Reston Spring

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Monday, December 31, 2012

Rail in the Suburbs Doesn't Always Work--Even After 25 Years

An article in today's Oroville (CA) Mercury-Register, "25 years later, VTA light rail among the nation's worst," highlights the difficulty of moving car-oriented suburbanites to mass transit, specifically rail, in the southern Silicon Valley area even over a quarter-century timeframe.
VTA light rail has struggled -- and it's mostly because of the valley's sprawl, transportation experts and agency officials say.
(Kevin) Connolly (VTA's transportation planning manager) noted that the South Bay's first light-rail line was built along onion fields, where planners had expected homes and businesses to pop up along the route. That contrasted with the strategy in most other cities, which is to put light rail along existing, dense corridors. . .
"In our case we tried to graft a big-city transit type of mode onto a suburban environment, and it's still kind of a work in progress," Connolly said.

In a way, the South Bay experience is a real life illustration of the conundrum GMU's Center for Regional Analysis pointed out in its recent study for the 2030 Group of future Washington-area transportation, Connecting Transportation Investment and the Economy in Metropolitan Washington, October 2012.  It forecasts a minute shift in the area's mode of transportation as reflected in the following observations (p. 5):

• Looking at similar measures from the transportation modeling, it shows
that the ability to change trends is very weak over time. From the base
year to 2040, 81% of the growth in all types of trips are auto, and the
overall change by purpose is close to zero. The share of change in trips
for all purposes, 2007 top 2040:
       Mode                                      Total Trips Change                Share of Change    
Drive Alone                                        4,302,900                                      52.3%     
Auto Passenger                                 2,360,600                                      28.7%     
Auto Total                                         6,663,500                                      81.0%     
Transit                                                   499,400                                        6.1%     
Bike/Walk                                           1,062,300                                      12.9%     

• For work trips only, there are only slight changes in share of travel by
mode, with a small drop in auto travel, a small increase in bike/walk, and
almost no change in transit:
       Mode                                            2007 Share                               2040 Share
Auto Driver                                             67.8%                                           63.9%
Auto Total                                              76.1%                                           75.1%
Transit                                                    14.8%                                           15.1%
Bike Walk                                                  9.1%                                             9.7%
And a slightly more detailed look at the Regional Activity Centers (RACs)  in the highly suburban Dulles Corridor west of Tysons using information from the GMU CRA study suggests the suburban shift to use of public transit here by 2040 will also be relatively modest.  In fact, the suburban communities west of Tysons use public transit substantially less now than the Metropolitan Washington area as a whole (14.8%-3.6% = 11.2% deficit) and will continue to do so in 2040 (15.1%-9.1% = 6.0% deficit).   Indeed, the prospective Dulles Corridor share of public transit for the Dulles Corridor in 2040 is less that the area-wide transit share today by nearly six percentage points.  This is forecast to occur despite completion of the $6 billion investment in the Silver Line and Fairfax County shifts in bus transit to help assure the line's success. 

The experience portrayed here is much different than the experience along Arlington's Ballston-Rosslyn corridor over the last four decades.  In general, that corridor sees current transit use at about 40% among its five stations and GMU CRA projects that, at the Clarendon/Court House RAC, rail use will grow to 44%.  

A likely core reason for this sharp difference in transit--especially rail--use is that Arlington built Metrorail in a decaying close-in mixed-use environment.  In contrast, the Dulles Corridor is a thriving, distant suburban market, especially Reston which has its own "downtown" in Reston Town Center as well as five village centers.    

Both GMU's academic research and the real life experience of San Francisco's South Bay area are strong evidence that, in planning Reston's future, we must be wary of expectations of major shifts in the way people travel, especially commuters, even over a timeframe of 20-30 years.  Given the traffic congestion in Reston now as the prospect of massive hikes in Dulles Toll Road rates, we should constrain growth and expand roadway construction--as well as encourage transit use through a variety of transportation demand management measures--to prevent gridlock on Reston's streets and the further erosion of Restonians' quality-of-life. 

