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Draft EIS Tracks Transit Options

August 7-13, 2002

The proposed rapid transit line along the 24-mile Dulles Corridor will not do Sterling Park resident Donald Stephens any good without a local connection.

"If the bus lines don't get close to me, I don't get any benefit," said Stephens, who works in Tysons Corner. "Whatever they decide on, I want to be able to use it, and right now, Sterling Park residents get zilch."

Stephens was one of 25 residents to speak at Wednesday's public hearing for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Proposed General Plans for the Dulles Corridor Rapid Transit Project. The project proposes a rapid transit extension to the existing 103-mile regional Metrorail system in Fairfax County with the same scheduling, signage and fare collection.

The extension will begin at the Orange Line at the East Falls Church Station and continue through Tysons Corner to Loudoun County. There, the line will include stops at the Washington Dulles International Airport, Route 606 and Route 772, where the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation proposes to build a mixed-use community called Moorefield Station. The stop is the last along the rail line.

"We applaud Fairfax County and Loudoun County for adopting comprehensive plans in 2001 supporting mix-use development around rail stations," said J. Kenneth Klinge, member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) and chairman of the Dulles Corridor Task Force.

THE FEDERAL Transit Administration (FTA), the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) proposed the extension to improve mobility and accessibility through the Dulles Corridor and serve population and business growth in the area. Population in the corridor is expected to increase by 56 with another 206,000 residents and employment by 71 percent with 203,000 new jobs, according to the Draft EIS executive summary.

"We now have a corridor that is practically jammed with traffic every day," Klinge said. "There's no more room to put lanes on the highway, at least in the Dulles Corridor."

The Draft EIS describes why the extension is needed, gives different alternatives and their costs, and identifies the environmental and social effects of each alternative. The EIS identifies whether the project supports future land use and development patterns in the area while still accommodating traffic increases.

Four build alternatives are included in the Draft EIS, along with a no-build option or baseline alternative. The no-build option includes the existing highway and transit infrastructure and services that are located in the Dulles Corridor and any projects expected to be implemented by 2025. The option serves as a basis for comparison and evaluation of the build options.

THE BUILD OPTIONS include:

• Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a bus-based transit system that operates similar to a rail system, but in a limited access right-of-way lane. The system is expected to cost $342.7 million to $481.4 million for a service that would begin in 2006.

• Metrorail, a rapid transit system that operates on a dedicated right-of-way lane. The option is similar to the existing Metrorail service and is expected to cost $2.9 billion to $3.1 billion. The service is expected to begin in 2010.

• BRT/Metrorail, a combined system with Metrorail to Tysons Corner and BRT continuing to Route 772. The cost is expected to be $1.4 billion for a service beginning in 2006.

• Phased Implementation, a phased system beginning with BRT, continuing with a combination of BRT and Metrorail and culminating with a full Metrorail service at a cost of $3.2 billion.

"Rail puts more people on the system than all the other alternatives," said Leonard "Hobie" Mitchel, CTB member. Before the public hearing, he said the majority of support has been for the rail option. "That's the preferred consumer choice. Maybe it feels more high-tech."

SUPERVISOR Chuck Harris (D-Broad Run) spoke at the public hearing on behalf of the Board of Supervisors.

"We want them to build Metro to rail without the BRT phase," said Harris. "It's an estimated $200 million extra cost for the project. The transition from BRT to rail is a tough transition. Buses will have to come out of the median during construction of rail. ... There's an inefficiency, and people will be more frustrated."

The remaining speakers were divided on whether they supported the BRT or the Metrorail option. Those in favor of BRT said it was the least expensive and quickest option to build, while those favoring Metrorail said the system is more flexible and has more ridership capacity than the three other options.

Tom Hirst of Reston came to the Loudoun meeting to say why he supports the BRT option. "Everyone agrees we need rapid transit, and we need rapid transit now," he said, asking what justifies waiting longer and spending another $3 billion to build the rail system. "We don't think there is any such justification. BRT can be in operation in 18 to 24 months. ... BRT is going to less expensive than the amount projected in the EIS."

OTHER SPEAKERS gave their reasons for supporting the rail option.

"We support rail provided we get the land use right and provided we get the best routing in Loudoun," said Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth in a statement, as read by Nicola Wood. "Let's build the rail system that can focus development, save open pace, maximize transit ridership and reduce traffic congestion."

Ernest Barber of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 689, also preferred the rail option. "Metrorail is known for its clean, safe and well-governed system," said Barber, a Northern Virginia resident. "Metrorail is the obvious solution. You get what you pay for."

The Board of Directors for WMATA and the CTB will select the final Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA), which may include one of the options or a combination of all five options. The Draft EIS is designed to identify one of the five options as the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) during the public hearing and comment process. Public hearings in McLean and Reston also took place last week.

The final LPA is scheduled to be selected in fall 2002, at which point a Final EIS will be prepared. The FTA will make a final decision on the project.