Good reasons to cluster D.C. Metro stations at Tysons

By Robert Thomson
Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am a big supporter of the Metro extension to Dulles International Airport. As a Reston resident, I now pay increased tolls on Route 267 [Dulles Toll Road] to offset the huge cost of construction. My question regards the planned four Metro stops at Tysons Corner.

Why are there four stops planned in such a small area? It seems like that would create a bottleneck for those of us wanting to head to downtown Washington. Have Tysons developers hijacked the plans? Do you know anything about this?

-- Kira Burns, Reston

It's certainly a fair question for anyone now paying the higher tolls to ask, but in this era, no big transportation project is just about moving people. It's also about shaping communities. That's the key to understanding the plan to put four of the new line's 11 stations in Tysons.

But the payoff to that portion of the $5 billion rail plan might not be apparent for decades. It certainly won't be apparent to drivers who pass by the station construction sites along routes 7 and 123 in Tysons. One thing they will notice is how close some stations are. Some Metrorail riders would be reminded of a Red Line trip from Union Station to New York Avenue, a station also built in large part as an economic development project.

This isn't anybody's idea of a high-speed rail link between an international airport and a central city. This isn't a bullet train. It's more like an Orange Line trip through downtown Washington. If we could have both a high-speed train for long-distance commuters and airline travelers and a local train to serve commercial and residential centers, that would be swell. But at these prices, we'd have to sell Northern Virginia for scrap to afford it.

One result of our financial limits is a hybrid line, and it won't please everyone. But it does give Northern Virginia leaders a chance to make up for past mistakes.

To understand the mistakes, look back, as Zachary M. Schrag did in his history of Metro ("The Great Society Subway") and consider the placement of the stations on the western side of the Orange Line. They followed the path of least resistance, down the middle of Interstate 66. They developed nothing but parking garages.

The stations between Rosslyn and Ballston, on the other hand, were positioned to shape community development around the transit centers. Robert Cervero, an expert on transit-oriented development, refers to those stations as "a string of pearls."

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