Before Glenn Witucki needed his car for work, he used to walk the two long blocks between his home and his Tysons Corner office. Invariably, the traffic was so backed up that he always could beat half the cars up the long hill to his building, he recalls.
Because Witucki now needs to visit companies several miles apart during the day, he drives to work. "It takes me three times as long--12 minutes to go only 600 yards across Leesburg Pike," he said. "That's absurd!"
If anyone should know about the traffic problems at Tysons Corner, it is Witucki, executive director of the Tysons Transport Association Inc., a nonprofit organization recently created to "signficantly improve traffic conditions in the Tysons Corner area."
One of its first major efforts begins full-scale operations this week: a shuttle service using British double-decker buses.
The TTA was set up last summer by Tysons-area companies whose executives have become increasingly exasperated over traffic jams created by the 77,000 cars that go through the area each rush-hour period. Although 59,000 of those cars are bound for the District, problems still result.
The congestion is far less than the long backups that commuters encounter in and closer to Washington. Even so, officials who are encouraging firms to move to Northern Virginia are beginning to fear that the growing number of autos clogging the area's traffic arteries ultimately may discourage companies from relocating there.
As public transit service is cut back and roadways become increasingly congested, the traffic problems "certainly could be a deterrent to new business," says David Erion, executive director of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.
That realization, in part, led Fairfax County officials to withhold their approval of the development of the 333-acre Chiles Tract until the developers agreed to spend about $18 million to overhaul and expand major roads nearby and promised to promote ride-sharing plans to the companies that lease space in their development.
No such promises were made when development began in the Tysons area about 15 years ago. As a result, traffic problems have become so bad that Tysons executives now worry that the congestion may affect their companies' productivity adversely.
"It creates discontent on the part of employes and also increases the tendency for employes to arrive late and leave early" so they can beat the traffic, says Earle C. Williams, president of BDM Corp., one of the several large research and development companies located at Tysons.
"Something needs to be done to cope with the increasing volume of vehicles coming in and out" of Tysons, Williams says.
That's why, at the urging of John F. Herrity, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Williams and the top executives of 34 other companies decided to set up the TTA, contributing $5 for each employe in their firms so the organization would have funds to begin a campaign to reduce the number of cars going in and out of the area. Also contributing to the TTA was the county, which donated $10,000, and two of Tysons' largest developers, who agreed to pay one cent for every square foot of interior building space they have in the area.
Among other things, the TTA will use the money to set up the public transit system primarily to shuttle employes around the Tysons area at no charge.
By all accounts, the TTA is a unique answer to a very common problem for large metropolitan areas.
"It's a very innovative scheme," says C. Kenneth Orski, a former associate administrator of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration and currently president of the new nonprofit organization Corporation for Urban Mobility. "I've been working on transportation issues across the country for years, and I can say without any exaggeration that the Tysons initiative is one of a kind. It's the only case where a bunch of private landlords and tenants have gotten together to organize themselves into a transportation cooperative to provide a public transportation service without a cent of federal subsidy."
"I think it is a portent of things to come, especially as federal money becomes scarcer and scarcer," Orski quickly adds.
With $95,000 collected, the TTA begins its job in earnest this week, trying to encourage Tysons employes to leave their cars at home.
"We could probably get rid of a few cars by charging $100 a month for parking, which is now free," Witucki says. "But then, everyone would go to Germantown to work, which would defeat one of the organization's purposes--which is to have a positive impact on the local community."
So Witucki is launching a series of meetings to try to persuade employes to set up "van pools" so that 12 persons can commute in one vehicle.
"This is going to have be an education process for the average Joe because there's very little incentive for people to invest in alternative commuting methods at this time--with no gasoline lines and no increase in prices. We will have to convince people that the service will be convenient and will save a lot of money," Witucki says. For instance, he told a group of Manassas residents recently that it costs more than $211 a month to commute to Tysons, while it would cost individuals between $45 to $75 to commute in a van pool.
To encourage drivers to volunteer to buy a van and run a pool, Witucki has made arrangements with a Tysons bank, First and Merchants National Bank, for a relatively low-interest loan. The bank has agreed to finance 100 percent of the van's costs--including taxes and tags--at 1 1/2 percentage points below the going new car loan rate.
To make van pooling convenient, Witucki also plans to run its special shuttle bus service from the densely populated business area to popular restaurants and the shopping mall from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
"You can't ask people to leave their cars at home if there is no way for them to get around the area during work hours," Witucki says.
Two double-deckers were delivered 10 days ago, and trial runs already have been made between the most heavily populated office area, Westpark, and the Tysons Corner shopping mall. However, mechanical problems, plus a minor accident, have kept the service from running perfectly so far. Witucki hopes to have the problems solved so he can begin full-scale operation this week.
Eventually, Witucki wants to have eight double-deckers to cover all of the Tysons areas. And during rush hours, he plans to use the buses to ferry workers to and from the closest Metro stops.
If successful, these actions should eliminate 200 to 400 cars next year and more than 1,200 cars annually for the following years, Witucki predicts. Yet, even at that rate, traffic will not be reduced, because Witucki estimates that new housing and businesses at Tysons will add at least 600 cars a year to Tysons traffic.
"All we'll be doing is reducing the rate of growth," he says.
Nonetheless, the plan is being hailed by local transportation planners as a model for other suburban areas that, like Tysons, are not well served by public transit systems.
Such programs will become necessary, even if Fairfax County succeeds in winning state and federal approval for the new roads it wants to build across the county, says Ramond Ellis, a transportation expert at the accounting firm of Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co.
For one thing, Ellis notes, if the county does win the funding it is seeking to build a road that parallels the Dulles access highway and a cross-county Fairfax County Parkway from I-395 to Rte. 50 to I-66 to Rte. 123 and Rte. 7, it still will take the county from five to 15 years to complete them and any other roads it is now considering, Ellis notes.
But even then, "highway construction is not going to be able to keep up" with the growth of employment in the county, he added. In 1980, Fairfax had 181,000 workers; by 1985 that figure is expected to increase by 21 percent to 219,000. An additional 199,000 workers are expected to boost the county's employment between 1985 and the year 2000.
"I doubt very much that the existing roads and those that are expected will have the capacity to handle growth projected for the next 20 years," Ellis says. "The private employer will have to take a greater role" in determining how employes get to work.
"TTA is a model of what can be done," he adds. "But it has to be expanded and extended to other major employment areas in the county."