In this series, Patch looks at the Silver Line, Metro's largest expansion in its 34-year history.
The Dulles Metrorail is expected to remove thousands of cars from Northern Virginia's roads and ease the daily gridlock that has come to characterize the region.
But some question whether traffic will ever improve — even with the addition of the 23-mile Silver Line to the existing 106-mile Washington Metro system.
"There are some parts of the country that would be glad to have traffic, because it indicates someone wants to get somewhere. It's better than depression," said Zachary Schrag, an associate history professor at George Mason University, who specializes in transportation issues. "No jobs, no traffic."
Schrag said other metropolitan regions, like Houston, have simply continued to add lanes to their highways to accommodate more drivers.
"Part of the story here is this political debate about how we want the region to grow," he said.
The bottom line is that it is hard to predict ridership numbers for the new Metro line, Schrag said. But Eileen Curtis, president of the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce, said she is confident that the biggest benefit of building the new line will be getting more drivers off the road and onto the Metro.
"If we do not have relief from the traffic congestion, that could ultimately have a very significant effect on the staying power of companies," she said.
At a recent Dulles Area Transportation Assocation meeting, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell agreed that the congestion issues needed to be solved in Northern Virginia — citing it as the third most congested area of the country.
"The more neighbors we have, the more roads we need," McDonnell said. "We need to get the congestion relief now — not in five years or 10 years."
Traffic congestion is the biggest concern among companies looking to relocate to Northern Virginia, too, and it's more than a quality of life issue, Curtis said. Unpredictable traffic makes it hard to get to work on time and difficult to plan meetings. It presents challenges in the day-to-day operations of businesses — large and small.
But, Curtis doesn't expect the new Silver Line to solve all the traffic problems.
"As long as the price of gas stays low, traffic will always be bad in Northern Virginia," she said.
In the meantime, construction of the new Metro along the Dulles Toll Road will only make matters worse. The entire line is being built in two phases. The first will likely open in 2013; the second isn't expected to be finished until 2016.
"The first phase of construction is under way. It is the case that construction brings with it headaches, but it's a necessary aspect of life," said Anirban Basu, the CEO of Sage Policy Group. "In effect, no pain, no gain."