Rail to Dulles: Taking One Step at a Time

Rail to Dulles: Taking One Step at a Time

Hunter Mill residents seek status of Dulles rail project; officials stress patience.

High atop the Accenture building in Reston Town Center, local and state officials, and the public came together for a status report on the Dulles Corridor Rapid Transit Project. Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) welcomed Karen Rae, the new director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, to Reston Thursday, June 5, to discuss the long-debated topic of improving the ground transportation alternatives in an increasingly traffic-choked Northern Virginia.

In her opening remarks, Hudgins said she had been committed to public transportation since she arrived in Reston in 1969. "I take metro, I ride the bus," she said.

The Hunter Mill supervisor said it is vital to have the “community alongside every step of the way.”

Hudgins acknowledged that the road to rail to Dulles was a long one. Likening it to a long, family car ride, Hudgins said she understands people's frustrations with the long journey. "It's like when your kids are saying, 'Are we there yet? Are we there yet?' Well, not quite," said Hudgins. “It’s the anticipation of getting there that makes us very anxious.”

Del. Ken Plum (D-36) agreed with Hudgins in her respect for the community's feelings on the transportation issues facing the community. Plum said the solutions to the ongoing traffic problems in the area would only come about as a partnership with the citizens. "The solutions will emerge from community-based projects not out of the minds of bureaucrats," he said.

One thing all of the speakers agreed upon was the need to take the project in stages. "At times, we have probably overstated our case, saying we could do it in one fell swoop," said Plum.

A FEW MINUTES LATER, Hudgins introduced Rae, a self-proclaimed bureaucrat. Rae who came to Virginia via Buffalo, N.Y., said she could not do her job effectively without public input. “Transportation doesn’t exist but for the community," Rae said, in her opening remarks. "You, the stakeholders in the community, you are the project."

When audience member Rob Weber asked how rail will solve more localized traffic problems, Rae said it was all linked in one system. "All pieces fit together, nobody is a bigger bus advocate than me," she said. "But you can’t run a bus every two minutes through Tysons Corner. It's the combination of the two systems that makes movement happen.”

Ho Chang, the director of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, echoed Rae's comments. "A few years ago, we were worried that the BMW crowd was not going to take the loser cruiser,” the bus advocate said. "You proved us wrong."

Chang said it was his department's goal to have one of the best mass-transit systems in the world within five years, but that had to include bus, as well as rail. “There is a limit to the rubber wheel," said Chang, who oversees the operation of a multi-modal transportation agency including the operation of the Fairfax Connector Bus Service. "You need both."

RAE PRAISED the Fairfax County bus system, but she maintained that rail was vital and critical to the long-term viability of the Dulles corridor. "We already have BRT [Bus Rapid Transit] here in Fairfax County, we just don't know it. In any other part of the country, this would be considered BRT," she said. "But it's not enough. After 9/11 essentially shut down Washington National Airport, everyone realized how important rail to Dulles was."

Rae said that the Bush administration has "raised the bar" on allocating funds for projects like the Dulles Corridor Rapid Transit Project. “It’s a pain, but taxpayers are better off. With the new evaluation process, there is a learning curve, Rae said. "For every step back, we take two steps forward."

With a sluggish economy, Rae reminded the crowd that the competition is "fierce" for transportation dollars and preached patience.

With the draft Environmental Impact Statement approved, Rae said the next step is to seek preliminary engineering studies for the whole corridor, but she warned that funding would only cover construction for "phase one." The Reston crowd pressed Rae about where the end of phase one actually was. "We are looking to get a little longer from Tysons. There's been talk of Wolf Trap, but we are waiting for analysis," Rae said.