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Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority presents expansion proposal

Plans for a multi-billion dollar expansion program that includes a tunnel linking Washington, D.C. and Virginia as well as new stations for Georgetown and National Harbor where released by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority on July 10.

An analysis of the plan includes six options to boost the rail system’s capacity in the coming decades, ranging from doing nothing to spending as much as $50 billion to reorient Blue or Silver lines. The proposals are part of the agency’s long-range plans that transit leaders say address several shortcomings in the rail system, including a lack of tunnel capacity between Foggy Bottom in the District and Rosslyn in Virginia.

The Washington Post reported that Metro officials said growth around stations that use the tunnel is projected to create crowding problems — something that had been occurring before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Running three lines through one tunnel and set of tracks creates challenges for Metro and our customers, including crowding during peak periods, service reliability issues, a lack of operational flexibility, and threats to long-term sustainability,” Metro planners wrote in a presentation.

Changes to improve the corridor could take 10 to 20 years to build, transit leaders say, and the complexity of any expansion plan would require years of planning and coordination between local jurisdictions and the federal government. It would be decades before any extension would open to riders.

The six options before Metro leaders vary in size and scope.

The first proposes no expansion of Metrorail, leaving the corridor as is, with transportation needs being left to bus rapid transit lines and Maryland’s light-rail Purple Line system.

The second option proposes enhanced Metrobus and bus rapid transit service, and rail scheduling that shifts to handle crowding with capacity increases coming from possible rail car design changes and expanded stations. Metro estimates this option would cost $3 billion to $5 billion, then $75 million to $100 million annually to operate.

A third option proposes realigning the Blue Line from the Arlington Cemetery station to a newRosslyn station. It would then run through a new tunnel beneath the river, stopping along M Street in Georgetown before connecting to Union Station, then northeast to areas such as Ivy City in the District and Hyattsville in Maryland, ending at Greenbelt. Metro estimates the option would cost $25 billion to $30 billion to build, then another $125 million to $150 million a year to operate.

Another option proposes the same Blue Line realignment in Northwest Washington, but tracks would shift south from Union Station and connect to the D.C. waterfront and Navy Yard, serving areas such as Buzzard Point, St. Elizabeths and National Harbor. The line would cross the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to Alexandria. Project costs under this design would be $30 billion to $35 billion, then $175 million to $200 million annually to operate.

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 new tunnel would be able to operate “express service” — something passengers have wanted for extended Silver Line trips.

Transit officials said the proposal would cost $35 billion to $40 billion to build and $175 million to $200 million a year to operate.

The last option, transit officials said, proposes breaking off the Silver Line from the Orange Line at Clarendon and connecting it to a second Rosslyn station, Georgetown and Union Station before shifting northeast to Ivy City and New Carrollton in Maryland. Doing so would cost $25 billion to $30 billion in construction, then $125 million to $150 million per year to operate.

Metro planners said two options best meet the transit agency’s goals and needs: The Blue Line realignment to National Harbor, and the plan that would put the Silver Line on separate tracks and shift it northeast from West Falls Church to Greenbelt.

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