Phase 2 of the Silver Line will help connect towns along the Dulles corridor, a region of Northern Virginia which has grown into a high-tech and economic powerhouse. But some Loudoun residents would like the line to stop at Dulles Airport and take Loudoun’s financial contribution out of the equation.
Losing Loudoun would be a blow to the region’s economic competitiveness. If opponents succeed, Fairfax and other Virginia jurisdictions, which are paying for the Silver Line, should at least reexamine the design of the system to ensure their contribution benefits their own jurisdictions, not free riders from Loudoun.
Without Loudoun, cut the parking
Eastern Loudoun residents I have spoken to said they support the project, but if it doesn’t happen, they believe they can simply drive to the Dulles or Innovation (previously Route 28) stations.
The plans already make clear that the Dulles station will not have parking for commuters. There isn’t going to be any more parking than already exists, and that serves the airport.
As for the Innovation station in Herndon, the plans called for a parking garage through a public-private partnership, but who would this parking garage really serve? Herndon doesn’t need a big garage to get its residents to the Metro. This portion of Herndon already has a good network of roads that are walkable and bikeable, is adjacent to the W & OD trail, and a future mixed-use development, Dulles World Center, will create a TOD district around the station.
There are approximately 600 households within ½-mile of the Route 28 station. There are over a dozen mid-rise and high-rise commercial offices within the Sunrise Valley business district. Expanding the zone to include possible bike commuters (a 2-mile range) includes all of Herndon, a town of 23,000, which would be split between the Innovation station and the Herndon (previously Herndon-Monroe) stations. By comparison, the successful Columbia Heights Metro station has a population of 31,000 within ½ mile. If properly designed to support non-vehicular commuters, this station could remove traffic from the roads in Herndon and provide the residents a great commuting tool.
This station is in the northwestern corner of Fairfax County. The parking garage would have only served Loudoun users and is simply not necessary if Loudoun chooses to vote against Metro. If eastern Loudoun residents are upset, perfectly acceptable bus routes will still exist. Beyond that transit option, they will need to help pay if they want to play.
A Design Concept
How could the Innovation station’s design maximize the accessibility to Fairfax residents specifically? First, a pedestrian tunnel under, not over, the Dulles Toll Road should connect the commercial center of Herndon, Sunrise Valley, to the station.
Next, create a bus-only drop-off within the median of the Dulles Toll Road which can help expedite the transfer process. A similar system has been successfully incorporated into the West Falls Church station. The bus network, which focuses on the existing Herndon/Monroe park-and-ride, can be re-distributed with 4 bus stops along Elden Street.
Lastly, create a bike and pedestrian master plan to connect the direct area through improved sidewalks, bike lanes, and off-road bike trails. Herndon Parkway should be connected to the W&OD trail bike system. Since there is no extensive vehicle traffic expected at this station, roads don’t need to be widened. A notable gap in the master plan is the Dulles World Center project. This project needs to incorporate more sustainable designs into the plans, including pedestrian and bicycle improvements along Innovation Avenue. The money saved from the parking garage could go toward funding this.
Savings could make Silver Line much more affordable
Based on the following preliminary cost estimate using empirical data from prior projects, RS Means, and MWAA’s construction cost estimate the change from a parking garage to a non-vehicular station with no concession to Loudoun county could save Dulles World Center $100 million in construction cost. This savings should be split between Dulles World Center and the Silver Line project with a $50,000,000 proffer funding towards the cost of the project. This new design will not only serve the users who are helping fund it, but it will also save money for the total cost of the project. The removal of 2 stations and 4 miles of rail (2000′ of which includes expensive Airport property construction) and a $50,000,000 net contribution the cost improvement is noticeable.
- 2 Stations removed (Approximately $400 million in cost saving)
- 4 Out of 11 miles removed from Phase II (Approximately $500 million in cost saving, 125M per mile)
- $50 million proffer contribution
The $2.7 billion project would be reduced to a total cost of $1.75 billion. Of course the contribution from Loudoun County towards the capital costs was 270 million which no longer will be provided (as is the case with the $10 million in annual operation cost), but the project by cutting out Loudoun county will save nearly a billion dollars more than making up for the lost funding. The financing backing from the toll road would drop from the current $1.3 billion by half to $650 million helping keep toll rates low.
Virginia needs Loudoun for operating costs
So why is everyone so eager to include Loudoun? The problem is the loss of $10 million annually in operating funds from Loudoun. WMATA believes this is necessary to keep the project from costing other jurisdictions too much.
Fairfax could agree to pick up more of the operating cost but deduct the fares from people who ride. This would create an incentive for Fairfax to maximize TOD around the stations and bring in the riders to cover most of the operation. At least for the first couple of years Fairfax may have to pay up to $7 million more than it would otherwise, but its residents would also save on tolls that many care much more about.
If Loudoun wants to opt out, then they are making the mistake of a generation and giving up an opportunity that will never again be available, just to save just $270 million dollars. But the Silver Line is already catering to the whims of Loudoun County too much, and their participation in the project does not pay for itself. If they do opt out, though, Fairfax could remove the unnecessary parking garage to create a more progressive design. It would keep Loudoun residents from creating traffic jams on residential roads in Herndon and provide the same level of service for local residents.