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Citizens Debate Tysons Options

Board member Mark Zetts gives presentation on why he thinks transportation impacts and infrastructure are not being given enough consideration.

Mark Zetts has some serious concerns about the transit-oriented development planned for Tysons Corner with the arrival of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail "Silver Line." In fact the McLean resident is so skeptical about what may be in store, he put together his own hour-long presentation, outlining in detail the numerous traffic congestion obstacles he foresees.

On Wednesday, Nov. 7, Zetts ran through his presentation at the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) Board of Directors meeting at the McLean Community Center. Zetts, a board member himself, explained why he thinks the popular comparison between Tysons Corner and the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor is a bad one.

"The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor is very porous, providing easy access and good traffic flow," said Zetts. "On the average, every quarter of a mile there is a crossing to access that corridor, and the main difference is the number of egress lanes — the corridor has 40 egress lanes … Tysons is virtually sealed off by interstates."

Zetts said the assumption that the introduction of the Dulles Corridor Silver Metro line will alleviate traffic congestion is an incorrect prediction. He is also unconvinced that Fairfax County’s goal of transforming Route 7 into a walkable, pedestrian-friendly boulevard will ever be possible.

"Metro will only add traffic to Route 7," said Zetts. "It is a highway, and it’s always going to be a highway."

Zetts added that vehicular traffic in and out of Tysons Corner will not go away, even with the introduction of a Metro line.

"Out of every 10 trips to Tysons, six to eight are going to be automobile trips and there is no getting around this.

IN MID-AUGUST, Zetts gave copies of his presentation to Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois, Tysons Land Use Task Force chair Clark Tyler, and Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning staff member Sterling Wheeler.

"County staff immediately forwarded the presentation to the traffic and land use consultants working with the Task Force," said Zetts. "Since August, many Task Force members have seen the charts, but not all. At the time I gave the charts to Clark and Sterling, county staff and the Task Force were soliciting public input on the Tysons plans they had presented to the public in July."

The Tysons Land Use Task Force is a 36-member group that was put together by Fairfax County in March of 2005 to evaluate what changes should be made to the Tysons Corner Comprehensive Plan, given that construction of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail project was on the horizon. Since its creation, the Task Force has conducted research and held several public meetings and workshops to assess various aspects of development in Tysons Corner. Over the summer, the Task Force held community workshops to evaluate three possible development scenarios for Tysons Corner — all of which presented increased development. Mark Zetts said he believes all three scenarios are faulty.

"These density targets were not calculated by doing a study on the infrastructure, they were done with ‘how much target market can we reach?’ in mind — transportation planning is just an afterthought, and I have a problem with that," said Zetts.

HOWEVER, Tysons Task Force chair Clark Tyler says that all aspects of development in Tysons Corner are being carefully evaluated, and it is the goal of the Task Force to assess community input and come up with a preferred recommendation. In addition, Tyler said the scenarios presented in July were just that — "merely test scenarios to test different aspects."

"On Nov. 26, we are having a Task Force meeting that will be focused on transportation," said Tyler. "The presentation will be made by the guy doing all the modeling and analysis, so that people will understand exactly what is being done … on the 26th, we’re going to say, ‘here’s the transportation issues, and here’s how we are going to evaluate them.’ We’re going to look at impact of a grid of streets and look at what quotient can you assign to transportation management — I don’t expect that that’s going to enlighten people in the MCA or people who think all growth is malignant, but that is what’s going to be done, and that is what people can expect out of it."

Tyler emphasized that the public is encouraged to attend and ask questions, as the purpose of the meeting is to be educational.

"This is a very complicated subject, and when people talk about infrastructure, there are different criteria that have to be considered — different funding sources, and different ways of being approved — you can’t just say there’s not enough infrastructure planned, which is what I hear a lot," said Tyler.

Zetts said he knows that the Task Force’s traffic consultants are working on how to best address the problem of poor access into and out of Tysons, but he believes "they face some very difficult problems."

"The most difficult problem is the high cost of constructing additional interchanges on the Dulles Toll Road and Beltway that connect with roads leading into Tysons," said Zetts. "Then, even if these new interchanges are funded and built, the existing regional traffic congestion on the Dulles Toll Road and the Beltway will limit the capacity of these two highways to absorb the outflow from Tysons. The problem is especially acute on the Beltway heading into Maryland as this traffic backs up to the Toll road everyday. Lastly, adding new connections to the Toll Road and Beltway will never produce the same porosity the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor enjoys because the corridor is served by many more arterials and collector roads."

In February of 2008, the Task Force will hold three more public outreach meetings in each of the affected supervisor districts — Providence, Hunter Mill and Dranesville. Clark said the public will be presented with a large variety of maps, visuals and various development options.

"Out of that will emerge a preferred alternative which will be our final recommendation, and that will probably have elements from all the different scenarios, but there is no one magic bullet that’s going to solve everyone’s problems with Tysons Corner," said Clark. "There’s always going to be give and take between the people who want nothing changed, to the people who want to pave the world over. My job is to make the people in the middle the largest."