MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." On today's show, we are Feeling the Heat, as we gear up for those sweltering days of summer. In just a bit we'll hear about a brand new NASA mission that'll study the intense heat of the sun. And we'll swing by one of the hottest art classes in town. First though, we're going to take a less literal look at heat and consider the kind of heat you feel when you're under a lot of pressure, you know, and people are less than pleased with what you're up to. We'll hear more on our regular transportation segment, From A To B.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
A couple of government agencies are feeling quite a bit of heat right now. And WAMU's transportation reporter Martin DiCaro is here to explain it all. Welcome back to "Metro Connection," Martin.
MR. MARTIN DICARO
Thanks, Rebecca. Glad to be here.
All right. So angry residents, government officials taking heat, where exactly are we headed here?
We are headed to Northern Virginia and the fight over the proposed road called the Bi-County Parkway. Hundreds of homeowners in Loudoun and Prince William Counties have been attending public hearings to voice their complaints about this highway plan. Here's a sample of what people told the Virginia Department of Transportation and other state officials at a recent public meeting.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1
That is a lie.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1
Frankly, I double-dog dare you to try to put this kind of a road through Loudoun County's non-development area. They would have you all tarred and feathered.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2
When I described your plan to a member of our HOA in a public meeting, his response was, "Someone is smoking the wacky weed." I don't know which of you it is, but time's come to fess up.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2
These projects should be ranked by the reduction in congestion for the funds spent. And under that criteria alone, the North-South Corridor shouldn't get a dime of taxpayer funds.
Yeah, they sound angry. Why don't we back up for a bit and explain what this plan is all about.
All right. The overall project is called North-South Corridor of Statewide Significance. It would run from I-95 in Prince William all the way to Route 7 in Loudoun. That's 45 miles, curving west of Dulles Airport and Manassas Battlefield.
And I am assuming then that the Bi-County Parkway is a part of this 45-mile road.
Right. It would go from I-66 to Route 50. And to make this new road happen, VDOT and the National Park Service are pursuing an agreement in which the park service will give up a few acres on the western fringe of Manassas Battlefield so Virginia can build the Bi-County Parkway there. Now, in exchange, VDOT has promised to close Route 234 through the battlefield. The park service wants to get rid of all the traffic moving north-south through the hallowed ground of two Civil War battles. But, and of course there's always a but, with this project, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors has a say about whether Route 234 should be closed. And park superintendent Ed Clark is urging them to agree to the closure.
MR. ED CLARK
If the National Park Service can't have those guarantees that the road will close, then the park service has no business signing an agreement. Everyone is very focused on roads and neighborhoods and traffic, but nobody is really speaking, unfortunately, to what is my greatest concern, is that is this nationally significant place, this hallowed ground.
For now, the Prince William supervisors say they'll stick to their 2005 position and agree to close Route 234 once the Bi-County Parkway is completed, if it's ever built.
Just for the sake of argument, let's say it is built. What would the pros and cons be?
Well, supporters among the business community and some commuters here, say, look, keeping roads narrow has not prevented them from getting congested. And when you look at how the two counties are growing, another major highway will be necessary for commuters and for freight trucks heading to Dulles Airport. Opponents say the traffic problem in the western suburbs is not north-south. They say it's east-west. They need more east-west lanes. Look at I-66 for example. Plus, opponents fear a new highway, even with limited access, will create more congestion and sprawl and no one wants that. Also, homes near Manassas lie in the corridor and could be displaced if the highway's built.
Well, moving onto another transportation issue, also in Virginia. Let's talk about the Silver Line. That's the Metro line that, of course, would go out to Dulles Airport. We've been hearing reports that it may not open until early next year. Is that true?
Maybe. How do you like that for a noncommittal answer? So The Washington Post reported that faulty testing of the rail line's safety systems could delay the opening. I asked Jack Potter, the CEO of the agency overseeing the Silver Line construction, if the project remains on schedule. He says it is set for completion September 9th and then it'll be handed over to Metro for testing for up to 90 days, but it's a fluid situation.
MR. JACK POTTER
It's a fluid situation because of the fact that we're conducting tests now of what is a very complex system that's been built. And as we go through these tests, should we find that there are issues, it may require that, you know, additional work be done. And there isn't much room now to extend the schedule.
So in my view, if the Silver Line opens in early January instead of late December, I would not be shocked. Metro would rather not see it delayed though, too many days because it wants to start collecting revenue on those trains.
Well, let's move from trains to taxis. The D.C. Taxicab Commission is in the middle of, I guess you could say, a rather tricky controversy at the moment. What is the latest problem?
Well, as you know, all cabs in the District must install credit card machines by September 1st.
Right. I know a lot of people have been waiting a long time for that.
Yes. We've finally stepped into the 20th century. But there is a potential issue there. Seven tech companies doing business in D.C. that offer smart phone apps that let you order and pay for a taxi right from the palm of your hand. Two of these companies, Uber and mytaxi, say they won't be able to integrate their smart phone payment systems with the credit card software that'll be used in the taxicabs. And that will force them to shut down that part of their apps. Here's Uber D.C.'s General Manager Rachel Holt on the integration issue.
MS. RACHEL HOLT
In the 35-plus cities that Uber operates in, I've never seen done and I've never seen done in any city in the U.S.
But D.C. Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton rejects the charge that his office is hostile to innovation.
MR. RON LINTON
I think that it's an unfair accusation to view us as a dinosaur. We've left everything to choice and there is no technical advance that will not function, that we're aware of at this point.
So, Martin, are riders going to be inconvenienced?
Well, the D.C. Taxicab Commission is saying one thing, that integration won't be a problem. The tech companies, Uber and mytaxi, are saying integration won't work. So we'll find out in September if there'll be a problem with the built-in credit card payment system you have in your smart phone app. Mean time, starting September 1st, base fares are going up to $3.25, plus a 25 cents surcharge to cover the costs of these enhancements.
All right. So at this point I feel like we need to hear some shiny, happy new, Martin. What have you got for me?
I do have some, at least for cyclists in the heat of summer. DDOT will lay asphalt to resurface the 15th Street Cycle Track, which happens to be the busiest bike lane in D.C. That project will be done this summer.
Alrighty. I think we should end on that note. Thanks so much, Martin, for getting us up to speed on things in the transportation world.
Do you have a story about planes, trains, automobiles or bikes that you'd like us to cover? Let us know. Our email address is email@example.com. Our twitter handle is @wamumetro. And if you'd like to tweet transportation reporter Martin DiCaro, right here, directly -- what is your handle, Martin?
@martindicaro, that's D-I-C-A-R-O.
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