As Capitol Police prepared to institute a new tour bus ban on Capitol Hill over the weekend, department brass and city officials offered Congress several options for how to deal with the new transportation restrictions when the Capitol Visitor Center opens next year.
Appearing at a House hearing that touched on everything from CVC construction and operations to the debate over who should be the next Architect of the Capitol, Capitol Police officials said creating a shuttle bus service from Union Station likely would be the best solution to the challenges caused by shutting down First Street on the East Front — where the CVC’s main entrance is located — to private tour bus traffic.
Emeka Moneme, director of the D.C. Department of Transportation, said that expanding and creating a new line for the city’s Circulator bus system represents “the most promising transportation option” for getting visitors to the front door of the new visitor center without allowing private tour buses — which police say are the least secure vehicles traveling around Capitol Hill — on the roads adjacent to the Capitol itself.
However, Moneme said, creating a new Circulator route for the CVC would be contingent upon the reopening of the portion of First Street that runs between the Russell and Dirksen Senate Office Buildings, which was shut down to traffic in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and has remained closed since.
Creating the new Circulator route would cost an estimated $2 million a year and would be the first step in a multi-part CVC visitor transportation plan.
“One thing you also have to keep in mind is that not everybody is going to take the same route to the Capitol Visitor Center,” Moneme said. “Some are going to come from the Capitol South Metro, some are going to decide to walk from Union Station because it’s a beautiful walk, and some will ride the Circulator or some other route.”
One “other route” that is being studied by the city is an above-ground street car line that would run from Union Station to the entrance of the new visitor center and on down to the Navy Yard in Southeast D.C., near where the new Nationals baseball stadium is located.
A streetcar line would not be built by the time the CVC is expected to open in the fall of 2008, but with the number of tourists on Capitol Hill expected to double within the first year that the new facility opens, Moneme said having a transit system to complement the Circulator buses makes sense when looking at long-term operational planning. A street car line also would be good for the Capitol Police “because a street car is not going to turn and go down a different street. It’s always going to be in the same place, very predictable and on a regular route,” Moneme said.
More immediately, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the chairwoman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on economic development, public buildings and emergency management, asked Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse how the new tour bus restrictions — which will not affect public transit buses or sightseeing trolleys — are going to affect the more than 1.5 million visitors that are expected at the Capitol before the ribbon is finally cut on the long-awaited CVC.
Morse said that in the interim and even after the CVC opens, tour buses will continue to be allowed to off-load and load passengers on First Street on the West Front of the Capitol and the Capitol Police are working to ensure that the new restrictions won’t displace buses into surrounding residential communities.
“This plan was based on our desire to be inclusive of all the affected agencies and organizations,” said Assistant Chief Dan Nichols after the hearing Friday. “We know that we are a major player in the city with regards to what we do here affects city residents and tourists. So we reached out to 25 different organizations, which have been extremely helpful and sent out thousands of e-mails to people across the nation. … There’s going to be a period that we’re going to ease into this. So it’s not like we’re going to drop the hammer tomorrow and catch people by surprise.”
Noting the sometimes confusing jurisdictional roles that various committees and leadership bodies play in CVC management, Norton asked the Capitol Police and DDOT officials to, within a month, form a working group that would take the lead in addressing transportation and bus issues as the facility moves closer to completion.
Norton also agreed with a suggestion by acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers that the local Capitol Hill community should be more involved in CVC operational planning since the facility is likely to have a significant impact on the people who live near the Capitol complex. Norton said that as her subcommittee continues to monitor the final stages of the CVC, she’d be willing to arrange future public hearings so local Advisory Neighborhood Commission representatives and groups such as the Capitol Historical Society could be consulted on operational issues such as transportation and parking.