What you see above is not a fantasy. It is an achievable vision of transit expansion in the Washington region. The main assumption is that rather than spending billions on three or four MetroRail extensions, we could achieve far greater coverage and efficiency by recognizing that one size does not fit all, and matching the mode to the corridor. MetroRail, great as it is, is too expensive to build everywhere, and though MetroRail extensions to Woodbridge, Centreville and BWI might be wonderful in those individual corridors, for about the same cumulative cost we could have a far greater affect on regional travel by blanketing arterials inside the Beltway with light rail and upgrading our existing commuter rail infrastructure into true regional interurban lines, with weekend service, hourly trains, etc.
To be sure, we’re proposing a lot of spending here. No doubt to the tune of ten figures. But the costs would be comparable to what Maryland, Virginia and the District are planning to spend on transportation over the next couple of decades anyway. Our plan is merely a reallocation.
For the record, BeyondDC doesn’t mean to suggest that MetroRail isn’t worth the money. Metro’s effect on the Washington region has been nothing short of revolutionary; it has been worth every penny spent, many times over. Furthermore, streetcars alone would be incapable of providing all the rail transit necessary for a city as large and diverse as ours. This vision can only be taken within our regional context of 100 miles of existing MetroRail service. Indeed, where we think MetroRail is the best mode for a new route, such as between the Orange line and Tysons Corner, we’ve included it despite the cost. The point here is that given what we already have, streetcars and interurbans are the best capital investment we can make right now. After these lines are built it may once again make sense to build significantly more MetroRail.
Clicking the map above takes you to our new Transit Vision feature. There you’ll find not only a larger version of the diagram, but also a geographic map (including proposals in Baltimore, Frederick and Annapolis), as well as additional explanation.
A final note before you go: Making such hard decisions as MetroRail versus streetcars is only necessary in the first place because our country’s transportation spending is wildly out of whack. Decades of widenings and new roads have brought our planet to the brink of disaster, ruined our cities, and taken our economy hostage, all with the result that congestion is far worse now than when we started. Like pre-industrial medicine focusing on bloodletting, highway engineering is junk science. The time, lives and money spent on it don’t change the fact that it simply doesn’t work. For all the arguments and numbers BeyondDC is throwing out contending that Metro isn’t the most efficient use of our transportation dollars these days, anything given over to road or parking capacity is severely worse-spent. More MetroRail would be good; it’s just that more streetcars would be better. More roads, in any event, would be utterly counterproductive.
Update: After a discussion at Ryan Avent’s The Bellows, we made some well-needed modifications to the text. Unrelatedly, we also uploaded new, more clear geographic maps. They’re similar to the originals, but we fidged around a bit with line weights to make them more readable. – 3/25/08