Expressing a variety concerns about bringing rail to Wiehle, residents turned out to have their voices heard at a Monday night public meeting.
The Dec. 1 public meeting was jointly hosted by Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) and the Reston Association (RA) and attracted a crowd of about 80 in the first floor conference room of the Northrop Grumman building in Reston. Responding to mounting concern over the proposed tax district and growing apprehension over the interim proposal to bring Metrorail to Wiehle Avenue in Reston, Hudgins used the meeting to try and calm fears while expressing renewed support of the $1.52 billion 11.6 mile Phase I proposal and the full implementation of the entire 24-mile rail project. To the chagrin of some in the audience, Monday’s meeting did not address the proposed tax district, instead it focused on the scope of the current Dulles Rail Draft Impact Statement (DEIS).
Last month, Hudgins said that the proposal is "our best assurance of rail in the corridor and through to Dulles Airport." On Monday, Hudgins called the Dulles Rail Project, "the most critical decision about the Dulles Corridor that we will face in the next quarter century or more."
Meanwhile, Michael Corrigan, the RA vice president, used the meeting to reiterate a few of his organization’s qualms with the potential impacts from the DEIS. "We do have some significant fears," Corrigan told the crowd.
The RA representative said that members have expressed concern about the effects that putting a station at Wiehle Avenue could have serious consequences, including increased traffic congestion and environmental concerns, for the surrounding neighborhoods.
While the neighboring Town of Herndon wrestles with the Rail-to-Dulles, RA and Reston have no official say in the project, except to voice their fears.
"Yes, we have grave concerns about ending at Wiehle," he said. "We can tolerate some brief pause at Wiehle, but ideally, we would like to see Phase I extended to Herndon-Monroe, though we recognize that there are cost issues involved."
AFTER JOHN DITTMEIER, the acting project manager for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), presented a brief overview of the DEIS, residents were allowed to comment and question Dittmeier and Hudgins about the project.
Immediately, Dittmeier was asked what the difference in cost would be if Phase I were to be extended to Herndon-Monroe, rather than Wiehle Avenue. Dittmeier admitted that there were no formal calculations in place but that cost estimates could reach as much as an addition $250 million, a price that does not include the added rail yards and an estimated 60 additional trains that would be required if Herndon-Monroe were put into play.
To allay fears that a Wiehle Avenue could become a terminus station resulting in massive parking lots and increased traffic for the surrounding area, Hudgins explained that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors supported a motion that would not allow construction on the planned structured parking lot at Wiehle Avenue "until a full funding grant agreement has been executed for Phase II of the project."
Reston resident Dick Stilson liked the county’s idea, but he questioned whether or not it was feasible. "How realistic is this?" Stilson asked Dittmeier.
"At this time, our team is listening to Fairfax County on this matter, but we have not yet prepared a team response," Dittmeier said.
Pressed by Stilson. Dittmeier would only say that the county’s proposal is "possible."
STEVE ROBERTS, who was representing the Polo Fields Citizens Association, lives a short distance from the Herndon-Monroe Park and Ride. Roberts, too, expressed disappointment that Phase I would not terminate at Herndon-Monroe. "It sounds like to me that you had $1.5 billion to work with, and you worked backwards," Roberts told Dittmeier. "What about the possibility of not building all four scheduled Tysons Corner stops, at least initially?"
Dittmeier rejected that notion, citing safety concerns and railroad operating rules. "We don’t have that opportunity," he said. "It’s very costly to build in the future a station that was postponed in the past. We could only be building during early morning hours when our revenue tracks were not in use."
Jim Nagle of Reston didn’t mince words about his opinion of the proposed plan. "This makes no sense," he said. "You are offering us a broken Cadillac on a Corolla budget. People around here, as evidenced by last year’s failed tax referendum, don’t want to spend all this money."
Frequent rail-to-Dulles opponent, Chris Walker, chided the plan and said that there is a better mass transit solution, bus rapid transit, or BRT. Walker said that Metrorail to and around Tysons corner makes sense, but rail-to-Wiehle and beyond is "pure fantasy." "There are other alternatives to raising taxes and increasing tolls and we could have BRT tomorrow," Walker said. "This is nothing but a promotion by landowners in Tysons Corner and WMATA ... It’s time to take the pork out of politics and tolls out of the toll road."
Ed Tennyson disagreed, saying that the project would be beneficial to the community. Tennyson, a retired transportation official, added that history has shown that ridership projections for BRT systems are always inflated. "You will get one-third the number of riders and rail will get 122 percent more than projected," the Vienna resident said. "More traffic will get off the roads than on the roads and this will be a tremendous benefit for our region."
ECHOING THE SENTIMENTS of many in attendance on Monday night, Joseph Ritchey, a broker for Reston Town Center and Dulles rail supporter, envisioned "significant impacts" if Phase I ends, as planned, at Wiehle. "People don’t just park in allocated parking spaces," he said.
Dittmeier said that increased enforcement and permit parking would fix that problem. "At no cost to the taxpayers, tow companies are more than happy to tow away cars."
Robert Simon called that concept "naive." Simon, the founder of Reston, said that the current Wiehle lot fills up before 8 a.m. "They will use other places to park," he said.
Resident Frank de la Fe said the key to solving the potential parking problems lies in increasing local feeder bus service. "If you provide local bus service that is convenient and reliable, then people in Reston will not need to drive to the Wiehle station," he said. "That parking lot is full every morning and it is full of Reston people because people would rather drive than wait 20 or 25 minutes for a bus."