Skip navigation

There’s a new blog out for the entire Northern Virginia region called the Northern Virginia Current. Northern Virginia is the largest employment and population center in the DC metro area, and it’s time the region had a news source about itself. Covering news, sports, development, crime, and breaking news for Loudon, Fairfax, Arlington, and Alexandria this is one of the best sources for area wide information.

Along with stunning photography, the website features a calendar for area wide events and an oppurinty for the citizens of Northern Virginia to communicate with each other.

Joshua Davis, the founder and editor of this blog started and sold another site local site in this region, The Reston Citizen. In addition he also writes for the progressive political blog, ThinkYouth and at the popular DCist website for the District proper.

Since the current Silver Line proposal is “All But Dead” as one Washington Post headline puts it, I’ve been thinking of alternatives. One of them was light rail to Dulles Airport. Yeah, not as much fun as heavy rail (think regular metro cars) but at least it’s rail.

Light rail would be cheaper, to the tune of possibly $20 million a mile. But it would probably cost about the amount of Portlands rail system which was built for just under $180 million a mile. This may sound expensive but considering the original Silver Line would cost a little over $270 million a mile, it sounds a lot cheaper.

The most expensive section would be underground rail in Tysons. These 3.2 miles would add up to about $576 million, assuming Portlands cost. Assuming the rest of the line ran a little above Baltimore’s cost (take into account the construction matireals spike after Katrina) the other 20 miles of the line would be $400 million dollars. This is about one fifth of the projects cost when compared with the oringanl Silver Line, plus it includes underground rail for Tysons.

The reasons Portland’s light rail cost nine times more than say Baltimore’s light rail system is because large portions where built below/above ground with some stations 180 feet deep.

My vision for an alternative system is light rail starting at East Falls church and terminating at Route 772 in Loundon County, much like the original plan. The only differnce is riders would have to transfer to the orange line.

The first phase of this project (let’s call it the Gray Line) would go through Tysons and terminate at the WO&D trail in Reston, where it crosses under the Toll Road. The second phase (Lime Line) would go through Reston (via WO&D right-of-way), cross over to Sunrise Vallery Drive, rejoin the Toll Road near Route 28 and terminate at Route 772. The third phase would extend the Gray Line to Dulles Airport. Whereas the Lime Line takes several detours from Route 267 in the Reston/Herndon area, the Gray Line would remain in Dulles Toll Road right of way.

I’ve also added to two stations in Tysons, and five stations in Reston/Herndon. Remeber, Reston/Herndon take up more space, and have a larger population then Tysons. They are also nearly tied as employment centers with Tysons. Also this line would end where Route 267 enters Route 66. Their would be a station with a pedestrian bridge or tunnel across Route 66 with direct access to East Falls Church.

If this all doesn’t make since, you can click the map below to make it bigger.

dullesrail.jpg

In more bad news for the Silver Line extension it appears that the FTA won’t be willing to fund it’s one fifth of the projects cost. Here’s what NBC4 Says:

“If we had to make a decision today, today the project does not meet the requirements necessary to advance it,” Simpson said. “This is something we do with other grantees, as well. We give them the opportunity to go back, to take a look at our findings and then to meet with us once again.”

Simpson said his office is worried about the project’s cost-effectiveness and how the airports authority will come up with the rest of the money for it. He also cited uncertainties about Metro’s ability to pay for the upkeep of the entire rail system, citing their current problems prior to the proposed 23-mile extension.

A project must have medium or high justification rating from the FTA, the Silver Line received medium-low. Without federal funding, Jim Dinegar, from the Greater Washington Board of Trade, says “If this project is not approved, it’s dead.” Several contracts from this project expire on Febraury 1st, so there is no time to reevalute the project.

The Silver Line has met all the requirements of the FTA, including slashing $300 million from the cost, and running it above ground, yet approval will probably be denied.

Hopefully local officials would put the project back in the Dulles Toll Road right of way, saving possibly hundreds of millions of dollars. Plans for an urban Tysons would be slowed significantly if this project fails.

west_exterior.jpg

A rendering of what one of the future Silver Line metro stations would appear like.

Despite meeting funding, ridership, and other requirements the Federal Transit Administration still might not fund the Silver Line extension to Wiehle Avenue. Here’s what the Washington Post says:

Officials with the Federal Transit Administration say they are concerned about the price tag and the specter of another Big Dig, the Boston project built by the same contractor in charge of the Dulles rail line, which took years longer and cost millions more than planned, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations are sensitive. In addition, the agency has been reluctant to promote large-scale transit projects.

The feds would be responsible for funding $900 million of the project, which is less that one fifth of the $5 billion price tag. Without the federal funding the project would be impossible.

