Point for Point, County
Needs Metro Extension
The letter by Ken Reid ["New Highways, Not More Rail," Fairfax Extra, May 26] painted a misleading picture of the proposed extension of Metrorail in the Dulles corridor. The "facts" that Mr. Reid uses to support his argument are by and large specious. I'd like to take this opportunity to refute Mr. Reid's claims.
Assertion: The cost of rail in the Dulles corridor is expected to be nearly 10 times that of a bus rapid transit service.
Counterpoint: The draft environmental impact statement indicates that the cost of rail is approximately seven times more than the initial capital cost of bus rapid transit. However, when the capital requirements incorporate life-cycle costs, which takes into account the useful life of buses (12 years) and the useful life of rail cars (40 years) as well as the useful life of facilities (50-75 years), the cost picture changes dramatically. The real cost of bus rapid transit increases by a factor of three. The cost of rail is now only 2.5 times more expensive than bus rapid transit and moves 40 to 60 percent more passengers.
Assertion: Rail will not move more passengers than buses or carpools.
Counterpoint: The final environmental impact statement indicates that 62,800 daily passenger trips will be made on the Metrorail extension to Wiehle Avenue in 2011. This is 43 percent greater than the number cited by Mr. Reid for carpools and buses on Shirley Highway. Metro was also shown to have significantly higher ridership than the alternatives studied, including bus rapid transit.
Assertion: A local road like the tri-county parkway will move more people than the $1.8 billion Metro extension to Reston.
Counterpoint: A Virginia Department of Transportation analysis of the tri-county parkway indicates that about 40,000 vehicles a day will be carried on all but one segment in 2030. The final environmental impact statement on the extension to Wiehle Avenue indicates that the Metro extension will accommodate 73,000 trips a day in 2025.
Assertion: Data from the final environmental impact statement show that in 2011, the train will attract no more than 24,000 boardings a day.
Counterpoint: The data for the Wiehle Avenue Metrorail extension show that 62,800 daily boardings will occur on the extension and that 29,100 of these boardings (or 46 percent) will be new trips to transit -- people who never rode a bus or subway before the extension. That's almost three times the false number provided by Mr. Reid.
Assertion: After construction, the operation of the Dulles corridor extension alone will require $50 million in annual operating subsidies, $111 million if the rail line is extended to Loudoun County.
Counterpoint: The environmental impact statement provides information regarding the operating cost, revenue and deficit of the extension to Wiehle Avenue. While the Dulles corridor Metro extension will require subsidy, like all the current Metro system and like public transit all over the world, the operating deficits in 2025 will be $28.1 million (not $50 million) for the initial segment to Wiehle Avenue, and $38.5 million (not $111 million) for the full extension to Loudoun County. This represents a cost-recovery ratio of approximately 67 percent -- in line with Metro's current farebox recovery rate and among the highest in the nation for public transit.
Assertion: The financing of the rail project requires a doubling of tolls on the toll road, which will increase to $2.25 each way according to the environmental impact statement.
Counterpoint: The state of Virginia is using tolls to pay for its share of the Metro extension. The tolls on the Dulles Toll Road were increased by 25 cents at each entry point, as well as at the main toll plaza, except at Route 28, where tolls increased 15 cents. Traveling from Reston through the main toll plaza cost 75 cents before the toll increase and now costs $1.25 -- a 50 cent, or 66.7 percent, increase. This was the first toll increase since 1984 -- 21 years. In fact, accounting for inflation, tolls are lower now, after the increase, than when the Dulles Toll Road first opened. The toll study conducted by VDOT before the toll increase indicated that if the second phase of the Metrorail extension requires an additional toll increase, it would likely be an increase of 25 cents -- bringing the total cost of a trip to $1.50 -- not the $2.25 figure that Mr. Reid cites.
Assertion: It is not possible to build 11 miles of track in four years when it took about five years to extend the Blue Line to Largo, a distance of only three miles.
Counterpoint: The initial project schedule for the extension to Wiehle Avenue shows an opening date of late 2011. If construction begins in early 2007, the total time will be approximately 4.5 to 5 years. Construction on the Largo Blue Line extension was dictated more by cash flow rather than construction scheduling, and it took 33 months (2.75 years).
Assertion: Whether rail is built or not, the congestion on five of eight major roads will be at gridlock conditions in 2011 and 2025.
Counterpoint: The Metrorail extension was never predicated on eliminating congestion. Rather, the Metrorail extension is a part of a complete transportation system that provides travel options for residents of Northern Virginia and the region. Without rail, an additional 91,000 people would be experiencing congestion in their cars, necessitating the construction of five new lanes on the Dulles Toll Road.
Assertion: Mr. Reid states that rail proponents argue it is cheaper to build rail than to add road capacity, though it costs $167 million for Metro vs. no more than $50 million per mile of lane for a freeway.
