s Capital, in a region that the Federal Government has scolded and threatened because of its car generated air pollution (remember, government is our industry here in Washington…) at a time of record congestion coupled with rapidly rising fuel costs and climate change, the Federal Government is refusing to fund a desperately needed extension to our transit system. Are they nuts? Yup.
As you will recall from my post of 18 January, Washington, DC has the third (some lists say second) worst traffic in the nation. Because of the pollution generated by all the vehicles sitting in jams, the city, and the region, have been cited by the EPA for violating the Clean Air Act, threatening Federal funding for transportation projects. The traffic has driven up real estate prices in the District, as folks simply refuse their lengthening commutes and move into town. (We have often spent at least an hour getting from Capitol Hill to the Beltway, a distance as you can see of less than 10 miles). Since 2000, thousands of new housing units have been (and are being) constructed downtown for new DC residents.
Here’s a few other tidbits. Washington has the second highest rate of residents without cars: 34% compared to New York’s 40+%. Washingtonians enjoy access to an excellent transit network, and in particular one of the best subway systems in the U.S. But:
YOU CANNOT GET TO OUR INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT ON THE METRO
Washington, I heard yesterday on the news, is the only national capital in the world not connected to its international airport by rail. I suppose this is true, but even if it’s an exaggeration, the airport, and the rapidly expanding western portion of the metropolitan region, needs transit to reduce the stupefying congestion on our roads. Tysons Corner, the Schaumburg of our region with a huge shopping mall and office buildings, and all of the new office buildings built in what’s called the Dulles Corridor, have no transit access. The Metro system currently stops in Vienna/Fairfax, as you can see. The system needs to go 6 or 7 miles further west to get to Dulles.
Now none of this is a news flash. Connecting Metro to Dulles has been discussed since the origins of the system, over 40 years. And now – guess what? The Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) this week said that it would refuse to fund the connection.
The main controversey in the Metro extension, which has been going on for years, has to do with whether the system should be extended above or below ground in the vicinity of Tysons Corner. Recently, in spite of very heated debates, local authorities decided to run the system above ground, to make it cheaper to build. This is not the best long range solution for a whole range of reasons, but they decided this, and they started spending tens of millions to get the project ready for construction. All with the understanding that the FTA would kick in about $1 billion of the estimated $5 billion price tag.
Other controversies have raged as well, like who will be in charge of the extension. But this was resolved some time ago when the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, MWAA, said it would take charge, since most of the route would be on the roadway right of way that they own. MWAA understands the need for connection.
So in order to recognize this progress, and to express leadership in a time of environmental crisis, and to show the nation the critical role that transit must play in preparing for the next city, the FTA pulls the plug. They say there are too many unknowns, and have decided to duck instead of lead, stand and fight.
In time, this is sure to get untangled. Local authorities, and MWAA, will huddle, and eventually further compromises will be reached. And the cost will go up, and the clock will keep ticking on a region that is already an environmental timebomb.
Throw the bums out.