While Metrorail to Dulles Airport is still possible, plans would need to be redrawn for Tysons Corner. Instead of having four stations in the heart of Tysons, the rail line would remain in Dulles Toll Road right of way, with a bus or light rail system making Tysons more pedestrian/transit friendly.

The FTA’s chief James S. Simpson was scheduled to meet with the head of the Metropolitan Airports Authority, owners of Dulles and National airport and the agency behind Silver Line construction. The meeting was canceled, and Virginia congressman are seeking a new meeting with Simpson to discus what exactly they view as wrong with the project.

The uncertainty of the project surprises many, since the project has met all requirements the FTA set. Meeting the requirements was not easy, nearly $300 million in features was slashed from the project.

A final decision on the projects fate will probably be made in February.

01c3b34349a4c56628901a672bc335b3.jpg

A map provided by the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project shows where work will occur.

After several anouncments stating work would start any week now, the Dulles Corridor Metrorail project has informed us that work has indeed begun.

Utility work has started with Washington Gas Company working in the service road south of Leesburg Pike in front of Business Bank (east of Gosnell Road) and moving east towards Route 123.

Short sections of one lane of the service road will be closed as work requires and traffic will be eastbound only in that section. The work lane will reopen after construction is completed. Access to all businesses will be maintained.

In addition sidewalks will be added, Route 7 will be widened to 4 lanes for turning (we loose the service road), and pedestrian bridges will be added across Route 7 and Route 123.

tysonsdensity.jpg
Zoning maps have been released by the Tysons Corner Planning group. Dark red indicates a FAR (floor to area ratio) of 3.5 to 5.0. Dark orange/red indicates a far of 3.0. Orange indicates FAR of 2.5. Light orange represents 2.0. Yellow indicates a far below 1.99.

I personally favor option 2, but knowing Fairfax County, they’ll probably present an option #3 that is between numbers 1 and 2. Option number 2 while it looks nice to me and others that believe strongly in transit oriented development and more traditional urban development. But lets face it, option 2 is designed to scare the NIMBYs into taking option #1.

All good cities have a street grid which enables traffic better flow. Tysons Corner (obviously) lacks one, but the county is slowly improved by slowly taking a few recommendations from the Tysons update board. On Mondady plans where approve for some road enhancements.

Boone and Greensboro Drive will be extended towards Route 7 and the Route 123, while plans will also be studied for “modifications” to 7 and 123. The plans are in accordance with the grid of street master plan.

JBG Retail has plans to replace the current Cadillac car dealership with a mixed used project. It will include an office tower, condo/apartment tower, and retail. The project will be built in phases, according to the density increases that the property will receive when a full funding agreement is signed for the Silver Line. The project will be across the street from the Tysons West station.

tydonspromenade1.jpgtysonspromenade.jpgtydonspromenade11.jpg

Tysons Promenade photos from JBG.

We reported a month ago that utility relocation – an essential step in rail construction – would begin in December. The outcry over even worst congestion during the holiday season delayed the start again. But now VDOT has announced relocation will begin in early January. We’ll see.

Washington Gas will move it’s gas lines that lay under Route 7’s service roads, and the project will take about four months. Other ulities will move overhead and buried gas lines. Route 7 will stay open during the process, but when unities cut across the road, nigh construction will be used.

The so called Silver Line project will be brought to Wiehle Avenue in 2013, and construction to Dulles Airport will be finished in 2016.

west_exterior.jpg

TysonsTunnel.org has sued several federal government agencies claiming many businesses will be adversely affected by the currently proposed aerial rail option. They’re seeking to prevent the rail from being constructed. Gairy Baise is their attorney, he also lost the race for Fairfax County chairman by a wide margin.

TysonsTunnel.org will be joined by Ratner Cos., the company actually claiming to be affected by the traffic congestion, and “unsightliness” of overhead rail.

The suit seeks to prevent the FTA from approving a full funding agreement, which would grant a necessary $900 million for the Silver Line’s extension. The group says they’re “Suing as a last option because political leaders have ignored them.” The FTA has not responded yet because they have no information regarding the suit.

Interestingly these companies will be even more adversely affected if rail is not built, and some companies might loose money in speculative land investments. Traffic congestion would be associated with an aerial or underground option, as both would require extensive infrastructure realignments. If their suit is successful it could possibly end the currently proposed rail plans.

Update 11/29/2007:

Ratner Cos has pulled out of the suit, after receiving word from their legal department. They also say “We don’t want to be viewed as blocking the rail extension.” It is probable that TysonsTunnel.org will be approached by other plaintiffs. If they can’t find anyone else the suit would be discarded. Thanks to John for updating us.