A light rail train makes the turn from 1st St. onto San Carlos in downtown San Jose Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. This year is VTA's 25th anniversary of light rail. (Patrick Tehan/Staff)

ICYMI: MWAA's New Year's Gift to You--Higher Dulles Toll Road Tolls

Toll Rates Effective January 1, 2013

Vehicle Type
At the Main Toll Plaza
At the On/Off Ramps
2 Axles
3 Axles
4 Axles
5 Axles
6 or More Axles
(Maximum Toll)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Several northern Virginia communities could try to land National Science Foundation, Washington Examiner, December 28, 2012

. . . and so it continues:  Fairfax County refuses to say whether it is considering giving away millions in homeowner tax revenues to attract the National Science Foundation to the county--from Arlington.
By Taylor Holland
ARLINGTON, Virginia — The fight to lure the National Science Foundation — and its 2,000 employees and $7 billion annual budget — out of Arlington County is heating up, with several northern Virginia communities maneuvering to become the agency's new home.
The General Services Administration, the federal government's real estate manager, this month pushed back the deadline for the foundation to move into a new facility to 2016, a two-year delay that will give builders time to construct a new headquarters.
The extension means that sites along Metro's nearly completed silver line — including Tysons Corner, Reston and Herndon — will be available to compete for the science foundation, whose lease in Ballston expires next year.
Fairfax County officials, however, declined to discuss whether they will enter the bidding.
Still, it is now a "wide-open competition" for northern Virginia sites that can provide cheaper space for the agency . . . .
As we have pointed out in a recent post citing comprehensive research by the New York Times, subsidizing corporations to come, stay, or expand in any locality has been a largely useless and clearly unfair way to spur economic stability if not growth.  Homeowners are left to pick up the costs of the subsidy to the corporate arrivals and often build and maintain the infrastructure to support the new businesses. 

The result:  Growing residential property taxes and under-investment in residents' needs--schools, parks, the arts, social services for the needy, etc.--so that corporations will come or stay.   This is apparently the case with the NSF which is looking to leave nearby Arlington County after 20 years if it can garner enough swag despite the pleas of Virginia's two US Senators for NSF to stay at Ballston.  And, as NYT points out, often these incentives don't work. 

For the rest of this article, click here. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Outer Beltway: Plans for Loudoun-Prince William highway move forward; crossing to Md. under discussion, Washington Post, December 28, 2012

By Tom Jackman, The State of NoVa Blog
A state map of the planned 45-mile highway from Route 7 in Ashburn, past the west side of Dulles Airport, down to Dumfries and I-95 in Prince William County. (Virginia Department of Transportation - Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment)
The major North-South highway that is being planned for Loudoun and Prince William counties got a public rollout of sorts last week. “Open houses” were held at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn and the Four Points Sheraton in Manassas. There were no formal presentations for this new “Northern Virginia North-South Corridor,” just a series of informational boards that showed roughly where the limited-access highway would go and why local and state officials think it’s needed.  . . .
The main stated goals of this highway are to increase the freight tonnage going in and out of Dulles International Airport (it would run just west of the airport) to further juice up the region’s economy. It would also improve traffic between Loudoun and Prince William as they continue to grow. Many who drive congested Route 28 or two-lane Route 15 to head north or south at peak hours would welcome an alternative.
Environmental and smart-growth groups say that east-west traffic and mass transit are what need money and attention, and that a new north-south road without mass transit just creates more sprawl and more traffic. . . .
Meanwhile, the project continues to have the feel of a done deal. The local governments in Loudoun and Prince William are on board, as is the National Park Service (the highway will stream along the western edge of the Manassas battlefield). Developers are ready to turn long-vacant properties in Loudoun and Prince William into new residential and commercial hives. . . .
Click here to read the full article including reaction by smart growth advocates.  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rescue Reston Winter Gala Invitation

The gala is January 26, 2013, at Hidden Creek Country Club.  For details and to register, please visit the Rescue Reston events website here. 

As Companies Seek Tax Deals, Governments Pay High Price, New York Times, December 1, 2012

As the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors takes on the issue of added taxes in Tysons early in the new year, it is useful to put the issue of corporate tax incentives in perspective.  In the Tysons case, the Board is reviewing a proposal by the the County's Reinvestment Board to create a Tysons transportation service tax district to cover the $5 billion needed over the next 40 years to pay for Silver-Line development-linked roads and public transit there.  The tax would add about a eight percent to the tax bills of Tysons homeowners and a similar amount to the bills of landowners/developers there. 

