As Amazon’s northern Virginia headquarters starts to become a reality, Frederick County and the city of Frederick are asking Gov. Larry Hogan to support linking Maryland’s MARC train system with the system in northern Virginia, allowing commuter trains to travel uninterrupted between the two states.
County Executive Jan Gardner (D) and County Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) co-signed a letter to Hogan (R), with a copy to Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn, urging Hogan to support integrating the MARC system with the Virginia Railway Express system to connect the residential and business areas of Maryland with Virginia’s Arlington County.
The move comes as Yahoo and several other outlets reported last week that the Seattle-based online retailer behemoth has started posting jobs for the headquarters complex known as HQ2.
“Even with the ongoing improvements to Metrorail and proposals on I-270 and I-495, the most direct route from Maryland to Arlington County, and in particular Crystal City, is the railroad running through the heart of the region,” the county’s letter said. “Today, however, potential MARC riders seeking access to jobs in Crystal City must transfer to Metrorail or uncoordinated VRE service. An integrated and more efficient rail system can be achieved by leveraging existing and planned infrastructure.”
A letter from the city of Frederick, signed by Mayor Michael O’Connor and Alderman Kelly Russell in her role as President Pro Tem of the Board of Aldermen, framed the issue as allowing more Virginia residents to commute to jobs in the city and in Maryland, and described the current route as “segmented, complicated, and slow.”
O’Connor said Wednesday that connecting the two systems with so-called run-through was important for improving commutes across the region.
“People don’t always live where they work,” he said.
Discussions on the issue are at various stages in governments throughout the region.
Montgomery County’s councilman Hans Riemer (D) organized the campaign and said he’s still working on contacting county executives and councils around the state.
The various transit systems have been designed to get people into and out of downtown Washington, Riemer said.
But with job centers and housing now spread across the region, transit needs to adapt, he said.
Crystal City’s location along the Potomac River in Virginia makes it hard to get to from the Beltway or I-270, he said.
“The only way to get there, really, is by transit,” Riemer said.
Riemer knows that the project wouldn’t come without complications.
Infrastructure projects take a long time and cost a lot of money, he said, but connecting the two transit systems could have an impact on the region for a hundred years or more.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is preparing to begin a $100,000 market assessment and technical feasibility study this month, which will examine whether there are enough people likely to use the service to make it worthwhile, said Tim Canan, the planning, data, and research program director for the council.
That the study is being jointly funded by the departments of transportation for Maryland and Virginia is a good sign of interest, he said.
Both rail systems bring commuters into Washington, D.C. and end at Union Station, leading to questions of whether a commuter train from Virginia could stop in Washington and then continue on to Maryland, and vice versa, Canan said.
While it may seem simple, he said the study will have to look at things such as whether the two lines’ trains are shaped the same way, and whether station platforms on each system will be able to accommodate the other’s trains.
One obstacle that will have to be overcome is the Long Bridge, the span carrying train traffic between Washington and northern Virginia.
The bridge is only two tracks and is at 98 percent capacity with the current traffic, said Jennifer Mitchell, director of rail and public transportation for Virginia.
The bridge would need to have four tracks to accommodate run-through traffic, she said.
An environmental impact study is being done to look at the possibilities of expanding the bridge, and Mitchell said a draft statement is due out this summer, likely in August.
The study’s final report is expected in spring 2020, she said.
With that timeframe, it’s unlikely that the bridge would be expanded for at least eight years, although there’s no firm timetable, Mitchell said.
But Virginia officials are glad to see that there’s some support from communities and officials in Maryland.
Virginia thinks that providing run-through service would be “transformative for the D.C. region,” Mitchell said.