How About a Dulles Busway?

Instead of building a heavy rail line to serve the Dulles corridor, Virginia should build a bus corridor, or “busway” in the median of the Dulles toll road, contends Gabriel Roth, a research fellow with the free-market Independence Institute in the Washington Times. The busway could run spurs to Tysons Corner, Reston and Herndon.

Bus service is not highly regarded in the United States today, Roth concedes, but he believes a Bus Rapid Transit system could work in the Dulles Corridor. First, he notes, buses would enjoy unimpeded mobility, allowing them to move quickly and keep to schedules. Second, buses could be outfitted to higher standards than typical city buses — to whatever level the market demands. (Again, I’ll tout my preference for buses that allow passengers to plug in their laptops and access the Internet so they can read e-mail and surf the Web on the way to work.)

While the capital costs of BRT would be a fraction of heavy rail, a busway would have a much higher theoretical carrying capacity. The maximum travel forecast for Dulles Rail is 9,000 passengers per hour. An unimpeded highway lane can carry 1,000 buses per hour. If the market doesn’t support that many buses and mini-buses, a busway could accommodate other high-occupancy vehicles such as vans.

As with all such analyses, Roth assumes a Business As Usual scenario for land use. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, transportation planning cannot occur in isolation from land use planning. Where would the bus stations be located, how would passengers access those stations, and what are the appropriate densities and urban-design features around those stations? Any serious bid to serve the Dulles corridor with BRT would have to answer those questions. But Roth does makes a good case for at least taking a serious look at BRT.

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  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Gee… is there not already a shuttle from Dulles to Washington?


    Washington Flyer – Ground Transportation

    Bus, Van, limo/taxi… shazaaaammm

    so we could create a bunch of new bus lanes… and call it the Washington Bat out of Hell Flyer..
    and we convert it from a fee for service, user pays to a subsidized by NoVa taxpayers service…

    ..or even better.. a subsidized service courtesy of Topeka taxpayers.

    seriously.. once the HOT lanes get done.. in what ways would a BRT service be better than the Washington Flyer other than .. either more expensive.. or subsidized to keep it from being more expensive.. and then put the Washington Flyer out of business.

  2. We already have park-and-ride lots and garages lining the Dulles Toll Road to provide express bus routes to the metro stations and Tysons Corner. It seems to work well when you go downtown or into the Arlington metro stations where the offices are within walking distance of the bus station at the destination. It doesn’t work so well in Tysons Corner where the offices are sprawled and the bus has to compete with traffic snarls.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Roth made a nice little assumption that next to nothing will have to be done in Tysons Corner itself. You can come up with every pie in the sky BRT/HOT idea for the Dulles corridor, but it does nothing to address the elephant in the room, and that is maneuvering around Tysons itself.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s heavy rail, LRT or buses, the huge driver of costs in Tysons is getting ROW for any kind of public transport. Putting any kind of BRT in Tysons will have to involve elevated or separated roadways with stations which won’t be any cheaper than the stations for the proposed metro rail were. If you don’t put that in then no one will use it because there’s no reason to take 2-3 buses just to sit in the same traffic as you would in your car.

    If the Dulles Rail project just went to Dulles along the Toll road without the detour through Tysons the costs would be significantly less, but it wouldn’t address the traffic snarl that Tysons has on numerous roads in the region. Like was noted earlier there already is decent bus coverage that connects the Dulles corridor to metrorail, though headways and destinations could be improved somewhat. The question is what to do with Tysons as it’s not going away and it’s not getting better.


  4. Not Ed Risse Avatar
    Not Ed Risse

    It is baloney that there is anything like BRT in the Dulles Corridor right now.

    With BRT there would be 4 stations in the median at the existing proposed Reston Herndon Metro station locations, and service would be as regular and frequent as rail.

    BRT stations would still have elevated covered pedestrian crosswalks over the Dulles Toll and Access roads, but would be smaller and much cheaper to build.

