A Metro extension into Prince William County is preferred over increased VRE service or bus rapid transit by residents who responded to a survey conducted by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.
Part of the department’s study into increasing transit options between Springfield and Quantico, the survey results were presented to the study’s technical advisory board during a July meeting. They show the most common destinations within the study area for respondents would be Franconia, Woodbridge and Potomac Mills.
With 1,352 respondents who live in or commute to the survey area, along the Route 1 and Interstate 95 corridors in Prince William and Fairfax counties, the survey provides a snapshot into current travel patterns. The survey was conducted online from mid-April through mid-May.
Asked about travel options used before the COVID pandemic halted most commuting, most respondents (79%) said they drive alone along the corridor, while 31% said they rode Metrorail. A quarter of respondents said they take Virginia Railway Express in the area, and the same percentage reported taking the bus. Respondents could indicate more than one response.
But when asked to allocate funding for various modes of transit, respondents on average allocated 50% to a Metro extension, 23% to more frequent VRE service in both directions and 8% to additional express bus service using the I-95 toll lanes.
Funded by the General Assembly, the feasibility study will be completed by the end of the year. It will come with a recommendation and cost estimates on how best to increase transit accessibility and usage within the area, where the department expects population and jobs to grow by 24% and 34%, respectively, by 2045.
Any large-scale improvements would ultimately require significant funding from the federal and state government, and cost will certainly be a factor. While respondents showed a preference for extending Metro’s Blue or Yellow line, the preliminary Metro alternatives being studied would be by the far the costliest, including up to nine new stations on either line.
Both alternatives would add up to six stations in Prince William: at North Woodbridge, The Landing at Prince William, Potomac Mills, Potomac Town Center, Southbridge and Triangle.
A bus rapid transit alternative being considered, on the other hand, would have as many as 14 stations in the county. The route would run between the Fort Belvoir stop on the Richmond Highway rapid transit system (projected to be complete in 2029) and Triangle. Buses would run every six minutes during peak times.
State Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36th) was one of a group of lawmakers who pushed for the $2 million study to be included in this fiscal year’s budget. He said he believes the county has the capacity for enough density around Woodbridge and Potomac Mills to support a Metro expansion.
“My view is that we need to get Metro over the Occoquan and into Prince William County,” Surovell told InsideNoVa. “After being in the middle of this stuff for 12 years, I’ve come to understand that it takes time to build the land-use strategies necessary to support an infrastructure investment of that size, and we need to figure out a way to do it that’s not going to cannibalize VRE riders. I’ve been waiting to see the outcomes.”
Surovell said it would make sense for Fairfax and Prince William to first extend the Richmond Highway bus rapid transit to Triangle with state and federal help in order to show the feasibility of extending Metro.
But he added that “there also needs to be a rail solution at the end of that tunnel. … 95 is going to continue to be congested; we need to be able to get more people over the Occoquan in something other than a car.”
It wouldn’t just be the construction of a Metrorail extension itself that would come with a significant price tag, though: The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which runs the system, would probably need to increase Metro’s capacity at the core of the system to accommodate the additional trains and passengers.
In 2015, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors endorsed a plan for a federal study into the feasibility of a Metro extension, but Metro’s then-planning director, Shyam Kannan, told the board that new rail would cost $100 million per mile at a minimum, and that Metro would first need to improve core capacity.
“Until our core-capacity issues are resolved, both fully funded and built, there is no room for system expansion at this point,” Kannan told the board at the time.
Bus rapid transit, which in its truest form runs on dedicated lanes and includes full stations for level boarding, has varied in cost in the state. Fairfax’s 7.4-mile line is expected to cost about $730 million. The 6.8-mile Pulse BRT in Richmond, on the other hand, cost $65 million. The federal government contributed a significant amount of funding for both.
Prince William Del. Luke Torian, D-52nd, who also pushed for the study funding in the state budget, said he wants to see the report produce the building blocks for a viable transit solution along the corridor, and one that can go hand-in-hand with the already-planned VRE service improvements being undertaken by the state.
“We would love to have Metro here, and we’ve been fighting for that for a long time,” Torian told InsideNoVa. “We’re not exactly sure what that’s going to look like in the future, but we need to have the kind of transportation improvements that’ll be beneficial to the second-largest county in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”