Neighbors bracing for rail yard expansion

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 17, 2011

In the early 1970s, Leslie Gelman, then a bright-eyed 24-year-old, and her husband bought a house in a quiet Falls Church community outside Tysons Corner. Local and state officials anticipated the area's growth, and plans were on the books for Metrorail's Orange Line and an extension of the Dulles Airport Access Road.

Gelman, who liked the area's serenity, said she remembered the real estate agent's reassuring words: "Oh, this is so far out in the country, nobody would want to think of building that road."

Today, Gelman's house is surrounded by Interstate 66, the Dulles Access Road and the West Falls Church rail yard. Neighbors are now bracing for an expansion of the rail yard, set to begin next month.

"It's going to get busier," said Gelman, vice president of the neighborhood's civic association.

The yard is being expanded to store trains for the first phase of Metrorail's extension to Dulles International Airport. It will house and maintain Silver Line cars beginning in 2013 until the second phase of the extension to Loudoun County is finished in 2016, when they will be moved to a new yard at the airport.

Work will begin next month, with the clearing of trees and other vegetation, which project officials say must take place before the end of March when bird-nesting season begins. In September, they will replant some trees and landscape the area.

Residents are upset about the removal of the trees, which buffer their houses from the noisy rail yard.

"They're just going to come in and totally deforest the area," said Barbara Brown, who has lived in her home for 12 years. "We're going to be having a bird's-eye view of the rail yard."

The tree removal is required partly so crews can realign a stream that recently has been subject to flooding, causing erosion for some residents of McKay Street. Once just a small flow, the stream is now more than 10 feet wide and 15 inches deep, residents said.

"If we have any significant rainfall, it is like a raging river," Brown said.

Beginning in March, a runoff pond will be constructed to catch rainwater and deposit it evenly into the stream.

"I think everyone is committed to saving as many trees as we possibly can, but we have to deal with the physical requirements of the stream restoration," said Supervisor John W. Foust (D-Dranesville), whose district includes the neighborhood.

The stream work will begin in June and wrap up in November, and after that, construction on the facility will get under way.

Residents have expressed safety concerns, because at least 20 trucks will access the site each day. The trucks will use a neighborhood street and the existing West Falls Church Metro bus ramp. Another entrance off the southbound Dulles Connector Road will be built to provide access to the south section of the site.

Residents say they are worried that the trucks might cause traffic backups getting on to Route 7 and pose a safety hazard for children.

"I'm totally disgusted," Gelman said. "The streets aren't made for big, heavy construction trucks. They're made for residential traffic, and not much of it at that."

Officials said the number of trucks will decrease when the trees are cleared at the end of March. Trucks will avoid the area during school bus pickup and drop-off times, said Marcia McAllister, a spokeswoman for the rail project.

"The safety of the children in this community is paramount," she said.

In response to concerns, officials created a safety brochure and a 24-hour hotline where residents can report emergencies or concerns.

But the community is now bracing for one more change to the rail yard. Dominion Virginia Power applied for a special exception to build a substation it says is needed to power the rail yard.

The Planning Commission recommended approval of the substation Thursday, forwarding it to the Board of Supervisors for final action.

Foust said he has been working with the company for the past year to find an alternative site.

"It's piling on the neighborhood," he said. "They've already got the rail yard, they've already got the tree loss. It's just another industrial-like use in an area that is zoned residential and has been a very quality neighborhood for a long time."

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