Residents balk at cost of Tysons Corner transportation improvements

By Kafia A. Hosh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 16, 2010; 6:09 PM

Residents of the Tysons Corner area balked at the almost $2 billion in road and transit improvements Fairfax County officials say are needed through 2030 to transform the traffic-choked job center into an urban downtown.

At a public comment meeting Wednesday, county officials proposed a funding split in which the public would pay $991 million, or 58 percent, and the private sector would pay $706 million, or 42 percent, of the cost of road and transit improvements.

"It is nothing but more traffic, more crowding, more heartburn," said William Crosby of McLean. "Can you give me one good reason I should be enthusiastic about this?"

The county Board of Supervisors adopted a long-term plan in June that increases density and permits a more urban development pattern in Tysons, including high-rise buildings, a street grid and public plazas. The densest development would be allowed near four Metro stations being built in Tysons as part of the rail extension to Dulles International Airport.

James P. Zook, the county's planning and zoning director, said road and transit improvements are needed to advance the transformation and sustain the economic vitality of Tysons.

"If we don't get it right in Tysons . . . we're going to see corporations leave," he said.

Improvements include the street grid, enhanced bus service, 19 road projects and road and intersection upgrades for adjacent neighborhoods.

The street grid has an estimated cost of $443 million and would be built as development occurs. It is expected to be entirely paid for by the private sector.

The 19 road projects, which include widening existing roads and roadway extensions, are estimated to cost about $810 million. The public sector would be responsible for 67.5 percent of that cost, and the private sector 32.5 percent. The public share is based on the proportion of through traffic in Tysons, which is 35 percent of total traffic, plus half of locally generated traffic, or 32.5 percent.

The public is also expected to pick up the tab for improved transit and bus service, at a cost of $347 million, and neighborhood road and transit improvements that would cost $70 million.

Ted Alexander of McLean said that the cost split was "awfully unfair . . . dumping 58 percent on the backs of the taxpayer."

County officials must now decide on a way to fund the road and transit projects. In May, they outlined a mix of financing options that included tax increases. Tysons landowners pay a tax to fund the county's share of the $5.2 billion cost for the rail line.

At Wednesday's meeting, officials discussed ways that other county projects have been funded in the past, including the extension of Fairfax County Parkway to Franconia-Springfield Parkway. That project, for example, was partly paid for through a referendum-approved bond issue.

Thomas Fleury, a longtime Tysons developer now with Cityline Partners, said the state, which is strapped for transportation money, cannot be depended on as a source of funding.

"We just cannot count on the state," he said. "If we want Tysons to happen, we're just going to have to do it ourselves."

The Board of Supervisors has the authority to raise taxes or choose from other funding options.

Public comment sessions on funding, which have not been scheduled, will be held through March. The staff is supposed to review the funding allocations that month and present a proposal to the Board of Supervisors in April.

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