Tysons Corner residents either love area's convenience or hate the traffic mess

Metrorail's extension to Dulles International Airport and other transportation projects are underway in the Tysons Corner area. But until those projects are finished, living in Tysons remains a choice between a tough commute in a less-than-walkable city and the convenience and amenities that many residents enjoy.
By Kafia A. Hosh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 22, 2010

With a sturdy grip on the steering wheel, Pamela Konde navigated her ice-blue minivan through Tysons Corner traffic, eventually pulling into the median of Gosnell Road.

It was early afternoon and a stream of cars whipped down the hill. After they cleared, Konde made a quick left onto the road.

"Every time I make a left in this area it scares me," she muttered, relieved. Unfazed, her 3-year-old daughter hummed in the back seat.

For many residents, living in the Tysons area has its perks: major shopping malls, nearby jobs and an accessible location at the junction of the Capital Beltway, Dulles Toll Road and routes 7 and 123. But it also means living in one of the nation's most successful -- and congested -- job centers. In a place where most people drive, residents have to share roads with 105,000 employees. Traffic is so bad that it has spawned a third rush hour of workers driving to lunch within Tysons.

"Just getting around the area is a commute," said Konde, 40.

Transforming auto-dependent Tysons into a walkable city of clustered high-rises is the goal behind new building rules the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will consider Tuesday night. A circulator bus system, bike trails and an urban street grid are planned to ease congestion and accommodate growth over the next two decades.

For the past two years, traffic has been made worse by the high-occupancy toll lanes project on the Capital Beltway and Metrorail's extension to Dulles International Airport, which includes four stations in Tysons. The projects have required temporary road closures and lane shifts throughout the area. And drivers will run into more delays this year as crews begin building the elevated rail line, Metro stations and piers for the HOT lanes project.

County officials expect that developers will pay for the network of streets, but they have not specified how to pay for the circulator and 14 road improvements.

Right now, "there are lots of things in Tysons, but they are poorly connected," said Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins, whose district includes the jobs center. "You're not going to walk half a mile down the street to something that's desolate from where you live."

Parts of McLean and Vienna make up Tysons, 1,700 acres that form an approximate triangle around routes 7 and 123. It's the opposite of a bedroom community, home to about 17,000 people, according to county estimates. Gated condos house mostly single professionals and aging baby boomers. Low-rise apartments are packed with twentysomethings and transient workers. Young families and empty nesters predominate in the neighborhoods with townhouses and single-family homes.

Residents often plan their lives around rush hour.

Germaine Broussard, a 43-year-old financial adviser, lives and works in Tysons. Her job is less than three miles away from her home in the Commons of McLean, a quiet neighborhood of three-story garden apartments. But after the workday, she sometimes waits an extra hour for traffic to subside before heading home on Route 123.

"You can't get out between 4 and 5, because a lot of the times you can't even get out of the parking lot," said Broussard, adding that traffic usually improves once she passes the Beltway.

Jeff Wu, an associate broker who blogs about Tysons real estate, said some of his clients, frustrated with congestion and long wait for Metro's Silver Line rail extension, have considered selling their homes. The Tysons stations are scheduled to open in 2013.

"They're almost pessimistic, and I think it's going to take them seeing a track or seeing a physical station to get that excitement back," he said. "We're dealing with what it takes to get there, but they wanted the result already."

Other residents have chosen to stay, balancing traffic headaches with easy access to employment centers and the Tysons job market, including the corporate headquarters of Capital One, Booz Allen Hamilton and Freddie Mac.

Kifle Bantayehu, 29, moved back to the Tysons section of McLean last month after finishing graduate school in New York. He said he returned so he could do a broad job search in Washington, Arlington County and Reston.

"The highlight of living here [is] how it's so accessible to everywhere," Bantayehu said.

As their family grew, Jessica Sanderson, 32, and her husband considered moving from their townhouse in the Vienna area of Tysons. But they were unwilling to give up their short commutes to Reston and Herndon.

"We looked at one point in living in Maryland, but then you think, if you have a job in Virginia . . . that's not a happy commute either," Sanderson said. "We can't beat the convenience of the area we're in."

And then there are residents such as Konde, who lives in a Vienna cul-de-sac adjacent to Tysons. Her house, about a mile from a future Metro station, is in a tree-lined subdivision where kids walk to school and neighbors wave at each other from their passing cars.

She shops, dines and runs her errands in Tysons. But as county officials consider the area's future, Konde has pressed them to preserve the trees shielding her neighborhood from busy roads.

"We walk around and Tysons doesn't exist," she said.

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