We are now less than a week away from the much anticipated and long overdue opening of the Silver Line Phase 1 to Wiehle Avenue Station in Reston. And yet, the County and state have completed barely half the projects required to make the station and Metrorail accessible, especially those for bicyclists and pedestrians.
First, let’s take a look at the key preparations that are in place:
- The County has adjusted the Fairfax Connector bus routes in and around Reston to deliver passengers to the station in a largely zero-sum financial game. (Initially, it proposed taking more money from Reston buses to apply to Tysons and McLean, but ultimately found some other funding, at least for the reduced-fare Tysons circulators.) In Reston, there will be slightly more frequent rush hour feeder service and new mid-day routes, but there still are gaps in schedules and hours of service are limited. There simply is not enough bus service to really encourage Metrorail usage.
- The County has completed about 500’ of sidewalk on the north side of Sunset Hills & west side of Wiehle to make pedestrian/bicycle access possible to the Metro station.
- Comstock has met its various road improvement obligations to upgrade intersections near the station (mostly at Wiehle and Sunset Hills) under its public-private partnership (PPP) deal with the County.
- Comstock has also completed the underground parking garage required by the PPP, including 2,300 spaces for public Metro parking and 1,000 spaces it controls for future tenants. It is charging as low as $4.50 per day for one of its parking spaces (more if you want special services including guaranteed parking), thus undercutting the County’s $4.85/day charge for its parking spaces right next door. (Note: The County could have set its daily charge at any level. It chose go to with the WMATA standard for Metro’s station garages.)
There are two key sources to look at for information on what has not been done and—in some cases—what will not get done until next decade. The first of these is the April 15, 2008, Reston Metrorail Access Group (RMAG) report (yes, six years ago) that recommended proposed improvements—road, bus, bicycling, and pedestrian—to make the Wiehle station more accessible. It has basically set the agenda for work that needed to be done by the time the Silver Line station was opened. The second is the County’s tracking tool for the implementation of these improvements.
The latest available County tracking document shows there are a total of 32 “spot” and “linear” projects, most of them recommended by RMAG, that are needed for proper access to the station. What that document shows is that 12 of them are complete, six of those by Comstock under its PPP agreement. The County document also shows that five other projects (all to be done by Comstock—identified as “Dulles Rail Project”—should have been done by May, and we suspect that they have been completed. All told, that’s 17 out of 32 projects probably completed by the time Metrorail opens at the Wiehle station some nine months late. We’re half way there!
So what’s missing six years after the RMAG report and nearly a year after the Silver Line was supposed to open?
The most critical missing link, according to RMAG, and one that is not even on the County list is the so-called Soapstone Connector, the planned roadway/bridge/ped-bike route across the Dulles Corridor from Sunrise Valley Drive to Sunset Hills. Nonetheless, at this time, the County has picked a route and a configuration for the Connector after conducting a feasibility study last year (five years after the RMAG report). As of this spring, it has budgeted only enough money through the end of the decade to develop plans for the construction of this Connector.
The Soapstone Connector project won’t be built until at least the next decade. Its absence—likely for more than a decade—means that traffic going to/from the Wiehle Silver Line station from the south as well as all traffic in both directions trying to cross the Dulles Corridor or use the Dulles Toll Road from Wiehle MUST use Wiehle Avenue. In short, it will likely take as long to build this single bridge (from feasibility study to opening, forget the 6-year old recommendation) as it will take to complete the entirety of the Silver Line—and workday traffic will be jammed the entire time.
So what is the status of the other Wiehle Station access improvements?
All of the tasks the County lists that have not been completed except one are the responsibility of the County (FCDOT). Comstock has completed its obligations, the schedule indicates. The lone state project (VDOT) not yet completed is crosswalks across Wiehle at Isaac Newton Square, which is scheduled for completion next month. As for the County’s eleven uncompleted projects (out of a total of 14):
- The earliest to be completed will be four scheduled to be done in 2016, including pedestrian intersection improvements on Town Center Parkway (in fact, a Phase 2 project) in April 2016, intersection and sidewalk improvements done by June 2016, and more pedestrian intersection improvements by October.
- Two more similar projects are scheduled for completion in July 2017.
- The remaining five projects, including a proposed grade-separate crossing for the W&OD trail across Wiehle, have not yet been scheduled.
What is clear from this brief look at the projects and their scheduling it the County has so far minimized its investment in improving access to the Wiehle Metrorail station while talking incessantly about how important the Silver Line will be to reducing area traffic.
That won’t happen if people can’t get there. Moreover, it will hinder developer interest in building the transit-oriented development (TOD) in the station areas that the County sees as a balm to its growing financial difficulties.
We think it would be better if the County put its money where its mouth is. But then, maybe its financial "mouth" is only in Tysons Corner.