As Reston 2020 and the RCA Board of Directors have stated previously, it is unfair to force residential taxpayers to pay additional taxes from which they will garner no offsetting income while subsidizing corporations.  Developers/landowners can anticipate huge profit increases from tripling or more their development in Tysons--and passing on any added tax costs to their clients, renters, and buyers.  Residents have no such opportunity.    

And this does not include tax incentives routinely provided by Fairfax County and Virginia to induce companies to move to northern Virginia.   And, of course, every inducement given to a company to re-locate here--including Intelsat's recent decision to move to Tysons after receiving a $1.3 million grant from the Governor's Opportunity Fund--means that residents of those jurisdictions must dig more deeply to cover the costs of providing infrastructure and other services for their new corporate neighbors.

In this NYT article, Louise Story reveals the scope of those subsidies and how, in the end,  they are largely feckless on a larger-scale basis.  Here's how her story begins:
In the end, the money that towns across America gave General Motors did not matter.
When the automaker released a list of factories it was closing during bankruptcy three years ago, communities that had considered themselves G.M.’s business partners were among the targets.
For years, mayors and governors anxious about local jobs had agreed to G.M.’s demands for cash rewards, free buildings, worker training and lucrative tax breaks. As late as 2007, the company was telling local officials that these sorts of incentives would “further G.M.’s strong relationship” with them and be a “win/win situation,” according to town council notes from one Michigan community.
Yet at least 50 properties on the 2009 liquidation list were in towns and states that had awarded incentives, adding up to billions in taxpayer dollars, according to data compiled by The New York Times. . . .
Later in her article, she notes the nationwide nature of this ill-advised and unfair tax subsidy policy:
 The Times analyzed more than 150,000 awards and created a searchable database of incentive spending. The survey was supplemented by interviews with more than 100 officials in government and business organizations as well as corporate executives and consultants.
A portrait arises of mayors and governors who are desperate to create jobs, outmatched by multinational corporations and short on tools to fact-check what companies tell them. Many of the officials said they feared that companies would move jobs overseas if they did not get subsidies in the United States.
Over the years, corporations have increasingly exploited that fear, creating a high-stakes bazaar where they pit local officials against one another to get the most lucrative packages. States compete with other states, cities compete with surrounding suburbs, and even small towns have entered the race with the goal of defeating their neighbors. . . .
 . . . For local governments, incentives have become the cost of doing business with almost every business. The Times found that the awards go to companies big and small, those gushing in profits and those sinking in losses, American companies and foreign companies, and every industry imaginable.
Workers are a vital ingredient in any business, yet companies and government officials increasingly view the creation of jobs as an expense that should be subsidized by taxpayers, private consultants and local officials said.
The bottom lineLocal governments give up $9.1 million EVERY HOUR in business incentives, an average of more than $80 billion per year.  

For the rest of this comprehensive article, click here.  

Then ask yourself--and your supervisor--if it's fair for Tysons residents to pay added taxes so the corporations there can make even greater profits. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

RCA Reston 2020 Survey of Community Concerns

This survey has been closed effective January 1, 2013.  We will follow up with an analysis of the results on the Reston 2020 blog and more detailed surveys into the areas identified in the results as being of priority concern.

Thank you for your interest and participation.  

Interim Results of RCA Survey of Restonians' Concerns

The RCA survey of Restonians' concerns has generated 147 responses as of today (December 19, 2012).   Here is how the results break out so far: 

  • Development Issues are by far the most important concern of Restonians, collecting 42% of the first place ballots so far.
  • Not far behind are Transportation Issues which has garnered over half the first and second place priority ballots in the poll.
  • In a virtual statistical tie at third are Education Issues and Environmental Issues.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, Cultural Issues and RA Design/Covenants Issues are viewed as least important among those who have responded to the poll so far.  


