By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale
Officials from Alexandria and Fairfax and Prince George’s counties joined representatives from the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority last week to celebrate the launch of the new NH2 bus service between the Port City and National Harbor.
The service, which officially began operations Sunday, will connect the Huntington and King Street Metro stations to National Harbor and the soon-to-be-opened MGM casino and resort across the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge. It is scheduled to run every 30 minutes, initially in a nine-month pilot program.
At the launch celebrations Thursday, officials hailed the cooperation between the various jurisdictions that made the route possible. Years ago, there was a shuttle bus across the Wilson Bridge between Alexandria and Prince George’s County, but it was discontinued when the Virginia Department of Transportation began its project to build the new bridge in 1999.
“We are not competitive with Alexandria, we are complimentary,” said Milt Peterson, principal and chairman of Peterson Companies, the developer behind National Harbor. “There’s a real problem with employees and with people. In other words, people who come and stay at National Harbor, they want to go see Alexandria, and conversely. But there has been no public transportation to do this. Now, today we celebrate the connection of the two states.”
Peterson said an estimated 12 million people visited National Harbor in 2015, with just one bus route — Metrobus’ NH1 to and from the Southern Avenue Metro station — in operation. With around 12,000 new employees expected to arrive when MGM opens on December 8, he said the new route will provide them with another transportation option beyond driving.
After years of on-and-off discussions, momentum gathered around negotiations on the new bus route earlier this year between the various jurisdictions. Under the terms of a public-private partnership between the various entities, Peterson Companies will con- tribute 20 percent annually to offset Metro’s operating cost as long as the service operates, up to $500,000 a year.
Kevin Reigrut, assistant secretary of operations from MDOT, said Maryland will contribute nearly half the operating costs, while Fairfax County and Alexandria will kick in public money of their own. Reigrut said jurisdictions project an annual ridership of 230,000.
In an interview after the ceremony, Alexandria’s deputy director of transportation Carrie Sanders said the city allocated $566,000 in fiscal 2017 for a year’s service on the new bus line. Sanders said that figure was “conservative” and may be reduced as the city is still awaiting confirmation on the amount it is required to pay.
Mayor Allison Silberberg said in her remarks that the connection to the King Street Metro station would be vital for those looking to go from National Harbor to explore Alexandria and other areas in the D.C. metropolitan area.
She said the connections to Metrorail, Amtrak, Virginia Railway Express as well as other buses and Capital Bikeshare would benefit the whole region, while being able to access the King Street Trolley would allow more people to enjoy all Alexandria has to offer.
“This route will provide a vital transit connection be- tween all three jurisdictions, and therefore will benefit visitors, residents and employees by connecting shopping, dining, lodging, entertainment, business, jobs and residential destinations on both sides of the Potomac River,” she said. “We are pleased to see this new service come to fruition after many years in the making.”
Sanders allayed concerns about possible congestion at the King Street Metro station with the addition of another bus by noting that NH2 drivers will not be using it as a layover point, and said the route will be continually monitored.
“What we wanted to do with the pilot is monitor the ridership, all the jurisdictions will be getting that information from WMATA, how the service is doing,” Sanders said. “Then through the budget process WMATA has, they’ll be discussing this route as a more formalized route starting next fiscal year, those discussions will be likely this spring after the service is already up and running and they can evaluate it.”