Cathy Hudgins/Supervisor (Hunter Mill District)
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
Most Hunter Mill District residents have heard that the new proposal for expanding Metro into the Dulles Corridor includes a two-phased approach with the first phase providing rail to Wiehle Avenue. Most have reacted positively, realizing that this means the funding for this project will be available sooner and that rail will thus reach Reston sooner. Others have reacted with concern and confusion. "Will this mean all of our neighbors to the west will be descending upon Wiehle Avenue en masse?" "Will the community be consulted or will giant high-rises start popping up near Wiehle Avenue?" As Hunter Mill District supervisor, I think it imperative that I respond to many of these questions.
To answer these questions, let's review where we have been with the Dulles Rail project. In 2001, the Board of Supervisors approved amendments to the Comprehensive Plan for transit-oriented development around the Wiehle Avenue and Reston Parkway station area. In April 2002, I hosted the Reston Charrette for local residents and landowners to discuss the community's wishes for land-use planning around the Wiehle Avenue and Reston Parkway stations. The report from this charrette is available online at www.novaregion.org/restoncharrette.htm and through my office. The final recommendations for the Wiehle Avenue station described the station area as a "Mixed-Use Village" and favored increasing bus service to both stations to mitigate the effects of incoming traffic on the Reston community. The community also recommended an underground parking structure beneath the "village."
By December 2002, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the Loudoun Board, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, and the Commonwealth Transportation Board had all approved rail to Dulles as the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA). In early 2003, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (VDRPT) sought funding from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for a full 24-mile extension of rail from West Falls Church to Tysons and on to Dulles Airport into Loudoun at Route 772. In response, the FTA directed the Commonwealth to respond to questions about the project, specifically regarding funding the entire 24-mile extension. Frankly, the FTA response appeared to be a death knell to the Dulles Corridor Project.
Under the direction of VDPRT Director Karen Rae, the project team went back to the drawing board to respond to FTA's concerns. The new proposal to FTA brings rail into the corridor by stopping at Wiehle Avenue as an interim terminus-making specific a phased-approach that had always been part of the project. I believe this is our first and best assurance that the project will continue to Dulles Airport. However, this has exacerbated concerns over increased traffic.
Wiehle will not be a "Vienna-like" terminus with entry for all park-and-ride/kiss-and-ride Metro riders west of Reston. Instead, the Wiehle Station will develop according to the Comprehensive Plan and the report from the Reston Charrette. How will we prevent the surrounding areas of the station from becoming parking havens for desperate commuters? After all, if we build it they will come.
They will indeed come, but our plan requires that they come primarily by feeder buses and not by car. Additional commuter parking is planned at Routes 606 and 772 in Loudoun County and additional bus service is planned throughout the Dulles Corridor, to provide alternatives for commuters from the west. Structured parking for Wiehle Avenue is inevitable, but the board has requested that the structure be delayed until there is a Full Funding Agreement (FFA) for Phase III thus ensuring that rail will move past Wiehle.
What if Phase II is delayed far into the future or never built? The greatest advantage of the Phase I proposal is that, in order to bring rail into the corridor, the Airports Authority must grant the Dulles Airport Access Road right-of-way. The Airports Authority sees the benefits of rail service to the airport as justification for funding the entire project. Additionally, major infrastructure will be in place to begin the additions of the Reston Parkway and Herndon-Monroe stations, both within three miles of Wiehle Avenue.
There are never any certainties when working on major projects like Dulles Rail. Nonetheless, I intend to work to ensure that we heed both the spirit of the original plan and the wishes the community expressed at the charrette. At our last meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved letters to our federal and state delegations and the governor, urging that all language for funding Dulles Rail describe the entire 24-mile project. I made this motion to make certain that no one loses sight of the significance of Phase II.
Many have talked about the importance of serving Tysons Corner, but not enough emphasis has been given to the Dulles Corridor. The Dulles Corridor is home to over 60,000 jobs, 120,000 residents, and 17,000 current bus riders. The corridor alone justifies rail. It is critical to our economic success and our quality of life that we both reduce congestion and pollution and improve the transportation network. I intend to work with the community to see that it happens — and that we do right.