Promises Of Fairfax Traffic Cuts Unfulfilled

By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 24, 2006

Fairfax County's entire growth strategy is based on a bold promise: High-density development around Metro stations need not produce a corresponding increase in traffic. So when county officials approve new development, they extract agreements from builders to help achieve that goal.

But Fairfax officials have done little to enforce compliance or otherwise encourage developers and employers to promote less driving. County officials concede that companies have disregarded agreements to limit traffic at their buildings, without consequence.

For example, when the owners of Tycon Tower, the high-rise office complex adjacent to Tysons Corner Center mall, sought Fairfax's permission to expand in 1998, they agreed to give a 50 percent discount on the building's parking garage to car- and vanpools to limit traffic around Tysons.

But eight years later, garage parking at the tower costs the same across the board. The building's property manager, Mikele Torgler, with Quadrangle Management Corp., said she was aware of the requirement but is unsure why it is being ignored. "I wasn't here in 1998," she said. "I need to check into it."

At issue is Fairfax's plan to grow by becoming a more urbanized suburb. As Fairfax runs out of undeveloped land, its leaders argue that the county can pack in high-rise office and apartment buildings, ideally near Metro stations, without worsening traffic as much as one might expect from large developments. The key is TDM, or transportation demand management -- planners' jargon for getting residents and employees to limit driving. Such methods, which include charging high fees for parking and subsidizing transit fares, have been used to great effect elsewhere, notably in Arlington County and, to some extent, Montgomery County.

But many Fairfax residents are skeptical that the strategy can work, particularly because the county has not forced builders to comply. They say that if the thousands of new residents and employees do not walk or use public transit, then already congested areas will become more paralyzed.

Fairfax officials acknowledge that they have not done enough to monitor the 290 traffic-reduction measures they have required from developers, but they say that will change. The county recently appointed a TDM coordinator, commissioned a $300,000 study of TDM strategies and is seeking penalties for noncompliance at major developments.

"We are increasing the role the county will play in monitoring TDM [agreements] to make sure they're complied with," said Daniel B. Rathbone, the county's transportation planning chief. "We need to put more teeth into our monitoring and compliance."

The stakes are growing. Developers of sizeable high-rise projects have won approval by proposing ambitious traffic limits using an array of methods, such as telework centers that allow residents to do business away from the office, parking for car-sharing companies and incentives for non-rush hour commuters.

Pulte Homes, the developer of MetroWest, a complex featuring 2,250 townhouses and apartments, plus stores and offices, at the Vienna-Fairfax-GMU Metro station, has agreed to reduce residents' car trips to nearly half the level expected for a development of its size. The company also has promised to reduce a quarter of the trips made by office workers. If the developer fails, the county can fine it as much as $500,000.

Trammell Crow Residential, which last week received approval to build 720 apartments at the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station, has agreed to reduce the expected amount of residents' trips by nearly half, with failure-to-comply penalties of as much as $500,000.

Most ambitious is Macerich Co., which plans to wrap Tysons Corner Center mall with 1,400 apartments, four office towers and a hotel. Macerich says it will reduce residential traffic by more than half and office traffic by 30 percent, with substantial penalties and a pledge that it cannot complete the expansion if traffic goals are not met.

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