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Votes

From Farmlands to Metropolis

Long-time residents and local officials reflect on the future of McLean, Great Falls and Tysons Corner.

When Joan DuBois first moved to McLean in 1970, the moderately sized Tysons Corner mall had just opened, and the land that is now occupied by Tysons II was a vast expanse of open space often used by children and teens for riding dirt bikes. There were also far fewer lanes in all of the roads.

“Chain Bridge Road in McLean was two lanes,” said DuBois, who is now the Fairfax County supervisor for the Dranesville District. “Great Falls Street was two lanes between Chain Bridge Road and Dolley Madison Boulevard. The rest of Great Falls Street was narrow two-lanes. Lewinsville Road near my office was two lanes, and there were no traffic signals in downtown McLean.”

Fourteen years later, Margaret “Margi” Vanderhye moved to McLean, and in the two decades since then, she has also seen many changes — most of which center around traffic and transportation.

“Stop signs have given way to stop lights at formerly quiet intersections, and turn lanes have been added to provide safety for drivers and pedestrians alike,” said Vanderhye, an appointed member of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) and a Democrat running for the Virginia House of Delegates 34th district seat. “When I commuted to D.C. in the mid-90s, most of the morning traffic was going toward town. By 2001, almost as much was coming out to Virginia, and traffic on Route 123 seems to increase exponentially at morning and afternoon rush hours — even Georgetown Pike traffic has dramatically increased from the days I took my daughter to dance classes in Great Falls.”

As the years have progressed, McLean and Great Falls have undergone a dramatic transformation — from sleepy, farming communities, to active suburban neighborhoods, to a burgeoning business metropolis that is the economic engine of Northern Virginia. And along with this transformation, has come traffic.

TODAY, traffic congestion and the best way to solve it, is perhaps the most important local issue faced by the residents of McLean, Great Falls and Tysons Corner. And while the long-awaited new Dulles Corridor Metro line promises to ease congestion, the majority of citizens seem to feel that, not only is its success contingent on many factors, but that Metro alone will not be enough to solve the area’s complicated transportation issues.

“How that project is implemented will determine whether rail through Tysons becomes a beneficial transportation improvement, or only makes congestion worse,” said John Foust, a long-time McLean resident who is a member of the McLean Citizens Association and the Tysons Corner Task Force.

Foust is running against Republican incumbent Joan DuBois for the position of Dranesville District supervisor in this year’s upcoming November election.

In the fall of 2006, in response to Gov. Timothy Kaine’s decision to approve the overhead track design for the stretch of Metro that will run through four stops in Tysons Corner, Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce President Scott Monett founded the community coalition Tysons Tunnel, Inc. Made up of local businesses, residents, civic organizations and concerned citizens, Tysons Tunnel has sought to persuade the governor to change his mind — even going so far as to raise enough money to fund a $3.5 million engineering study that illustrates why an underground tunnel track is preferable to an overhead design.

Tunnel supporters fear that an overhead track will be detrimental to the goal of turning Tysons Corner into a walk-able, livable, pedestrian-friendly community. In addition, they believe that the aboveground, multi-year construction required for the overhead option will cause extensive traffic problems in an area that is already plagued by congestion. Foust says that while he vastly prefers the tunnel option, local government officials should be prepared to handle whatever ultimately comes their way.

“Whether elevated or tunneled, the rail project by itself will not solve our congestion problem,” said Foust. “However, if we complement the rail with substantial improvements to the road network in and around Tysons, implement effective transportation demand management programs, improve bus service, and make Tysons safely accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists, and if we control development in Tysons to a level that can be supported by available infrastructure, the transportation benefits of the rail project can be substantial. If we do not, and rail through Tysons simply becomes an excuse for dramatically increased building densities around Metro stations, then years from now we will look back and think of our current congestion problem as the ‘good old days.’”

DuBois prefers the tunnel option as well, but also believes that the construction of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail line is of the utmost importance. DuBois says citizens often resist new transit-oriented development because they fear it will bring additional unwanted development along with it. However, she says that there is certain development that will come no matter what, and it is better to be prepared. She cited the construction of the West Falls Church Metro station as an example.

“VDOT [Virginia Department of Transportation] … had design plans to four-lane all of Great Falls Street and Haycock Road to accommodate the future Metro station at West Falls Church,” said DuBois. “Citizens opposed both and both projects were dropped — now folks complain about the narrow section of Haycock Road and the intersection with Great Falls Street. The reasoning for their opposition? ‘Build the roads and they will come.’ Well guess what? They still came.”

Dave Hunt, the Republican nominee for the Virgnia House of Delegates 34th district seat, is unwavering in his support of the tunnel option. A former resident of Great Falls, Hunt and his family moved to Tysons Corner in order to shorten his commute to Alexandria. He believes that the tunnel is the only acceptable option for Tysons.

“We need rail to Dulles, but we must insist that Metro rail through Tysons is built underground,” said Hunt. “Without a Tysons tunnel, our busiest business district will become a parking lot with eight-story elevated rail above I-495 and super high-density development.”