    Tysons would have 2 or 3 such stations along the Toll Road. An entirely new dense mixed-use walkable community could be built where all the auto and warehouse uses are today at a BRT station along the Toll Road between Route 7 and Spring Hill. Another location could be near USA Today. These BRT station locations would be just as convenient for circulator buses as the proposed new Metro stations.

    Some buses could provide express Tysons service using the same ROW rail would have used. A simple flyover from the BRT lanes would do quite well to get the buses from the new dedicated lanes in the Dulles Corridor to new bus only lanes in the median of Route 7. The same flyover concept could deliver bus passengers directly to the core of Reston Town Center.

    There is no reason that the right of way in the median of Route 7 and along Route 123 that was going to be used for rail could not be used for ground level dedicated BRT lanes.

    Even with the 4 Metro stops in Tysons, they still need bus circulators to make it work, so why not use buses for the whole thing and save 5 billion in the process?

    A different set of landowner/developers would benefit. Maybe that is the real issue.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    what is the problem that needs to be fixed?

    Getting to/from Dulles via the toll road seems to “work” and works well if folks are going to/from Dulles … to/from Arlington, Alexandria, and Washington DC.

    If one believes the much of the dialog from afar – one gets the impression that THE problem is getting folks to/from Dulles from DC and environs

    AND that .. in the process of fixing that problem.. this is an OPPORTUNITY to do good things for Tysons.

    What I’m hearing is that Tysons is THE problem and Tysons is the reason why BRT and/or WAMTA extended is needed.

    Which is it?

    and if it is primarily a Tysons problem.. then why does the answer involve Dulles, the State of Virginia and the Feds?

    This is starting to sound like that Fairfax and the business community screwed up Tysons with bad planning and now they are expecting “help” to fix it from other taxpayers and road users.

    If I’ve got this wrong.. please steer me straight…

    p.s. – you know this sounds a LOT like the private port interests in HR/TW telling the state that the state needs to “fix” the problems caused by the ports…

    Shouldn’t Tysons and Fairfax be the one’s responsible to fix Tysons?

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    I am no history expert……so perhaps someone could enlighten us all on what was going on when the proposal was made to build Dulles Airport and Tysons.

    What was the public sentiment towards the project at that time….good, bad, indifferent?

    While were at it, what was the sentiment behind Tysons Corner……did the “planners” not see what they were creating…..a city/state on one end of the county/region and the airport to serve it on the other?

    If we look at the “plan” from waaaay back when, what is it that we have forgotten to build that would properly serve these two entities……please tell me there was a plan.


  7. Anonymous Avatar

    Isn’t a key feature of BRT tht the stations are desinged like Metro: the station is elevated so you can walk straight onto the bus with out climbing the stairs?

    This is a key feature to rapid loading and unloading, which affects headway, and ultimately capacity.


  8. Anonymous Avatar


    The planners who tell us they know everything today are probably no better thant he planners then.


  9. Anonymous Avatar

    The plan back then was plenty of parking and free major access highways.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    “The maximum travel forecast for Dulles Rail is 9,000 passengers per hour. An unimpeded highway lane can carry 1,000 buses per hour. If the market doesn’t support that many buses and mini-buses, a busway could accommodate other high-occupancy vehicles such as vans.”

    Makes you think, doesn’t it? And if the market wouldn’t support that many buses or vans, then you could allow solo vehicles.

    Transportation is all about options, right?


  11. It does seem that Tysons is the problem and spur in each plan. I hate Tysons b/c it’s so horrible to drive to/thru. Maybe they should just raze the whole place and start over. The way things are going, it’ll probably be cheaper and faster, not to mention having an end product that is functional, which Tysons isn’t now.

  12. A key point missing from this post is that the buses on the “busway” are not fixed to the “busway”. That means that a Tysons bus can stop at the Tysons station and can also leave the “busway” become a local bus in Tysons.

    The same can be said for any intermediate stop along the “busway”. The notion that BRT operates like the Metro with out rails does not give justice to BRT.
    The fact is, BRT is cheaper and can provide better service in terms of speed and the flexible route planning than rail (light or heavy).

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