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Reston Derailed?

RA board members frustrated by lack of input in rail project.

About a fifth of the way through last Thursday’s update presentation made to the Reston Association on the progress of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, the speaker clicked to a slide that listed seven partners.

The entities elevated to the level of “project partner” for the 23-mile rail extension included Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Metropolitan Metro Airports Authority (MWAA), Loudoun County, Fairfax County and the Town of Herndon.

Right after the slide appeared, a Reston Association board member interrupted the presenter. “Considering Reston is about four times the size of Herndon, why do you think we’re not a project partner,” said Doug Bushée, RA director (North Point).

“I knew I was going to get that question,” said Josh Sawislak, the deputy project director for the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project. “It’s because you’re not a political jurisdiction under the laws of the Commonwealth.”

Sawislak affirmed that Reston ought to have a “special relationship” with the project because of Reston’s size and land-use decisions. “But I can’t put you on the slide.”

FOR THE PAST several years, RA has intermittently complained about a lack of involvement when it comes to rail coming to Reston.

Many of the concerns board members voiced Thursday, May 25 mimicked past arguments made by town advocates, who, in their third reincarnation, often cite the rail negotiations as one of the primary reasons why Reston should become a town.

A few years ago, the Reston Citizens Association ignited the latest push to incorporate Reston, saying that the community has been ignored during rail talks compared to the Town of Herndon, a community of 23,000 people.

Proponents of township often use the comparison to convince others that Reston should become a town.

While metrorail will make its way through Reston, many community members continue to fret that Reston’s voice may not be heard as upcoming rail and transit-oriented development decisions move through the pipeline — especially decisions that could negatively affect traffic and congestion.

Construction for Phase I of the rail project — which runs from the West Falls Church station to Tysons Corner and then on to an interim terminus station at Wiehle Avenue — is set to begin early next year and scheduled for completion in 2011. Phase II, which will extend rail from Wiehle Avenue to Dulles Airport and into Loudoun County, is scheduled to be completed by 2015. MWAA, who may take over the project, says it could finish the entire project two or three years earlier.

DURING THE PRESENTATION at last week’s RA Board meeting, Director Rick Beyer (at-large) suggested that RA be given more opportunities to participate.

“We have 70,000 people in this community, but we’re not stakeholders?” said Director Rick Beyer (at-large), asking if it would be possible for a more substantive role. “We’d like to be invited to your meetings,” he said.

But even that seemed unlikely, according to Sawislak. “You participate through the legal process through Fairfax County because you’re part of the county,” said Sawislak. “As for the state, it’s important for us not to step on Fairfax County’s toes. For formal input, we really have to work with you through the county.”

Yet Reston commuters who use the Dulles Toll Road will help pay at least one-fourth of the costs for Phase I, which have been estimated between $400-500 million. The most recent cost estimate for Phase I is about $2 billion.

Sawislak conceded that further discussions about Reston’s role might be necessary. “If it makes sense, then let’s sit down with the county and see how we work through that,” said Sawislak, referring to the possibility of getting RA more involved.

Dave Edwards, a Reston resident and member of RA’s transportation committee, said that rail representatives have been very good at keeping the committee up-to-date on rail activity.