Counterpoint: No one ever argued that Metrorail costs less to construct than a mile of freeway lane. And no one ever argued that additional road capacity is not needed in Northern Virginia. The simple fact is that in certain corridors, such as along the Dulles Toll Road and Interstate 66, there is minimal available land to build additional lane capacity -- the most effective way to add capacity is with Metro.
The cost per mile of the Metro extension to Wiehle Avenue is approximately $129 million. The cost per mile for the entire project (out to Loudoun County) is approximately $150 million. This cost includes not only land acquisition and construction, but other necessary capital facilities such as rail cars, parking garages and bus bay facilities.
In addition, Mr. Reid does not take into account the return on investment that rail provides. The region's experience with Metro has uniformly been extremely positive in terms of economic returns for dollars invested in rail.
Mr. Reid was dead-on when he argued that Metro is not the cheapest solution to congestion in the Dulles corridor, nor the easiest to implement. It has, however, been shown to be the most effective.
As we seek to improve transportation in Fairfax County and throughout the region, we must choose the options that will serve us effectively now and into the future -- even if they're not the easy choices.
Gerald E. Connolly
Fairfax County Board
Don't Let New Parkway
Cause Damage to Parks
In response to the May 5 guest column, "The Right Road for the Future" [Fairfax Extra], discussing the merits of particular alternative routes for the tri-county parkway:
While the Fairfax County Park Authority understands the growing need for new transportation options in this region, we think it is vitally important that great care be applied to this early decision-making stage to ensure that environmental damage and the possible bisecting or destruction of parklands be avoided whenever possible.
This proposed transportation corridor will connect communities in Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties while possibly linking or co-locating with the proposed Manassas National Battlefield bypass.
Proposed alignments for both roads are going to public hearing as we speak.
As a citizen board and as the stewards of 23,517 acres of parkland and open space in Fairfax County, we have an obligation and responsibility to provide a voice of caution as this project moves forward.
The draft environmental analysis indicates the potential for significant damage to wetlands, wildlife and cultural resources.
There are newly acquired areas of parkland that harbor rare species of trees and plants which may be impacted.
An array of mammals, birds, fish and plant life would be affected by the proposed construction. Prehistoric and historical cultural resources are at risk.
So we ask that planners continue to work with our staff and representatives of a variety of agencies to minimize damage whenever possible; to consider the least obtrusive passage through environmentally and culturally sensitive areas; and to preserve natural and cultural resources that lie in harm's way.
Each one of us has a responsibility to approach a project of this magnitude with caution and a great sense of responsibility. We have it within us to find creative solutions that lie lightly upon the land while addressing critical transportation needs as well.
Fairfax County Park
Beware a Loophole
In Stream Protection
The May 23 article presenting creative development solutions to address storm-water runoff ["As Pressure Increases, So Do Ways to Curb Polluted Runoff," Page A1] provided an excellent discussion of new ways to limit and control polluted runoff that ultimately threatens the Chesapeake Bay.
There is a looming problem, however -- at least in Fairfax County -- that could defeat even the most innovative development solutions and strip the bay of some of its most important protections. We recently learned, the hard way, that perennial streams rigorously identified and stringently protected under Virginia's Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and Fairfax County's regulations can be administratively downgraded to "intermittent" -- and stripped of legal protection without public notice and comment -- through a cursory review of limited visual evidence of water flow.
While the rules for designating streams as perennial involve a complex analysis of 26 factors graded on a four-part scale, which must then be approved by the Board of Supervisors, all a developer needs to do to reverse this, and thereby gain access to build within 100 feet of a stream, is to submit photographs showing no obviously moving water, even if puddles and saturated mud are present.
No dye test is required to assess water flow in stream sediments, nor any evaluation of the remaining 25 factors, including the presence of organisms that can live only in flowing water. Once this happens, the stream loses its legal status as a resource protection area, and building restrictions around it fall away.
Our community group, Wedderburn Neighbors, learned of this legal loophole about a week or so after a stream was declassified this way in Fairfax County, on a property subject to a hotly disputed rezoning application as well as our grass-roots citizens' effort to amend the county comprehensive plan to protect the stream and other important features of this property. Among other things, it borders on the sensitive Washington & Old Dominion trail, which recently was stripped of much of its tree buffer by the easement clear-cutting policies of Dominion Power.
While the county has made haste to review and change its declassification procedures, the proposed new procedures still allow administrative downgrading based only on observations of water flow, ignoring the scientifically validated protocol for classifying streams as perennial in the first place. As The Post's article noted, "The residue of daily suburban life . . . fertilizer, brake fluid, oil from gas lawn mowers" cumulatively pose a substantial threat to "that jewel of the Washington region, the Chesapeake Bay." And as the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act acknowledges, we can only save this jewel one stream at a time.
The Wedderburn stream in Fairfax may now be lost, but it should be the last one thus lost to developer greed and bureaucratic disinterest. The county's stream declassification procedures need a major fix.