Metro’s Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County, deferred for years, is, at last, being built. But it too has been planned and financed piecemeal. Elevating the line overhead through Tysons Corner, rather than running it in a tunnel, was clearly a decision based on expedience rather than sound urban planning. Because of doubts and hesitation on the part of Loudoun County political leaders and voters, the PEP approach is jeopardizing extension of the line to serve the eastern part of the county.
The funding strategy for the Silver Line, while politically expedient, is emblematic of the flaws in the region’s approach to transit. An integral part of WMATA’s metropolitan rail network, the Silver Line is a regional asset and amenity for greater Washington that should have been financed regionally. Yet residents of Maryland and the District aren’t directly contributing to the funding. Is this line just for Virginians?
Local governments are especially prone to committing PEP acts. Public officials are regularly asked to approve a variance, exception or zoning change to benefit a specific property. Many county and municipal authorities rigorously analyze and act on such requests in light of policies embodied in master plans and land-use regulations. Their goal is to ensure that any change is in sync with and does not compromise or violate such policies and plans.
But members of city and county councils, boards and commissions sometimes ignore public policies and plans. Questionable motivations and bad judgment can result in decisions based on piecemeal rather than holistic reasoning. This can set unwanted precedents and lead to development that doesn’t fit, undercuts well-established policies and plans and, worse, spoils subsequent development.
Can PEP behavior be avoided, given human nature?
Undertaking work in phases and doing work incrementally is often unavoidable and desirable. But work must be timely. And each phase and increment of work must contribute constructively to creating, improving and sustaining the greater whole, whether a building, a neighborhood, a transportation network, a utility system or an entire city.
Roger K. Lewis is a practicing architect and professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland.