Save The Date; Don’t Miss The Party Train

YEAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

silverline

It’s about damn time! Although WMATA has been doing extensive and pointless promotional work, the start of operations was “delayed indefinitely” as recently as March. We’ve finally got a hard opening date of July 26, although management is still  covering their asses.

“It’s an unlikely possibility that something could pop up between now and then,” he said in a conference call with reporters. “You can never rule it out totally. But I would not be announcing the target date unless I felt very confident that we are there.”

Keep in mind this is the same WMATA that, in an effort to keep parking attendents from skimming cash, forced all parkers to pay using WMATA’s propriety Smart Card ticket thing. It’s pretty easy to estimate how many of these you’ll need on opening day: just add up the number of cash payments you typically get, as all those people will have to switch to Smart Cards. WMATA still somehow managed to run out of cards on the first day, effectively trapping commuters in the parking lot. As if this wasn’t enough, WMATA had the audacity to send out a press release the next day about the success of the program and the unprecedented demand for Smart Cards. They were in demand because you mandated them, and this because your employees steal!!!

ratpag has been to WMATA headquarters, and let ratpag tell you it is not inspiring. Each division hates each other with a passion, and their “ops center” is basically a gigantic Lite Brite. It’s like if the movie War Games but on a direct-to-video budget.

washington-metro-3-chip-dlp-digital-projection-2

Edit: they appear to have digitized since ratpag was there, although I suspect this photo was from a media showcase and may not represent regular operations. I doubt they put their own logo on the board to remind themselves of where they work.

The Silver Line itself is fascinating. July 26 is only phase one, and still it’s impressive. An 11 mile-corridor cutting through one of the most congested and car-centered places in the country (Tyson’s Corner), it largely runs along the center of Route 267. While it’s name makes it sound like some two lane country road, this is actually an 8-lane tolled freeway with a separated corridor in the center for access to Dulles Airport. The road, locally referred to as the Dulles Toll Road, is operated and maintained not by the Virginia Department of Transportation, but rather by the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority.

It’s tempting to ignore this distinction. ratpag has a tendency to tune out when discussion turns to various federal funding mechanisms. But this distinction is important. Because 267 is under MWAA, much of the Silver Line expansion project falls under MWAA. ratpag has heard anecdotes that because MWAA is an independent airport authority and not a government entity, it is much less responsive to the concerns of the county or its citizens. And you know what the means: NIMBY is not a factor in the project. Public meetings? Oh they happen, but MWAA sleeps through them.

Normally ratpag is pro-citizen, but not on large public works projects. There was some controversy early in the project whether to tunnel under Tyson’s Corner at tremendous expense, or do surface tracks. A community group actually argued that over-land would destroy the natural beauty and walkability of Tyson’s Corner. Because it was so walkable before—the town is literally the triangle between two freeways and a major urban arterial. It’s main attraction are USA Today’s corporate headquarters and a mall. Even the surface streets have cloverleaf interchanges.

tysonsSo yes, the Silver Line went above grade without delay. The real problem on this project is the single lane tunnel Rosslyn, which will now carry the extremely busy Orange, Blue, and Silver Lines under the Potomac and into DC. It’s like squeezing both directions of I-95 into a single lane and having cars take turns.

But that’s another post. For now, enjoy your weekend and this informative video about subsidized transit:

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