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Silver Lining: How Future Economic Development Justifies Hefty Price Tag

The cost of not building the Silver Line exceeds the $6.5 billion price tag, economists say.

In this series, Patch looks at the Silver Line, Metro's largest expansion in its 34-year history.

When the Dulles Metrorail is fully up and running — probably sometime in 2016 — it will likely have cost a grand total of about $6.5 billion to build.

And while some may balk at that price tag, several regional experts say this "megaproject" is vital to Northern Virginia's economic vitality.

"Many people likely take the ongoing expansion of Northern Virginia for granted, given how vibrant the region's economy has been over time and is today. It has become an economic juggernaut," said Anirban Basu, the CEO of Sage Policy Group.

But, Basu said, the daily gridlock that constantly clogs the region's major thoroughfares will have long-term negative effects.

"The region is steadily grinding to a halt as the traffic is increasingly becoming problematic and distressing. It is a headache and it is also unpredictable, which makes commerce difficult," he said. "This renders Northern Virginia a less attractive place to do business than it otherwise would be."

The Dulles Metrorail project will add 23 miles of rail from East Falls Church in Fairfax County, out through Tysons Corner, past Dulles International Airport and even further west to Ashburn in Loudon County.

"I think one of the misconceptions is that this is a line being primarily built for travelers to get them to and from the airport," said Zachary Schrag, an associate professor of history at George Mason, who wrote a book on the history of the Washington metro system.

Video: A Brief History of the Dulles Metrorail

"The main thing to understand is that the primary destination is not Dulles. It's Tysons Corner," Schrag said. "That's the basic idea, to serve this massive conglomeration of jobs right there."

Stephen Fuller, the director of George Mason University's Center of Regional Analysis, said Tysons Corner — which will be served by four Metro stops on the new Silver Line — is currently not accessible by rail. This means that the majority of the 100,000 people who currently work there commute by car.

"Fairfax County already has more jobs than the District of Columbia," Fuller said. "That's the future of this region and it needs to be endowed with the best transportation."

The costs to build the new Metro line are immense, Fuller recognized, but the costs of not building the extension will be greater in the long run.

"The rail becomes more important than just moving people between the end points. There's going to be a lot of local traffic on it," Fuller said. "It's a very long line. The impact on real estate values and the impact on the economy is going to pay (the project cost) back many times over."

Part Three: Will the Dulles Metrorail really improve traffic in Northern Virginia?

Rob Jackson December 21, 2010 at 08:30 PM
Shame on GMU for implying Dulles Rail might be the chief transportation means to and from Tysons Corner. Of course, rail will be a significant mode of transportation. Fairfax County DOT estimated that, by 2030, 17% of the trips to and from Tysons will be on the Silver Line. But do the arithmetic. That means 83% of the trips will not be on rail. The vast majority of trips to and from Tysons Corner will be in single occupant vehicles, just as they are today. While rail, bus and mixed use will help, a bigger Tysons Corner means more traffic congestion. Both the County DOT and VDOT agree that growing Tysons by just one third will require around $1.4 billion in new road improvements, including widening both the Dulles Toll Road (estimated between two and five more lanes) and the Beltway (one more lane beyond the new HOT lanes). Moreover, shortly after these road improvements are completed, the larger Tysons Corner will generate so much more traffic that the Beltway, the Toll Road, Route 7 and Route 123 will regularly reach the point of failure. This is a major reason why both the Fairfax County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors rejected both the recommendations of the Tysons Land Use Task Force and County staff for even larger versions of Tysons.
Walter Hadlock December 23, 2010 at 07:02 PM
With all due respect to those at GMU, the original intent of rail was to provide a transportation alternative to reach Dulles. The developer community made sure that original intent was subordinated to providing all those stops at Tysons Corner. Furthermore, rail will do nothing for all the north-south traffic that feeds into the businesses, etc. along the Dulles Corridor. And, if adequate parking is not provided at the various stops, i.e. the Herndon side of the Herndon-Monroe station, part of the potential ridership community will opt to stay with their cars and not bother with rail.
Bob Bruhns December 28, 2010 at 04:50 PM
The astronomically high price of this line defeats its purported purpose of improving local transportation. The entire regional economy will be depleted by tolls and taxes, and no money will be available for needed bus lines. Its supporters say "Oh, well we are not going to bring it all the way to the airport terminal, because people aren't going to use it to get to flights. Think of the luggage! It will be for the airport employees to get to work, and for shoppers to get to Tysons Corner!" And then they stop and smile. Umm, and how many billion dollars will it cost, again? It certainly doesn't help anybody get to Fairfax, Centreville, etc. This is incredibly foolish government spending, on a mind-bogglingly huge scale. Virginia alone just had to pay $3 billion dollars into this boondoggle, when the entire stimulus spending for all of Virginia's transportation system is $4 billion dollars for the next three years!

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