Editor’s note: Thoughts on rail lines and economic engines from one outer suburbanite

I recently attended a breakfast hosted by a Northern Virginia bank, where I met a longtime business person from Loudoun County.

How’s business out there? I asked.

Oh, he moved, he told me. Found nice space in Reston where he was able to negotiate a good lease. He had to do it, most of his customers had already moved closer in. Besides, he wants to be near the Metrorail line when it opens.

Without getting into the merits of whether the Loudoun County supervisors should support an extension to their corner of Northern Virginia, it is hard to argue against mass transit’s powerful appeal these days. It is a key element in the resurgence of downtown D.C., and of all the high-rise canyons that have popped up along stops throughout the region.

Stephen S. Fuller, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, put it more bluntly in a report last week when he estimated that access to rail could mean $25.6 billion more in economic activity to Loudoun by 2040 than no access.

“In the absence of this connectivity provided by Metrorail service to Dulles International Airport and to the Washington area’s other major employment centers, Loudoun County’s economy will follow a development path similar to its current pattern and be oriented primarily to residentially supported commercial development and airport-oriented business functions,” Fuller said in the report. “The choice is between an export-­based economy and a suburban-­based economy.”

Such projections have their skeptics. After all, it was not that long ago when people raced to move farther out.

I hail from one of those outer suburbs, a place in Maryland barely connected to the region’s mass transit infrastructure. When I tell people where I reside, they look at me like I live on the end of the earth.

Plenty of my neighbors like it that way, but an economic engine it is not.

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.



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