Transit officials on Monday released an analysis of six options for increasing the rail system’s capacity in the coming decades, ranging from doing nothing to spending $50 billion to upgrade the Blue, Orange and Silver lines.
The expansion proposals come as Metro faces a $750 million operating deficit in the next fiscal year due to ridership losses due to telecommuting and a nearly completed construction funding stream that repays bonds that Metro has used to repair and modernize the railway system. Transit officials acknowledge that the capacity issues Metro faced in 2019 are not burdening the system at the moment, after the pandemic cut ridership in half. But they say growth continues, especially near certainty Northern Virginia stations, while emergencies or maintenance needs often create bottlenecks around the Potomac River Tunnel.
Solving the corridor’s constraints could take 10 to 20 years to build, transit leaders say, and the complexity of any expansion plan will require years of planning and coordination between local jurisdictions and the federal government. It would be decades before any expansion would open to riders.
Metro’s preferred expansion option would create the second Potomac River tunnel, adding the Georgetown station
Metro officials acknowledge that it is an uncomfortable time to bring up such an expensive proposal at a time when Metro has not found a solution to its looming deficit and dwindling construction money. Transit leaders said Metro doesn’t have a good forecast for 2040 ridership, but they said Metro’s operational problems and the housing growth happening along the corridor will remain.
Metro says jurisdictions along the long corridor served by the Orange, Silver and Blue lines are expected to add 37 percent more people and 30 percent more jobs by 2040.
In growing National Harbor, eyes are once again on a future subway station
The six options before Metro leaders vary greatly in size and scope.
The first proposes no expansion of Metrorail, leaving the corridor as is with transportation needs left to bus rapid transit lines and Maryland’s light-rail Purple Line system.
The second option proposes improved Metrobus and bus transit service, and rail planning that shifts to handle congestion with capacity increases coming from possible changes in railcar design and expanded stations. Metro estimates this option would cost $3 to $5 billion, then $75 to $100 million annually to operate.
A third option proposes realignment of the Blue Line from the Arlington Cemetery station to an additional new one Rosslyn Station. It would then run through a new tunnel under the river, stopping along M Street in Georgetown before connecting to Union Station, then northeast to areas like Ivy City in the District and Hyattsville. The line would end at Greenbelt.
Another option proposes the same Blue Line alignment, but tracks would shift south from Union Station and connect to the DC waterfront and Navy Yard, serving areas such as Buzzard Point, St. Elizabeths and National Harbor. The line would cross the Woodrow Wilson Bridge into Alexandria.
A fifth proposal would create a separate tunnel and tracks for the Silver Line starting at West Falls Church. From that station, the line would connect to a second Rosslyn station before serving Georgetown, Union Station, Ivy City, Hyattsville, College Park, and Greenbelt. The line and the new tunnel will be able to operate “express service” – something passengers have wanted for long, time-consuming Silver Line journeys.
The latest option, transit officials said, proposes severing the Silver Line from the Orange Line at Clarendon and connecting it to a second Rosslyn station, Georgetown and Union Station before moving northeast to Ivy City and New Carrollton in Maryland.
Metro planners said two options best meet the transit agency’s goals and needs: the Blue Line alignment to National Harbor and the plan that would put the Silver Line on separate tracks and move it northeast from West Falls Church to Greenbelt.
The board members will discuss the options on Thursday at a board meeting, where they will receive a full presentation of the analysis. No vote will be held.