John F. Kennedy photo

Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House on the Transportation Needs of the Washington Area.

May 27, 1963

Dear Mr._________________:

The transportation needs of the National Capital region have now been under continuous study for seven years. In July 1959 a four-year survey concluded that the needs of the Capital required the development of a rapid transit system, in addition to an expanded highway network. Hearings on that proposal in the Congress indicated virtually unanimous agreement with that conclusion. In response to a proposal by President Eisenhower, the Congress enacted the National Capital Transportation Act of 1960, which directed the drawing of plans for such a system, and created the National Capital Transportation Agency to perform the task.

On November 1, 1962, in compliance with the 1960 Act, the Agency submitted to me its report for transmittal to the Congress. That report recommends a ten-year Transit Development Program, which would provide for the National Capital region an extensive rail rapid transit, commuter rail and express bus system. High-speed and high-capacity trains would connect the Capital and Union Station by subway with the major Federal and commercial employment centers in downtown Washington, and radial routes would run in several directions into the more densely populated sections of the District and the suburbs. A commuter rail route would utilize existing rail facilities into the District, and express bus service would be developed on several freeways and express parkways.

The Agency's proposed Transit Development Program is, in my judgment, both sound and necessary. I am transmitting to the Congress today the Agency's report "Recommendations for Transportation in the National Capital Region" and its "Summary Report on the Transit Development Program." I am also transmitting a bill which would authorize the Agency to proceed with the construction of the system in accordance with the Transit Development Program. I hope that this proposed legislation will receive both prompt and favorable Congressional action.

There is no questioning the fact that, as stated in the National Capital Transportation Act of 1960, an improved transportation system for the region "is essential for the continued and effective performance of the functions of the Government of the United States, for the welfare of the District of Columbia, for the orderly growth and development of the National Capital region, and for the preservation of the beauty and dignity of the Nation's Capital." Nor can it be doubted that improved transportation must include a major rapid transit system. The alternatives would be steadily worsening congestion with all that congestion means in losses of time and money, or an enlarged highway and freeway program entailing additional expense, major disruption of persons and businesses, and substantial impairment of the appearance and attractiveness of the city.

Good urban transportation can shape as well as serve urban growth. The Year 2000 Plan, proposed in 1961 by the National Capital Planning Commission and the National Capital Regional Planning Council, outlines the development of a series of corridors of relatively high-density population radiating from the central city as the most promising method of guiding the economic growth of the National Capital area. The Plan assumes that rapid transit will be decisive in the development of these radial corridors. I have recently requested all departments and agencies of the Federal Government to support this Plan. Prompt approval by the Congress of the Transit Development Program will encourage efforts already under way by local governments in the region to relate their physical growth forecasts and economic development plans to this corridor concept.

The Agency estimates that it will cost $793 million to construct the proposed system over a ten-year period. While any estimate is subject to modification upon the completion of more detailed engineering, the Agency's figures provide a reasonable basis for authorization of the program.

In accordance with the directives given it in the 1960 Act, the Agency has provided so far as possible for payment of system costs by users, with the remaining costs to be distributed among the Federal and local governments of the region. The bulk of the capital costs, which would be ultimately payable from system revenues, would be financed by borrowing from the capital market. The remainder of those costs would be financed by Federal and local grants in the same proportion as that proposed in the national mass transportation program which I have recommended. The Agency has concluded that necessary borrowing can be repaid from fare box revenues within 36 years. Even under adverse circumstances, it seems reasonable to conclude that the borrowing could be repaid within a period of 50 years.

Under the Agency's proposed financial plan, grants would be used to begin construction of the system and there would be no recourse to borrowing until 1966. Accordingly, Congress can and should authorize the projected rapid transit system and appropriate funds for the start of its construction without deciding at this time upon the nature of the organization, whether it be a regional compact agency, a Federal agency or a corporation which would ultimately have responsibility for financing the system and providing for its operation. The 1960 Act stated an intent to promote the solution of regional problems through regional compacts, and gave the consent of Congress to negotiations among the District of Columbia and the States of Maryland and Virginia for a compact creating a regional transportation agency. A suitable regional compact agency with adequate financing power is the most logical organizational framework for this regional program, and I am hopeful that the compact negotiations which are now in progress will reach a successful conclusion.

Meanwhile, the National Capital Transportation Agency should be provided with initial appropriations to begin immediately on the Transit Development Program. In the event a satisfactory regional compact has not been negotiated and approved by the Congress at the time that market borrowing is required, the Agency's proposal for the establishment of a Federal corporation would be appropriate.

The improved transportation system for the National Capital region which is the goal of the 1960 Act is not, of course, solely a matter of rapid transit. Rapid transit must be related to, and coordinated with, the movement of people and goods by freeways and parkways, roads and streets. I am keenly aware that there is no single touchstone that will resolve the relative roles of highways and rapid transit facilities in providing for total regional transportation needs, and that wide differences of opinion exist as to the proper course to follow on specific highways and bridges in the National Capital region.

I am convinced that, before all of these problems can be resolved, there is need for a careful re-examination of the highway program of the District of Columbia in the light of the Transit Development Program, and the social, economic and esthetic impact of highways of the Nation's Capital. I am requesting the Board of Commissioners of the District of Columbia to undertake this re-examination in cooperation with appropriate Federal agencies. Such re-examination will, of course, be closely related to the needs and desires of the surrounding jurisdictions. Meanwhile, work can go forward on the very large portions of the highway network that are not in controversy.

In my message to the Congress on the District of Columbia budget I stated that I was withholding from the 1964 fiscal year budget certain highway projects which were in controversy, and that following the review of the National Capital Transportation Agency's report I would transmit appropriate budget amendments. Decisions can be made at this time to proceed with two of these projects, the proposed East Leg of the Inner Loop and the Fort Drive Parkway. No budget amendments are necessary, since these projects can be funded within the total funds already requested in the 1964 budget for the District of Columbia Department of Highways. I have directed the Commissioners to advise the Congress promptly as to the details. Decisions on the appropriate highway facility for the North Leg of the Inner Loop, particularly whether it should be built to Interstate standards, should await the outcome of the re-examination which I have outlined above. Since the construction of the Three Sisters Bridge as an Interstate facility appears to depend upon the decisions which must be made with respect to the North Leg, its construction should likewise be deferred until all the alternatives have been fully re-examined. For similar reasons, no further commitments at this time should be made with respect to the Potomac River Freeway.

In the last analysis, an intelligent decision on any portion of the transportation problems of the National Capital region should be made on the basis of a plan which encompasses both mass transit and highways. One portion of that plan--a modern, high-speed and high-quality rapid transit system-has been tentative. Other plans have reflected the lack of sure knowledge that such a system would be built. The time has now come to answer that question. The Transit Development Program of the National Capital Transportation Agency presents a carefully conceived and attractive plan. It has commended itself to me, and I hope it will commend itself to the Congress.



Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to the Honorable Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the Senate, and to the Honorable John W. McCormack, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The National Capital Transportation Agency's report "Recommendations for Transportation in the National Capital Region: Finance and Organization" is dated November 1962 (Government Printing Office, 92 pp.); its "Summary Report on the Transit Development Program" is dated May 1963 (Government Printing Office, 42 pp.).

For the President's memorandum to Federal departments and agencies on the Year 2000 Plan for the National Capital Region, referred to in the fifth paragraph, see 1962 volume, this series, Item 525.

John F. Kennedy, Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House on the Transportation Needs of the Washington Area. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Simple Search of Our Archives