The region’s first bus rapid transit line could be operating in Northern Virginia by early 2014 thanks in part to a federal TIGER grant received by the Transportation Planning Board two years ago.
The line will run approximately five miles along the Route 1 corridor between the Pentagon City and Braddock Road Metrorail stations, connecting growing housing and job centers to the existing Metrorail system.
Several bus routes serve the corridor already, but local planners say significant high-density development that is either underway or expected in the next few years will increase the demand for new and better service.
Bus rapid transit — otherwise known as BRT — can carry more passengers than traditional bus routes by running higher-capacity vehicles at greater speeds and frequencies in dedicated “bus-only” lanes that are separated from regular traffic.
Synchronized signals and other priority treatments also help speed the BRT vehicles, as does requiring riders to pay before boarding and allowing riders to board at all doors, like on rail transit.
Arlington County and the City of Alexandria have been working together for several years to plan the new BRT line — known as the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway – and most of the new line will be paid for with local revenues or by developers in the area.
In 2009, however, the City of Alexandria partnered with the TPB to apply for $8.5 million in federal funding under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery discretionary grant program, known as TIGER, to help construct a 0.8-mile segment of the transitway along Route 1 between East Glebe Road and Potomac Avenue.
In February 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the TPB a total of $58.8 million to help pay for construction of the 0.8-mile segment as well as fifteen other bus priority projects in the region.
The segment will be the first portion of the new transitway to have dedicated “bus-only” lanes separated from regular travel lanes by raised medians. Already, crews have relocated the northbound travel lanes of Route 1 and widened the existing median so that construction can begin on the separated lanes this fall.
When the transitway opens in early 2014, BRT vehicles will operate in dedicated lanes — either separated from traffic by medians or designated as “bus-only” by on-road striping or other markings — along a majority of the route. On one portion, through the Potomac Yard area, BRT vehicles will initially operate in mixed traffic, but will later operate on dedicated lanes built by private developers as they develop the area.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates the Metrobus system, will operate the new BRT line as two complementary routes: the 9X, which will operate along the entire corridor, and the 9S, which is already in service but will be extended into Potomac Yard and connect with the Crystal City Metrorail Station.
Where the two routes overlap, bus frequencies will be every three to six minutes during peak hours and every eight minutes during off-peak hours. On weekends, buses will come every ten minutes. Elsewhere along the transitway, where only the 9X will operate, frequencies are expected to be every 12 minutes during peak hours, every 15 minutes during off-peak hours, and every 20 minutes on weekends.
The BRT vehicles on the route will be distinguished from regular Metrobus service by special branding and markings.
Transportation planners and elected officials around the region are discussing opportunities to implement BRT elsewhere. In May, the Maryland Transit Administration selected BRT as the preferred alternative for the planned Corridor Cities Transitway between the Shady Grove Metrorail station and Frederick County. In Montgomery County, officials are exploring the possibility of building a countywide BRT network, while the TPB is currently evaluating the costs and benefits of a regional BRT system that would operate in dedicated lanes on many of the region’s freeways and major arterials.
When it’s open in early 2014, the new Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway between Arlington County and the City of Alexandria will be the region’s first BRT line. Funded in part by a federal grant received by the TPB in 2010, the new line will connect growing housing and job centers to the existing Metrorail system and will provide an example of how BRT might be implemented elsewhere in the region.
The TPB Weekly Report is a regular feature on The Yardstick and is designed to provide brief, timely summaries of recent research, analysis, outreach, and planning by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB). Follow the TPB on Facebook and Twitter.