Potomac River Transportation Framework Plan

Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland

Quick Facts: 

Client: Winstanley Architects & Planners

Market: Public/Civic

Services: Planning

Awards: 2019 Prize for Public Interest – Branch Museum of Architecture & Design, 2018 AIA Maryland Chapter, 2018 Urban Land Institute Trend Awards, 2017 AIA DC Chapter, 2017 Presidential Citation – Urban Catalyst – AIA DC

It’s no secret that Washington, D.C.’s transportation system is buckling under the weight of area demand. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Washington’s transit system a D on their 2016 Infrastructure Report Card.  Many of WMATA’s buses and railcars operate at full capacity and are ill-equipped to serve the area’s expected residential growth of 170,000 in the next 15 years. D.C.’s roads, which face similar conditions, scored a D+. Washington experiences the most hours of delay, most excess fuel consumed due to congestion, and the highest congestion costs in the country. As the area expects to see a rapid influx of growth in the coming decades, congestion is expected to worsen 43% by 2040.


To help ease the strain on D.C.’s transit system, MWAP self-funded a study to develop a water transportation framework on the Potomac/Anacostia/ Occoquan water corridor. While a ferry system wouldn’t be a panacea for all of Washington’s transportation problems, it would ease some of the burdens on the existing infrastructure and give residents more choice in where to live.

It also means that thousands of workers could go from a stressful commute in traffic to more comfortable ride on the water. And the implementation of ferry systems could translate into more commercial and residential development along waterfront piers as it has at ferry stops in other cities, boosting local economies and driving more potential customers to the area.


Three economic drivers and, consequently, three populations to consider transporting include general commuters, tourism, and the Department of Defense. These three groups have distinct locations and travel periods that allow for the creation a three layer transportation system as illustrated by the diagram. Several major ferry stops would serve multiple networks, such as Navy Yard and National Airport.  One of the keys to optimizing a water based transportation system is to provide smooth (and dry) connections to existing land based public transit systems already in place.  Examples include the DC Circulator, the King Street Trolley in Old Town and the Airport bus circulator.  Our plan outlines an energy efficient and convenient structure that can be implemented without too much infrastructure.