Tysons will need $15 billion for roads, transit, planners say

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 30, 2009

Remaking Tysons Corner into the second city of Washington will take a lot more than a new Metro line and a downtown of tightly clustered buildings designed for walking. It will take almost $15 billion in new roads and public transportation.

That jaw-dropping sum, a preliminary estimate released by Fairfax County planners this week, will be crucial to a redevelopment that envisions more than twice the 44 million square feet of offices, malls and housing now in Tysons -- a commercial and residential hub intended to draw thousands of new workers who will leave their cars at home. But planners fear thousands more will drive and overwhelm the area's already clogged road network.

"Anytime you're looking at capital costs with a B, it gets your attention," said Walter L. Alcorn, the county Planning Commission chairman. "They raise some budget issues that go way beyond just land use."

Wednesday's long-awaited estimate of transportation costs has renewed concern over whether a prime economic engine of Virginia that's poised to become even bigger will receive new money from Richmond, where officials are projecting a deficit in state transportation funding of $100 billion over the next two decades.

The numbers also have prompted some proponents of dense development in Tysons to argue that if the county pushes too many costly road improvements and makes room for more cars, the vision could unravel.

The costs include $2.6 billion allocated for the first leg of the Silver Line, now under construction to Wiehle Avenue in Reston. Seven billion dollars for roads, bus service and two additional rail lines would not be spent until after 2030. And it's assumed that landowners who stand to profit from dense development near the four Tysons train stations will donate property for much of a planned grid of narrow, city-like streets.

But that still leaves billions of dollars for roads, sidewalks, interchanges and new bus routes over the next 20 years that have no source of funding and are crucial to the success of what Tysons is planned to become.

Between next year and 2030, planners say, a new lane should be built on the outer loop of the Capital Beltway between Route 7 and Interstate 66. Express bus service should be added to connect Tysons with other parts of the county. Traffic-choked roads through Tysons, including routes 7 and 123 and other smaller byways, should be widened to anywhere from four to eight lanes. Overpasses and ramps should be built along the Dulles Toll Road, the route of the second leg of the 23-mile rail line to Dulles International Airport. That stretch, estimated at $2.6 billion, has not received federal funding, although landowners in the area are pursuing a tax district to cover some of the cost.

After 2030, Tysons will need more buses, streets, garages for cars parking at the Metrorail stations and a streetcar to ferry workers, shoppers and residents throughout the area. Metro's Orange Line should extend from Vienna along I-66 to Centreville, and another rail line should carry workers in Tysons along a north-south route, the study concludes.

Moving forward

Next month, the county's planning staff is expected to suggest which roads should be widened and improved first and whether developers will need to wait for those investments to happen before they can build.

Landowners have been waiting years for rules that will allow more density, especially near the train stations. A county-appointed panel has said that unless high-rises clustered with as many offices, stores and condominiums or apartments as possible are built soon, landowners will not provide the roads and other amenities the new city needs. The planning staff has said it prefers a more suburban mix at first: Unless roads and transit are in place, planners say, the roads in Tysons will be overwhelmed.

Some of the projects -- bus rapid transit routes or an Orange Line extension, for example -- will serve other corners of the county. "But it's important for them to be there for Tysons to function," Planning Director Jim Zook said.

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