We know some people have had issues in both accessing and using this Survey Monkey poll.  We have tried to address them both ourselves and through the technical assistance of the people at Survey Monkey, but our efforts have not been very successful.  For the time being, if you are having trouble responding to the survey, we suggest that you use a different browser and check to see if your security and privacy settings may be set too strictly to access or use the survey.

We thank all of you who have responded to the poll so far and very much appreciate the efforts of those who have tried but been unable to respond.  We will continue the survey through the holidays and follow-up with more detailed polling on the development and transportation issues at the minimum.

We would like to thank Reston Patch for its article on the survey that helped ensure that a large number of Restonians were aware of the ongoing survey.  

We also want to thank those who took the time to comment on the survey on the Reston 2020 blog.  While there was some criticism that the survey was too broad and unscientific (we had to start somewhere), there were also suggestions that the survey include the issue of the broader economic situation in northern Virginia and specific concerns about sign pollution.  We continue to welcome your comments on the survey.  

Thank you for helping us understand more systematically the issues that are important to Reston.  

Letter: Reston the destination, Damian Sinclair, Fairfax Times, December 21, 2012

Reston has a unique opportunity to position itself as the heart of a vibrant Northern Virginia region and become the number one destination for visitors outside our region. However, the work required to make that happen has to occur now. . .
Cultural tourism will be the cornerstone of any destination marketing effort. The Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival is one of the top-rated events of its kind in the country and has the potential to continue to grow in prominence. Our Oktoberfest Reston and Taste of Reston, produced by the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, and the Multicultural Festival, produced by the Reston Community Center, draw tens of thousands of people into our community.
We are surrounded by a wealth of public art in our backyard thanks in part to the vision of our founder, Robert E. Simon Jr. and the efforts of our Initiative for Public Art — Reston. We have a budding regional event in the Washington West Film Festival, performances at CenterStage that rival those at Washington D.C.’s largest institutions, galleries showing some of the region’s best art and a multitude of other cultural assets that people outside our community need to see.
Reston has the opportunity to market these assets to the region and beyond and capitalize on the opportunity Metro’s Silver Line will bring. . . .
The author of this letter is the executive director for the Greater Reston Arts Center located in Reston.   Click here to read the rest of Mr. Sinclair's letter. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

I-95 to Dulles Plan Includes HOV Lanes, Potomac Local, December 21, 2012

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. – Option one: Build a road. Option two: Build a road with toll lanes and dedicated routes for transit buses.
Virginia Transportation officials showed plans for the North – South Corridor – a swath of land between Interstate 95 to Dulles International Airport that has been identified for a new road that resembles an outer beltway to link the outer suburbs with the state’s busiest airport.
The identified route runs along the existing Va. 234 corridor between I-95 and I-66 in Prince William County. Plans include widening portions of the roadway and adding High Occupancy Vehicle and toll lanes. From I-66, planners want to build what is known as the Tri-County Parkway which will traverse Prince William and Loudoun Counties (a plan that once had the roadway also running through Fairfax County was scrapped) to connect with U.S. 50., and then expanding Northstar Boulevard in Loudoun County to a connector road that will take drivers into Dulles Airport. . . .
As one person interviewed in this article said, "Is this a transportation solution? If so, what’s the problem?”  According to the article, this is one of the Governor's twelve transportation priorities.  The good news, if any, is that there is no timeframe put on this "outer beltway" idea.  VDOT is taking comments through January 4, 2013--right over the holiday period so you won't be looking. 

Read the rest of this article here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fairfax Officials: Sequestration Would Impact Budget By Spring, Falls Church Patch, December 13, 2012

County relies on $290 million in Federal dollars, including $135 million for schools.

By William Callahan

Fairfax County is staring down projected budget deficits in both Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015 and officials are waiting anxiously for Congress to make a decision on sequestration cuts that would only make those gaps worse.
In a presentation Tuesday, County Executive Ed Long told Virginia legislators the county was projected to face shortfalls of $169 million in FY2014 and $274 million in 2015.
And there’s no telling what sequestration would do to those numbers.
The county currently relies heavily on about $290 million in Federal dollars, including $135 million for Fairfax County Public Schools, $58 million in Federal grants, $38 million for the General Fund and more. . . .
Click here for the rest of this story.