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Welcome to Grand Central Station

With more than 5,000 passengers daily, the nine-year-old station is vital to Springfield's future.

On any given weekday, a commuter in Springfield can easily leave the car behind and take a bus or train to just about anywhere in Northern Virginia or beyond, all from the same location.

The Joe Alexander Transportation Center, better known as the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station, is a transportation hub in Fairfax County, with half a dozen modes of transportation converging in one area.

"In this one place, we have Metro, VRE, the Connector bus line, MetroBus, OmniRide from Prince William County, Greyhound, the Greenspring shuttle service, the TAGS shuttle," listed Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), adding that bike racks are also available for cyclists and a series of trails that connect to other trail networks in Springfield.

When the station, which opened in 1997, was built, the developer had to reclaim much of the area, which was a large wetland, Kauffman said. In addition, another wetland had to be created in order to provide a habitat for the animals that were displaced, he said.

From the time the station opened, its impact on Springfield has been immediate and vast, Kauffman said.

"Shortly after the station opened, the Springfield Metro Office Park opened, and it has been one of the fastest-leasing office parks in Northern Virginia," he said. The office park is filled mostly with Department of Defense contractors.

ALTHOUGH IT looks like most other Metro stations, the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station has two sets of train tracks; one for Metro, another for the Virginia Rail Express (VRE), which brings many riders up from Fredricksburg or points further south, Kauffman said.

With its location, just down the street from the recently purchased Springfield Mall, adjacent to the planned Central Springfield Revitalization area, just off the Franconia-Springfield Parkway, the station is smack in the middle of every major highway in Northern Virginia other than I-66, Kauffman said.

Currently, an average of 5,335 people take the Metro from the Franconia-Springfield station daily, said Candace Smith, a spokeswoman for Metro. While the station is not in the top 10 busiest stations across the system, Smith said that ridership will most likely increase with planned changes to the region.

"If you live within half a mile of the station, studies have shown that one-third of the population there would use Metro," she said. "People are even more likely to use it if there's some mixed-use retail development within walking distance."

IN ADDITION, with an expected 18,000 employees converging on the Engineer Proving Ground by September 2011, Kauffman said a strong possibility exists that more riders will be using VRE and Metro to get to work in the next few years.

"Between BRAC, changes to the mall and other changes coming with the revitalization of downtown Springfield, our big concerns are centered around physical access to the station," he said. "Is Frontier Drive our only access point? I mean, there's that and a ramp from the Franconia-Springfield Parkway, but that's it."

To accommodate the possibility of increased ridership, some modes of transportation are considering making changes to their current services, Kauffman said.

"VRE is currently looking into building a station between Franconia and Lorton, maybe with some kind of bridge under Newington Road," he said.

The full transportation impact of the new workers at the EPG may not be known until next July, when the first of several impact studies about the site is scheduled to be released, said Don Carr, a spokesman for Fort Belvoir.

"It's too early for me to say what kind of connectivity there will be between the EPG and the Franconia Metro station," Carr said, but he believes the station will have to be an integral part of the Army's transportation plan for the base.

"We're looking at shuttle buses from the station to the base, but part of the design concept is to establish connectivity between the EPG and a hub like the Metro," Carr said. "It's too early to tell what that will be, but that station will end up being integral to the workforce at the EPG."

FOR EXISTING COMMUTERS, the station provides several thousand parking spaces in the largest single parking structure in the Metro system, Kauffman said.

"There's about 5,000 spaces here, plus another 300 (spaces) at the Mall that were filled up the minute we made them available," he said. "You see people walking from the mall to the Metro all the time."

Some changes are in the discussion stage at Metro, including the addition of more tracks to allow for easier access to the station by both Metro and VRE trains.

"Our biggest impediment to continued success with VRE is having to share tracks with freight trains carrying orange juice just south of this station," Kauffman said.

Near the station, however, the trains share the tracks entering and leaving the station, which reduces the frequency of either service.

Increasing access to the station for all modes of transportation and for all users will be a major topic of conversation in the coming years, Kauffman said, to make the station even more useful for the growing population of the Springfield area.

"People don't want to spend an un-needed minute here as they come through on their way home after work," he said. "We don't want them to have to wait for trains or to get to a shuttle bus longer than they have to."

When the Urban Land Institute conducted a five-day study of the redevelopment plans for Springfield, part of its task was to suggest a better plan for shuttle services to make them more efficient, which will also be taken into consideration as redevelopment projects come on line, Kauffman said.

Having a large, busy station like the Franconia-Springfield station is a plus for any area, said Kathy Ichter, director of transportation for Fairfax County.

"It's a vital part of the future of Springfield. There's lots of things changing out there with the mall, the KSI development at midtown and it's a given that the station will be a part of that," she said.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) is currently conducting a study on the station to determine what changes may be necessary to continue to serve the customers in the best way possible, Ichter said.

She agrees with Kauffman and Carr that the station will have to be an major part of the Army's transportation plan for the EPG.

"The issue with BRAC is that the EPG is on the opposite side of I-95 from where the Metro station is, and there's no direct linkage," she said. "There's no easy or dedicated route for a shuttle bus."

Joe Alexander, who served on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for 32 years as the Lee District supervisor and was on the Metro Board of Directors for 24 years, said the station has turned out exactly the way he and the residents of the district envisioned it years ago.

"We wanted to make the station a transportation center in Springfield for buses and trains and we planned for residential development there," Alexander said.

He believes the best solution to providing transportation between the station and the EPG would be through securing government funding for a shuttle service.

"I think they owe it to us," he said. "It'd go a long way to help the congestion they're causing."