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Solving Gridlock Key to Growth

Local leaders tell business people that traffic and congestion problems must be solved to accommodate growth.

Addressing traffic gridlock is key to Tysons Corner's continued growth, local leaders said Friday to attendees of the Tysons Business Forum. The Forum, sponsored by the Vienna-Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce, briefed business people on the past, present and future of the expanding business and shopping district.

"This is an area that's going to be driving the economy in the 21st century," said Rep. Tom Davis (R-11th).

To accommodate this growth, panelists Davis, Fairfax County Board supervisor Gerry Connolly (D-Providence) and developer William "Til" Hazel all agreed that traffic and congestion must be addressed. However, they disagreed on the effectiveness of the various plans that have been presented to local residents. Hazel said that while the proposed rail system to Dulles will relieve the future growth within the Dulles corridor, the system doesn't fully address Tysons Corner's gridlock.

Instead, Hazel suggested that Fairfax County leaders work with the Virginia Department of Transportation to address congestion at major routes such as the Beltway, Route 7 and Route 123.

"We have to get major, major alternatives to the Capital Beltway," Hazel said.

Board supervisor Connolly disagreed with Hazel's judgment of the Dulles Rail, arguing that the rail system would be key to perfecting the area's density. He also supported the passage of the transportation tax referendum.

"Until transportation changes, you have to be careful about density," Connolly said.

Friday's event kicked off with a history lesson from Vienna resident Mayo Stuntz. Initially a way station to the Chain Bridge in McLean, Tysons Corner has grown from a country store in 1843 to the 17th largest office market in the United States. According to Connolly, Tysons Corner has over 5 million square feet of retail. Tysons Corner Center mall has 21 million shoppers who visit the mall per year.

Although Tysons Corner was built as a suburban business center, the almost 3,000 businesses in the greater Tysons area have catapulted the region into something more.

Tysons "is a hybrid of suburban and urban. It's urbanizing," Connolly said.

Connolly suggested that Tysons Corner needs better aesthetics and pedestrian-friendly corridors if the area is to compete.

"We're trying to superimpose a sense of order, a sense of place," Connolly said. "A sense of the aesthetic is very important and necessary for urban centers. The addition of public art, sidewalks, fountains, a park, humanizes the place. It's more than a place we drive to and go home at night." Davis agreed that Tysons Corner was "at a fork in the road" but said that Tysons is meant to be suburban, not urban. "It's why you choose to live in Fairfax County," Davis said.

Davis also discussed how federal policy impacts Tysons Corner. For instance, a potential government contracting boom stemming from homeland security and defense spending could bring one out of four federal dollars for that boom into Northern Virginia and into Tysons businesses such as SAIC. How the federal government writes telecom rules and regulations could affect how telecommunications businesses in Tysons grow or shrink.

"Transitions are never neat and tidy," Davis said, referring to the telecommunications industry.