Metro Silver Line needed to be about more than one thing, or it wouldn’t be worth it


A view of the skywalk at Wiehle-Reston East station on the Silver Line. Motives for such transportation projects are a complex mix of economic and development priorities, congestion relief and travel choices. (Amanda Voisard/For the Washington Post)
Columnist

When we spend billions of dollars on transportation projects, what are we trying to accomplish?

It’s a basic question that’s prominent right now, because Congress is looking for a long-term way of refilling the depleted Highway Trust Fund, the governments of Maryland and Virginia have passed laws to raise more transportation revenue, and because we just opened the first half of one of the nation’s most expensive transit projects, Metro’s Silver Line.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region. View Archive

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Just a small amount of analysis makes it apparent that the primary purpose of the Silver Line was to aid in the development of Tysons Corner as a regional center.

That is why the first section reaches only to Reston and not Dulles International Airport, the purported objective of the line.

From the beginning, the major drive in support of the Silver Line came from the developers and landowners of Tysons, and the project would have failed except for the heavy lobbying by these interests.

It is unlikely that the line, as developed, will serve people in the Reston-Tysons corridor seeking to go downtown, because there is no automobile parking anywhere along the line except in Reston, so riders would need to take a bus to Reston or Tysons — at great inconvenience.

Regarding the second part of the line to Dulles, who do the planners expect to use it?

Are air travelers expected to bring their luggage on the trains? How will they get to the trains, with no parking except at Reston and Herndon, where most spaces are already spoken for by local commuters?

When they reach the airport they have a long trek to the terminal.

None of this even touches on the unfairness of placing a major part of the development cost upon the users of the Dulles Toll Road, who won’t even use the Metro line, and on taxpayers throughout the United States.

Ivan Gluckman, Dumfries

DG: People are right to cast a cold eye on the motives behind transportation projects. The motives are a complex mix of economic and development priorities, congestion relief and travel choices.

The ideal project combines all those elements. Watch out for projects that appear to be all about one goal. There’s likely to be an embedded flaw that will eventually undo them.

If the Silver Line did not aid the development of Tysons Corner, it would not have been built. The cost of extending a heavy rail line out to Dulles Airport and then operating it would have been outrageous relative to the number of passengers.

Running the line through the emerging city of Tysons Corner boosts ridership, but it also contributes to Fairfax County’s goals for expanding this center of economic activity. Developers and landowners recognized the potentia,l as well, when they made sound business decisions to invest in the line’s construction.

The transit line that benefits those businesspeople also is going to start looking pretty good to commuters in Rockville, sick of the long slog to jobs in Tysons via the American Legion Bridge. Riding the Red Line to Metro Center and transferring to the Silver Line is a new travel choice that will appeal to those who can’t wait around for a new bridge to get built.

It’s little noticed yet, but work is underway on phase two of the Silver Line, which in a few years will take riders to the airport and on into Loudoun County, where there will be plenty of station parking for commuters.

Does my view sound rosy compared with Gluckman’s? Here’s where I think petals fall from the bloom: The Dulles Toll Road users are paying a disproportionate share of the transit line’s cost. In a misguided cost-cutting move, the airport station will be placed too far from the airport terminal. The parking facilities at the Loudoun stations will be a mixed blessing, taking some pressure off the Dulles Toll Road but encouraging people to live beyond the range of adequate road networks.

Metro’s weekends

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The Aug. 3 column included a letter about the previous weekend’s inaccurate alert on the Red Line. The same thing happened Aug. 2. There was single-tracking through Metro Center station to NoMa-Gallaudet, which caused delays of more than half an hour, but this was not mentioned on Metro’s Web site.

To make things worse, the single-tracking was chaotic. Four consecutive NoMa-bound trains passed through Metro Center before a train to Shady Grove showed. Moreover, one of the NoMa trains came through on the Shady Grove track, while the other three came through on the regular NoMa track.

It was impossible to know which side of the station to wait on. The loudspeaker announcements were unintelligible. Also, the next-train arrival boards kept giving false information.

Metro has been doing these weekend repairs for years now. There is no excuse for this incompetence.

Richard A Livingston,
The District

DG: On Aug. 2, Red Line riders experienced an unanticipated delay and inconvenience when a train developed a brake problem, and other trains had to share a track to get around it. That weekend, train service was already disrupted by a scheduled project farther west that required passengers to ride buses between NoMa and Fort Totten.

To riders, it’s all the same: They can’t count on reaching destinations on time when using a form of transportation that touts timely, reliable travel as a major asset.

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