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Once Upon a Time, There Was Rail in Reston

Long-time residents reflect on transportation in the past.

As it stands now, those who live, work and play in Reston could expect Metrorail service to the community in the year 2012. All current estimates predict that Phase 1 of the Rail to Dulles project, ending at the future Wiehle Avenue station, will be completed by that time.

The impact Metrorail will have on the roads and congestion in and around Reston is often debated, but it is also often forgotten that only 40 years ago a rail line passed through Reston. The Washington and Old Dominion Rail, which in some places ran only about 100 yards away from the projected "Silver Line," was abandoned in 1968, although its passenger service had ended in 1951.

"I remember when I was growing up in Loudoun County, people used to commute on that train to Washington," said Baba Freeman, a Reston resident since 1967. Freeman, who volunteers her time at the Reston Museum, offered her evaluation on the effect the coming of Metrorail would have on Reston roads. "Wiehle Avenue is going to be even more of a horror when it becomes the rail terminus," she said.

Karl Ingebritsen, former director of LINK — a Reston region transportation organization, with information for commuters and other users of public transport — said the W&OD rail had been a rudimentary commuter connection.

ACCORDING TO PLANS for the rail extension to Dulles Airport and beyond, the unofficially dubbed Silver Line will be built in two phases. The first phase will end at the future Wiehle Avenue station, which will at that point offer 2,300 parking spaces. The second phase — projected to reach Route 772 in Loudoun County and estimated to be operational by 2015 — will include construction of a metro station at Reston Parkway. When Phase 2 becomes operational, the amount of parking spaces at Wiehle Avenue is expected to drastically decrease. The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation is projecting a ridership of 62,800 people per day in 2012, and 83,200 people per day in 2015 on the new metro line.

With congestion problems evident on some Reston roads today, including Wiehle Avenue and Reston Parkway, some in the community are wondering whether metro service will help unclog Reston’s roads in the future. Also, some raise questions over how the community should handle the project’s construction and what are some possible remedies to Reston’s growing pains.

WHEN DAVE EDWARDS moved to Reston in 1967, most roads in Reston were primitive. Lawyers Road, according to Edwards, was a one-lane dirt road, while what is today Reston Parkway was a gravel road.

"I’ve seen a bit of change," said Edwards, who commuted to Fairfax City on West Ox Road, then a narrow road, today a four-lane road for much of its length. He said he did not have to sit in traffic, but the roads were poor, too. Development of Reston, however, brought people to the area, which in turn demanded that existing roads be improved and more of them built.

Ingebritsen, a Reston resident since 1966, also remembers Reston’s roads from that time period. He said Reston at the time was very isolated, with no real connections to other communities, except for the two-lane Route 7. "The road situation in Reston was very primitive, very sketchy," said Ingebritsen. There was one road crossing the Dulles Road, and he said it took an extraordinary effort to build the Wiehle Avenue bridge over what is today Dulles Toll Road.

According to Edwards, Reston first started seeing a significant influx of cars when the Dulles Toll Road was built in 1984. The road attracted businesses along its corridor, turning Reston into an employment base. "It made Reston a marketable place," said Edwards. The Reston-Herndon area has since become the second largest employment center in the Commonwealth, second only to Tysons Corner, a few miles east in the same corridor.