Even at Metro’s worst, the mass transit operation has been an alluring, fantastical pitch for local politicians trying to address the crowded lanes of Interstate 95 and U.S. 1. Other than VRE commuter trains with dedicated rides north in the morning and south in the afternoon, there is no other way to get traffic moving in and out of eastern Prince William County.
Long considered off the table, the region is expected to get another look at bringing Metro trains to the area. A $2 million item has been included in the proposed state budget making its way through the General Assembly that would pay for a study of transit options for the busy I-95 corridor in Prince William.
Most notably, that includes a look at extending Metro’s Blue Line from Franconia-Springfield to Marine Corps Base Quantico. The study would evaluate Metro stops at Lorton and Potomac Mills as well as Quantico.
The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation would be tasked with conducting the study, to be completed by Dec. 1, 2021.
The study would also examine other transportation options, including bus rapid transit.
The funding in the budget was added by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-36th, and Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-31st. Both represent districts that would be affected by a Metro extension.
The version proposed by the House includes a requirement that Prince William and Fairfax counties pay an equitable local match in an amount to be determined by the localities and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, but that language isn’t in the Senate version and may be altered or removed from the final budget. The General Assembly will adopt a budget before it adjourns March 7.
Guzman campaigned last fall on a promise to increase transportation options, including the feasibility of expanding Metro. She told InsideNoVa this month that when she knocked on doors, she heard from residents who asked about extending Metro to Prince William. Although the project is a 10- to 20-year goal, she said it’s important to consider because many residents commute out of Prince William for work. According to county statistics, the average commute time is nearly 40 minutes.
“We have the second largest population in the commonwealth,” Guzman added. “And this is not going to be a short-term project; this is definitely a long-term project.”
The study would evaluate the cost of transit improvements, whether extending Metro would be feasible based on population estimates, and whether the area could accommodate tracks to run Metro trains.
Guzman said the possibility of expanded mass transit — whether bus rapid transit or an extension of the Blue Line — would be an economic boon for retailers in and around Potomac Mills Mall.
According to a 2015 presentation from Metro officials to the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, extending Metrorail would cost $100 million to $600 million per mile, $80 million to $300 million for a new station and $17 million to $22 million for an eight-car passenger train.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has a $3.6 billion budget this fiscal year and operates 118 miles of rails and 91 stations, including 40 stations in the District of Columbia, 26 in Maryland and 25 in Virginia.
And Metro is already expanding, with a Silver Line extension to Dulles and Ashburn under construction (and significantly delayed). Work is also beginning on a Purple Line that would run through Maryland suburbs that are currently inside of the Metro service area but not on existing routes.
Surovell previously pushed for a study on extending the Yellow Line to Hybla Valley in Fairfax in 2011, he said in a statement Feb. 21.
“That study identified economic, engineering, and funding feasibility of the extension by looking at ridership, system impacts, and trip impacts,” according to the release. “Research demonstrates that transit brings economic development to the region. Most major employers are now looking to place jobs next to transit.”
Prince William Board Chair Ann Wheeler said she commends state lawmakers for pushing for the mass transit study, according to the news release.
“No matter what the long-awaited study results determine, this is a step in the right direction,” she said in the news release. “I look forward to many conversations to come as we seek to identify the best transportation solutions for our residents, our workforce and tourists alike.”
Woodbridge District Supervisor Margaret Franklin, Occoquan District Supervisor Kenny Boddye and Potomac District Supervisor Andrea Bailey expressed support for the study, the release also noted.