Attention I-66 Commuters: Orange Line Extension is Not in the Cards!

If you live in the I-66 corridor and were hoping that the Orange Line will be extended any day, it will not happen unless you start demanding it from your County and State government officials.

This is what I have learned from studying VDOT’s I-66 expansion:

  • VDOT stated in their Tier One Study that they would investigate the Orange Line Extension in 2014.  In January 2015, the Regional Transportation Program Director stated that Metro was “off-the-table” with no explanation.
  • Metro Orange Line Facts:
    • Moves 15,400 people per hour (I-66  6,000 per hour)
    • Average Orange Line speed is 35 mph (including stops)
    • By comparison, the average peak I-66 speed is 18 mph

This week I had a conversation with the Washington Metro Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) concerning extending the Orange Line.  Here is what I learned:

o   Virginia has not placed any Orange Line extension in any long term plans

o   Virginia needs to come up with a funding package to pay for the Metro expansion

o   No one has done a cost estimate of extending Orange Line

o   WMATA said that the first phase of the Silver Line cost just under $3 Billion.  That is less than VDOT’s $3.3 Billion I-66 Expansion estimate!

o   Metro is focused on  fixing the infrastructure, and adding additional power to rails to support the 8 car trains.   Metro says that they need to get that done first.  MWAA is focused on completing the Silver Line, WMATA is focused on preparing for operations on the completed Silver Line.

o   Metro says the Rosslyn Tunnel has a maximum rate of 1 train every 2 minutes.  That is 26 trains per hour.  Metro says that is a difficult number to maintain.

o   Adding the Silver Line has taken any additional capacity on the Orange Line.  As a result, Metro needs to build a second tunnel.

o   The following Metro strategic plans do not mention extending the Orange Line

  • Metro Strategic Plan 2013-2025
  • Proposed 2040 Metrorail Network
  • VDOT stated that a new tunnel is very expensive (translation:  we will never get  funding).  I have not seen what the cost would be.
  • VDOT is assuming that all Metro customers wish to go into the District, and all trains therefore need to cross the Potomac River. With Tysons becoming a major destination, clearly this is not true–just as not all I-66 travelers continue eastbound into the District. (Some departing Louden County could turn back in Tysons Corner/McLean just as some Red Line trains turn around at Silver Spring.  Some Inbound Orange and Silver trains trains could turn around at East Falls Church with relatively minor track modifications).  This would help alleviate the congestion at Roslyn.
  • VDOT’s solution to the I-66 Corridor is to have 3 General Purpose (GP) and 2 Managed Lanes (ML) – tolls) in each direction.  VDOT is considering not leaving room to extend the Orange Line in their first (A) plan.
  • VDOT wants to do a public/private partnership for I-66 Extension

o   There are “no compete” clauses in existing Express Lanes contracts — will we need to “ask permission” or compensate the PP to extend the Orange Line?

o   The I-495 and I-95 have a 75 and 80 year lock.  That means the Private Partner gets all the toll revenue for 75-80 years.  Our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren will have to pay for bad decisions made today.

I traveled the I-66 corridor for 25 years.  I can remember the radio ads telling everyone to move to Ashburn and Leesburg since the toll road was so underutilized.  A great number did exactly that, and the toll road got congested.  Then they got the Silver Line to relieve the congestion.  What did the I-66 corridor get?

We need your help to raise awareness and start advocating for I-66 Corridor Mass Transit solutions.  Let’s get Mass Transit solutions now using the $3 Billion that VDOT wants to spend:

  1. Buy a Rapid Bus System with WiFi that can run down the carpool lane
  2. Build a light rail from Vienna to Centreville, Manassas, Gainesville, and/or Haymarket
  3. Push to extend the Orange Line sooner

Please go to the VDOT meetings, email or write your county and state officials.  VDOT is telling us that people outside of the beltway want their plan.  Is that true?

Tom Schwab (Dunn Loring, ex-Warrenton)

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