A friend who lives in leafy, progressive Takoma Park once jokingly derided me for buying a condo in Crystal City, a part of Arlington that she described as a sterile, concrete jungle of high-rise office buildings and hotels filled with tourists and commuters from other places and where nobody actually lives.
But since she rarely ventures over the Potomac River into Northern Virginia and says she would never be seen in my environs, she doesn’t know about a lovely spot with a wide expanse of green space, trees and flowers across the street from my condominium building. There, people walk dogs, watch their children play and stand atop an incline to view the District’s Fourth of July fireworks.
But now the Virginia Railway Express says one of its options is to expand and/or relocate its Crystal City train station beside that park. That would threaten an oasis from traffic and the noise of jackhammering from street repairs and building construction.
Already, we endure the night-and-day squeaking and horn-blowing of freight trains on the CSX tracks that VRE uses, with the melancholy joke that sometimes the noise from the trains is obliterated by the roar of jets from nearby Reagan National Airport.
VRE held several public events to explain to residents its options for expanding or moving the train station. At one gathering, held outside the VRE stop, VRE officials served tasty cookies, but cookies can’t calm the concerns of many of us who aren’t on board with the threat that the expanded stop will mar our precious green space.
The VRE Crystal City station opened for business in 1992. I’ve watched ridership steadily increase. That’s good because it means fewer cars on the road.
VRE says it plans to add more rail cars to serve more riders, making it necessary to greatly expand the platform. The existing Crystal City platform is 400 feet long, and VRE said it needs 700 feet for eight-car trains. But the Crystal City platform usually is not being used at full capacity. Better signage and passenger instructions would alleviate crowding at the front end of the platform. That would be cheaper than the proposed expansion.
I’m supportive of mass-transit systems to ease traffic congestion in Northern Virginia. But the VRE stop exists primarily for commuters who work in Crystal City and live somewhere else. When I occasionally rode VRE into the District, I was practically the only one who got on the train in Crystal City in the morning and off in the afternoon.
VRE says it wants to build a “sustaining relationship with our neighbors in the Crystal City community.” That sounds nice, but this project would derail the lives of Crystal City residents through more noise and possible destruction of property during station construction.
At a March 30 forum, VRE officials said they did not yet have an estimated cost for the project, and who will pay for it seems to be a work in progress.
Contrary to what my friend believes, there are a lot of people who find Crystal City a nice place to live. Let’s hope the sweet cookies VRE serves at its public forums about redoing the train station do not leave Crystal City residents with a bitter taste in our mouths.