Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Transpo secretary Ray LaHood signs $58.8 million in D.C.-area transit grants, bus improvements to follow

December 14, 2010 - 01:07 PM
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LaHood signing grants at Council of Governments headquarters today. (Photo: Dave Jamieson)

Today U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood joined a host of local officials at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments headquarters to sign $58.8 million worth of grants that will go toward D.C.-area transit projects. There were no giant ceremonial checks held up at the podium, but there were plenty of smiles and handshakes going around as officials talked about breaking ground on more than a dozen projects.

The grant money comes from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, component of the federal stimulus package. (D.C.-area jurisdictions didn’t win any of the more recent TIGER II grants that were announced in October.) LaHood said that there was stiff competition for the TIGER bucks and that Washington won a considerable piece of the program’s $1.5 billion.

“We had many, many requests for these dollars,” he said. “You all got your act together…. What we’re signing here today is an opportunity for this region to capture a very big chunk of money.”

Under a larger, region-wide plan, agencies in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia will use much of the $58.8 million to make improvements in local bus systems, including the creation of new bus lanes, express bus routes, pedestrian-friendly upgrades, and more real-time bus information. Among the larger projects are a new transit center in Takoma Park and a revamping of the bus corridors of Route 1 in Northern Virginia and Georgia Avenue in the District, and the installation of cameras and GPS technology on area buses.

Metro interim general manager Richard Sarles said the money will create 250 new jobs within Metro and bring much-needed safety improvements to the system. LaHood took the opportunity to promote the stimulus package as an important job builder.

“I don’t care what you’ve read or what you’ve heard,” he said. “The stimulus worked. Because of this, our friends and neighbors will go to work…. Those are jobs that people would not have had.”

As planned, the projects will benefit 100,000 of the roughly 450,000 daily Metrobus riders. DDOT director Gabe Klein said 60% of D.C. residents rely on mass transit, and 60% of those people rely on buses specifically.

Riders will certainly see more “queue jump lanes,” which are bus-only lanes that allow the buses to trigger upcoming signals, giving them more lights. There will also be far more stops equipped with NextBus service, which still isn’t available for much of the Metro system. And several corridors will also start running limited-stop routes, which have become quite popular lately.

Though neither LaHood nor local officials could say when exactly they’ll be breaking ground on the projects, David Snyder, chairman of the Transportation Planning Board, said the agencies are prepared to start moving.

“This money is not going to sit there,” Snyder said. “We’re ready to get it out on the street now.”

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