Why Doesn't Georgetown Have A Metro Station? It Goes Beyond NIMBYism The old story goes that neighbors protested, but the real cause of Georgetown's lack of a station is less about NIMBYism and more about strategy and geology.
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Why Doesn't Georgetown Have A Metro Station? It Goes Beyond NIMBYism

Why Doesn't Georgetown Have A Metro Station? It Goes Beyond NIMBYism

Wisconsin and M Streets NW would be the ideal location of a new Metro stop in Georgetown. Right now it's a congested street with car and bus traffic. Jordan Pascale/WAMU hide caption

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Jordan Pascale/WAMU

When Chris Scaptura moved from New York to the Washington region in the 1980s, he became an avid user of Metrorail. But he always wondered why he couldn't take the train to Georgetown.

When Scaptura asked friends about this, he heard the usual story.

"They were concerned that it was going to bring crime into the Georgetown area," Scaptura said. "And so that got me wondering, is this an urban myth, or was this really the case?"

For the answer, Scaptura turned to WAMU's "What's With Washington" to fact check the oft-repeated story.

It's true that there was some neighborhood resistance to the Metro coming to Georgetown, but Joe Sternlieb, the head of Georgetown's Business Improvement District, said there were pockets of opposition across the region. Georgetown, he said, was easily mythologized.

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"The narrative worked well for Georgetown because Georgetown was seen as hoity-toity and historic and exclusive and it fit that narrative really well," he said.

The legend has been debunked and explained several times, but still it persists (Scaptura is one of three people to send a question about why Georgetown doesn't have a Metro stop to "What's With Washington"). Topher Mathews, a reporter with the Georgetown Metropolitan, tracked the myth to its headwaters: a 1977 Washington Post article that quoted a famous Georgetown preservationist, Eva Hinton.

"She said, 'we stopped it, and we wrote a letter in 1962. And we take full credit, and we're happy that it didn't come,' " Mathews said in a recent appearance on the Kojo Nnamdi Show. "As far as I can tell, that's the beginning of it."

"Within a few years, you're finding articles that cite it as absolute truth," he added.

But the real cause of Georgetown's lack of a station is less about NIMBYism and more about strategy and geology.

A Tough Spot To Put A Station

Zachary Schrag is Metro's de facto historian. He's a George Mason University history professor who did dozens of interviews and dove into a trove of documents for his 2006 book "The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro."

He said Metro was primarily conceived as a way to get people between home and work.

"It's really something of a hybrid between a traditional subway and a traditional commuter rail system," Schrag said.

The idea was to shuttle federal workers — because of that, Georgetown didn't seem like high priority for a station.

Then there were the construction concerns. The neighborhood is close to the Potomac River, which posed problems for construction: Metro trains can only go up a certain grade. A tunnel to the ideal location at Wisconsin and M Streets NW would've been too deep or too steep to justify the cost during the initial planning, Schrag said.

"It's not a terribly good place to put a station," he added.

The river and historic preservation also gave Georgetown limited space for further development beyond the Metro station. In the end, there was just too much stacked against a Georgetown stop and planners never seriously considered it.

Hope For The Future

Even without a Metrorail station, plenty of people find ways to get to the shops, restaurants and rowhouses that define Georgetown. On a recent afternoon, visitors said they took the D.C. Circulator, WMATA buses and bikes to get there, or they walked about 15 minutes from the Foggy Bottom station.

These may not always be the only options, though.

Metro is starting a two-year Blue-Orange-Silver Capacity study to fix congestion in the Rosslyn tunnel under the Potomac.

One possible option for relief would include building a new tunnel and creating a new Blue Line that runs to Union Station and could include a Georgetown stop. This would likely be the most expensive fix to the congestion problem, costing billions of dollars — but it would put the Metro in Georgetown.

Two possibilities were studied in a previous Metro study. The new Blue-Orange-Silver study will look at all the previous work Metro has done and come to a conclusion on the best way to address congestion in the Rosslyn Tunnel. Courtesy of/Metro hide caption

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Courtesy of/Metro

Joe Sternlieb of the Georgetown Business Improvement District likes the idea, but he doesn't expect it will happen any time soon.

"These things take a long time," Sternlieb said. "You're looking at 25 to 30 years."

And if it does get built, maybe the urban legend will finally be forgotten.

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