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Votes

Commuters Back Rail Project

Informal survey comes after polls conducted by both advocates and opponents.

Despite rain, snow, sleet or hail, Reston resident Debora Sloan waits every weekday morning for the Fairfax Connector to pick up her and her fellow mass-transit riders at the Wiehle Avenue commuter lot.

If the Metro is extended to the Reston lot, however, Sloan said she could put the days of being wet and cold at the bus stop behind her.

"If they bring the Metro here, I think it'll really help," Sloan said while waiting in line for the bus last Thursday morning. "We won't have to stand outside anymore."

Sloan, along with three dozen other daily bus commuters from Reston and Herndon interviewed last week said they fully support the proposed Dulles rail project. Out of an unscientific survey of 35 bus riders, only one opposed rail.

Support from current bus riders is essential to the debate over the rail because they could become the first riders of the new rail line. Buses currently take commuters mostly to the West Falls Church Metro station although some also make trips to Washington D.C. or the Pentagon.

Young Ho Chang, director of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, said all the buses would probably be rerouted to the planned Wiehle Avenue station in Reston. But, he added, "a lot of those details will be worked out including whether we should continue some of those express routes."

Commuting on Metrorail may take longer than the express buses because while rail requires frequent stops, buses can drive at high speeds in a restricted lane, bypassing morning and afternoon gridlock.

MOST COMMUTERS interviewed, however, said the overall convenience of having nearby Metro service would outweigh adding a few extra minutes to their daily commute.

"That's more convenient," said Anil Poluru, who was standing in line waiting for an express bus to D.C. at Herndon-Monroe. "Five or 10 minutes is not a problem."

"There's too many people. There's too much traffic. We need the rail," said Esther Pank, a Reston resident who commutes from the Wiehle lot.

For some commuters, the rail is expected to be faster than the express bus system because it would involve fewer transfers.

"It'd make my commute shorter," said Maria Letonja, who commutes from Sterling to Dupont Circle. "In the long run you don't have to sit in traffic. I don't like getting in my car, getting on the bus and getting on the Metro. I'd rather get in my car and get on the Metro."

RAIL ADVOCATES said they weren't surprised by the support rail enjoys among commuters.

"It corroborates our scientific poll," said Patti Nicoson, president of the Dulles Corridor Rail Association. The group's poll, conducted a few years ago, found that 59 percent of respondents said they would ride rail while 34 percent said they would ride a rapid bus transit system.

But opponents of the Dulles rail project cite their own poll and say residents who live around the Dulles Toll Road are against the project by a two to one margin. According to a poll conducted last fall for the anti-rail group Landowners Opposing Wasteful Expenditures on Rail, 69 percent of the 10,000 respondents indicated they preferred rapid bus transit to rail.

"They're not going to get a seat; they're not going to get a parking space; they're not going to be able to save any real time and they're probably going to have to wait maybe 20 years to actually see it happen," said rail opponent Ken Reid.

On Feb. 23, the Board of Supervisors approved a proposal that would let landowners along the eastern part of the corridor tax themselves to help finance the first phase of rail construction out to Wiehle Avenue. But Reid said the cost to operate the rail line once it is built would fall on the taxpayers' shoulders. "It's just really unbelievable how much people don't realize how much this is going to cost them."

SEVERAL OF THE RESPONDENTS said that while they are not thrilled about paying higher taxes, they still support the project because they benefit in the long run.

"I think it's a great idea," said Mike Hoebel, a Reston commuter. "Plus, it would increase property value."

Adriana Torres, a Leesburg resident who rides the 980 bus from the Herndon/Monroe lot to the West Falls Church Metro stop, said she supports the rail project because would it would cut down on the transfers.

"It's easier to commute that way," Torres said.

Riding the Metro would be a simple and relaxing alternative to the existing system, said Satish Soffet, who rides the express bus into Washington, D.C., from the Herndon-Monroe lot.

"It's a great idea," he said. "Just get on the Metro. One shot. You need not to change."

Also, several bus riders said the express bus system is plagued by delays because the buses are frequently stuck in traffic with everyone else.

"The density of the population in Fairfax County and beyond makes it so the buses can't even run on time," Pank said.

"RAIL HAS OVERWHELMING support throughout Fairfax County," said Board Chairman Gerry Connolly (D). During his campaign last fall, Connolly conducted polling that showed that 70 percent of respondents in Fairfax County supported rail to Dulles. Among respondents who live in the Dulles corridor, support was even higher, he said. The results encouraged Connolly to make rail to Dulles his first transportation priority as chairman.

"The public is way ahead of some of the naysayers," he added, characterizing opponents as "a small vocal group who do not understand the community."

Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) said it is important to note that the rail project will increase public transportation opportunities for everyone, particularly low-income residents.

"I don't believe it's too large an investment to make," she said. "We're trying to bring everybody into this. It's for everybody."