Even before Silver Line, Tysons developers begin arguing traffic is not so bad.

Even though the opening of Metro’s Silver Line is still likely weeks away and its effect uncertain, developers and business owners in Tysons Corner have already begun taking aim at one persistent criticism of the area: that there is too much traffic.

Real estate executives — some of them planning millions of square feet of development  – and other Tysons stakeholders argued during a roundtable hosted by The Washington Post and Capital Business last week, that with the opening of high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on the Capital Beltway and other road improvements associated with construction of the Silver Line, traffic was already thinning on Route 7, Route 231 and other roads. And it should only get better when rail service arrives.


HOT lanes and regular lanes of the Capital Beltway. (Photo by Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

“We’ve had our headquarters since 1977 in Tysons Corner and I’ve lived in McLean for over 20 years now,” said Robert C. Kettler, chairman and chief executive of Kettler, a top apartment builder in the Mid-Atlantic. “My commute’s gotten better from Georgetown Pike to my office in Tysons, and it’s been near [routes] 123 and 7 the entire time.”

Kettler is building a 429-unit tower, the Vita apartments, beside Tysons Corner Center, and the neighborhood’s reputation for congestion isn’t likely to be a selling point to prospective renters. Another developer planning apartments in Tysons, Stephen Cumbie, agreed that the criticism has become overblown.

“People don’t realize it but the Metro construction has been adding lanes to Route 7,” said Cumbie, chief executive of NV Commercial. “It also took away traffic lights, so there’s more flow on 7. My office has looked over 7 for the past 30 years, so I’ve tracked it, and it’s a lot better today than it was before Metro.”

The Washington area writ large, with Tysons serving as a major jobs center, has a well-earned reputation as an abomination of traffic congestion. Following a slight improvement in 2012, a report last year again ranked Washington traffic as worst in the nation, with drivers wasting an average of 67 hours and 32 gallons of gas annually in their cars.

The report, by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, predicted that road congestion here would get 65 percent worse by 2020. 

The Virginia Department of Transportation does not yet have statistics demonstrating how traffic in Tysons has changed since the HOT lanes opened. Fare increases on the Dulles Toll Road, with many drivers now paying $3.50, have prompted some commuters to use other routes. By 2043, it may cost $11.25 per trip to drive on the toll road, according to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Transportation department spokeswoman Joan Morris said it was unlikely Tysons traffic had waned. “Anyone who has been out there I think would tell you that it’s terrible,” she said. “I don’t see how it could have improved. Where would have the cars have gone?”

The reputation for traffic — if not the traffic itself — is hampering Tysons projects, even those designed in particular to accommodate Silver Line riders. Tim Steffan, senior vice president at Macerich, argued that, “if you know how to get around Tysons there isn’t a more accessible place in the metro area.”

But he said competitors in other parts of the region were using traffic for the equivalent of attack ads while trying to win business. “The perception is infectious and it’s not like the other markets that we’re competing with aren’t promoting that,” he said.

The executives are putting marketing dollars behind their message through the Tysons Partnership and executive director Michael Caplin, who has been promoting weekend festivals and events to attract people to Tysons who have been scared off in the past. 

“The perception is just inaccurate so we need to tease people back out to take a fresh look at what Tysons actually is,” Caplin said. “Because there is so much misinformation and gossip that is just echoing in the Internet chamber that is just doing a great disservice to everyone, because when you invite people out they say, ‘I really don’t want to wrestle the traffic.’”

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz

 

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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