Fairfax Officials Mobilizing for County's Next Big Battle

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 28, 2007

Fairfax County, which has launched "strike teams" to combat crowded housing, junk vehicles and other neighborhood problems, is again turning to combat imagery to address an urgent issue: traffic in Tysons Corner.

County officials are exploring the creation of a "war room" to coordinate a rapid response to the already horrific congestion in Tysons, expected to worsen as major construction projects begin over the next couple of years.

In January, the Board of Supervisors approved Macerich Corp.'s plans for eight towers to house offices, apartments and a hotel, a venture that would add 3.5 million square feet of development to the county's commercial center. The first phase is scheduled to start in 2009; construction is expected to take up to 15 years to complete, depending on market demand, company officials said.

That project will overlap with work on high-occupancy toll lanes on the Capital Beltway and access ramps into Tysons, including one onto the bridge over Route 123 that connects Tysons Corner Center and Tysons II Galleria. That project, slated to begin next year, is expected to take six years. Lerner Enterprises also has plans to begin an 18-story, 472,000-square-foot office tower at Tysons II next summer.

And finally, pending federal approval, state and county officials hope to see work begin next year on the first phase of the long-debated Metro extension to Dulles International Airport, which would include a segment through Tysons along routes 123 and 7. Passenger service is scheduled to begin in 2012.

The prospective convergence of these projects has triggered fears of gridlock of near-apocalyptic proportions. The Virginia Department of Transportation, Macerich, the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project and others involved in construction have plans to somehow minimize added congestion caused by lane closures and accidents. Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said the complexity of the situation requires a coordinated response .

"I think what we have to recognize is that we're going to have these things happening simultaneously," said Connolly, whose resolution asking county staff members to shape a "war room" plan was co-sponsored by Supervisors Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence), Joan M. DuBois (R-Dranesville) and Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill).

"I want a coordinated war room so that we're dealing with them immediately and 24-7. This is a multi-dimensional challenge, and we need to strategize and respond in real time," Connolly said.

Connolly and other officials would like to duplicate VDOT's success in minimizing commuting problems during the seven-year Mixing Bowl project. They credit the work of the agency's local project staff, which kept the surrounding communities and motorists informed of traffic conditions.

Another martial-sounding group, the code-enforcement strike teams, made up of staff members from several county departments, are pursuing 47 investigations or prosecutions. They secured their first criminal conviction on a crowded-housing case two weeks ago. Connolly said he is trying to emphasize similar cooperation across agency boundaries in dealing with Tyson's traffic. It's an attempt to knock out the "stovepipes" in government, where departments resist integration with each other, he said.

Connolly, who is running for reelection in the fall, said he has used muscular terminology such "strike force" and "war room" to emphasize the urgency of the issues, not to place the county on a war footing.

"I haven't meant to be overly militaristic," he said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company