Residents of Alexandria's West End high-rise condominium and apartment section have begun an intensive drive to save the community's proposed Van Dorn Street Metro station.
The action by residents of the densely populated neighborhood is somewhat unusual in that community groups in the Washington area have more frequently tried to keep subway stops out of their area rather than to urge their construction.
"From the outset we were under the impression when we moved there that there would be Metro to take us downtown," said K.B. Smith, one of more than 4,000 West End residents who signed a petition urging the Alexandria City Council to set construction of the Van Dorn station as the city's first priority. The council voted last week to include the Van Dorn station for further study, but not as its first choice.
The future of the Van Dorn station has come into question because of the high operating deficits projected for the Metro line leading to Van Dorn Street and because Metro's current restudy of the Metro system has concluded that the buses that now run on the Shirley Highway express lanes reach the Pentagon Station subway transfer point faster than would a train from the Van Dorn station.
Alexandria City Councilman Robert L. Clahoun, who is a member of the Metro steering committee that is trying to decide how far to extend the Metrorail system, said of the council's action: "I think basically the feeling is, and the numbers show that, that the Van Dorn station is a marginal station."
Nonetheless, Calhoun said he had urged the council to put the Van Dorn station as its first priority because the area around it, especially Cameron Valley, has a great potential for development. "I think we may need a railroad (at Van Dorn) someday, so I'm willing to take a chance," added Calhoun. Metro plans call for the Van Dorn station to open in October 1980 if it is built.
Proponents of the station emphasize that the area it would serve, which is sometimes referred to as "Condo Canyon" because of the large number of condominiums in the area, is among the most densely populated in the state of Virginia. Leo Ellis, vice president of the Alexandria Condominium Association, the group that circulated the petition to the City Council, estimates that the area's population may reach 50,000 by 1990. It is now about 12,000.
Ellis said new high-rise apartment buildings are still being constructed and he added that many of the condominium complexes that had not been able to sell units in recent years because of the housing glut were finally beginning to fill up.
Residents of the community say that the promise of a nearby subway station had been a major factor in the decision by many people to purchase a condominium in the West End. "I think it (the station) will be a definite plus for resale," remarked Alexandria Butler in explaining why the nonexistent station has become so popular. "The people are really behind this."
State Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell (R-Alexandria), a long-time proponent of the Van Dorn station, emphasized that the station would also serve the southern section of Fairfax County. "That gives it a double benefit," he added in a telephone interview from Richmond.
Mitchell and Ellis said the Van Dorn line would be the cheapest to build in the entire Metro system because it would be entirely above-ground and run parallel to the existing R, F & P Railroad tracks. "All you really have to do is lay the Metro track and build a fence," said Ellis.
Alexandria Deputy City Manager Clifford H. Rusch, who is head of the city's task force studying the Metro system, agrees that the line would be relatively cheap to build. But Rusch adds: "I put more emphasis on projected operating expenses than I do on capital construction costs."
Busch argued that it is more cost-effective and less risky to rely on bus service for the West End area than on a rail system that would incur high operating deficits because the trains would be full only at rush-hour.
Some West End residents rejected comparisons of the time it takes buses to reach the Pentagon station as opposed to the time the ride would take on a Metro train. The real test, they argued, is the time it takes to get from the West End to downtown Washington, including the transfer at the Pentagon.
"Regardless of what Metro says about the bus service, it is overall grossly inadequate," said Salvatore Zungoli, president of the Alexandria Condominium Association.
Zungoli and other association officers said many people in the West End could walk from their homes to the Van Dorn station, but they conceded that residents of southern Fairfax County and many people in the West End itself would still have to take buses or drive to the station.