Just how long have the residents of Reston and Herndon been waiting for their own rail connection to the Greater Washington Metro system? And just how do folks feel about the addition of Metro to the community? Well, when Jim Curren moved to Reston in 1986, “our District Supervisor at the time assured us that light rail would be in place within three years,” he laughed. As everyone knows, the light rail plan was shelved long ago, but even in its current composition, Metro’s Silver Line, designed to ultimately run from Dulles Airport and Eastern Loudoun County all the way to Largo Town Center, Md. with options for connecting to other Metro lines, has still been a long time coming. “Let’s just say a lot has happened since I first became aware that the Metro was really in the works for our area,” said Jason Lee of Herndon. “I was still single, and these young ladies were not in the picture yet,” said Lee, pointing down to toddlers Michelle and Marina, the twin daughters he was strolling on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail near the historic Herndon town square. “But we are glad it’s finally coming, although we still have a long wait for our station in Herndon.” Lee is right. Phase 2 of the Silver Line Project, beginning at the Wiehle-Reston East station and heading west hasn’t even begun construction as of yet, and estimates today put the operational arrival of Phase 2 somewhere beyond 2018. “Maybe we’ll get lucky,” added Lee, “and they will open a portion of Phase 2 before the whole thing is ready.”
FOUR YEARS may seem like an eternity to those who are waiting to catch a careless ride to Tysons, D.C., the Airport, or other locations along the Silver Line’s route, but for some, like Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel, it means more time to plan and prepare. “Metro is finally getting closer to home for us,” said Merkel. “Our residents who now go to Falls Church or Vienna as part of their commute will only have to go just down the road to the Wiehle Station. A huge time saver.”
In a phone interview, Mayor Merkel spoke of Herndon’s past, present and future preparations for the local advent of rail transportation. “It’s always a topic of discussion and part of our work. There are nine property owners involved where the Herndon Station will be built, so there’s a lot of coordinating going on, but everyone is working together.” Merkel also thinks that being “second” will help address any kinks before Herndon gets on board with Metro. “Even with all our plans already in place, we have the opportunity to watch and learn from the Reston start-up. We can incorporate what works well and maybe circumvent some potential problems.”
Merkel had no qualms about mentioning the elephant in the room. “Traffic,” she said. “That’s the word that comes up the most often in any discussion about our area, in any regard, not just about Metro. It certainly came up when I did some door-knocking this spring, talking to residents and asking their thoughts on the Silver Line and other issues.” Merkel says it’s up to the Town, working with everyone involved, from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to Fairfax and Loudoun counties, from citizens’ groups to the Virginia Department of Transportation to keep traffic mitigation at the top of the list at all times. “We need to keep looking for ways to connect people to transportation outside of their cars. We are working to make Metro as accessible as possible from everywhere within our borders.” Merkel urged Herndon residents to stay informed – “the website on the Herndon Metrorail Stations Access Management Study at www.hmsams.com is one resource” she cited – and “stay involved and vocal.”
Some local businesses aren’t willing to wait for Metro to get closer to them. Companies like Herndon-based BridgeStreet Global Hospitality are being proactive and taking steps now to get themselves closer to Metro access. “The company is really growing,” said J.R. Dembiec, BridgeStreet’s Managing Director - Operations (Americas) and Brand Support Services. “We need more efficient space, so we decided to look at sites as close to the Wiehle Station as possible. This will open up an additional pool of talent for our recruiting needs, helping us attract those who might see our area as too far to travel to by car or too difficult with transit challenges. I think the Silver Line will have a positive influence on all local employers.” An added bonus offered by some of the complexes that Dembiec and the company’s leadership are considering – “Shuttle service. One that’s high on the list will be offering a frequent shuttle service between the station and the buildings.” It sounds like the commercial real estate industry in the area agrees with Dembiec that the new metro line will help Reston/Herndon, Virginia’s second-largest employment hub, grow their businesses, as well as attract more employers to the area. The shuttle service shows they are considering ways to entice those employers to their facilities.
More companies making the move to Reston, with its new access to rail transportation as a factor when choosing an operating location is one of the benefits that Reston Association President Ken Knueven says they’ve been counting on. “The arrival of the Silver Line can’t help but positively impact our area economically through increased business opportunities, job opportunities and up-valuing our real estate.” A Reston resident since 1987, Knueven was quick to make assurances that the Reston values are being protected. “Sustainability, and the connection to the natural, right in our own commercial backyard, is part of what has made Reston the great community it is, and the Reston Association and our many civic organizations are working to ensure that the spirit of Reston is preserved as we move forward. Reston has been at the forefront of visionary community planning since its conception and we will stay there.”
TO THAT END, Knueven expressed his pleasure with the working coalition of so many involved in the Silver Line and the attendant developments. And it’s a pretty large group. Aside from the Reston and Herndon leadership, there is WMATA in the mix, VDOT, county governments and citizens’ advisory groups, and the Dulles Corridor stakeholders. “It’s along the tollway Corridor that you will see most of the development, and the highest density. We may not always agree, but everyone has come to the table, and I am happy to report that the work has been cooperative and goal oriented. Get cars off our roads wherever possible and provide our residents with exceptional opportunities to ‘Live, Work, Play and Get Involved’ – the Reston motto.” Part of Reston’s Phase 2 is focusing on the redevelopment of the town “villages.” “All of this, Metro and Reston’s growth and refreshing, goes together.”
Knueven does wish that the Wiehle-Reston Station East was not the short-term terminus for the Silver Line. “Of course that creates its own problems with traffic, but we have planned and prepared and will do everything we can to offset those problems. We have a variety if multimodal plans in play to make access to Metro and around Reston even easier for bikes, and pedestrians, as well as intersection improvements to help keep the traffic flowing. I really believe the positive effects far outweigh any of the possible growing pains.”
Someone else who thinks the Silver Line will be good for the local real estate business is Tracy Comstock. Although she is headquartered in Tysons, Comstock also serves the real estate needs of clients in the Reston area. She can almost see the Tysons Metro Station from the window of her office. That, and the fact that so many of her foreign national clients are contacting her with the specific requirement of being near the Silver Line caused her to recently change her company’s name to SilverLine Realty and Investment, LLC. “I have numerous clients, many willing to pay cash, who have been interested in this area for years. Now that the rail line is almost here, they are ready to buy,” said Comstock. “They mostly come from big cities that have rail services and they want the same. Many come here because of our schools and because we offer a more politically and economically stable environment.” While local real estate prices may cause sticker shock to people moving here from around the country, “for some of my clients, real estate near metro lines here seems like a sale compared to where they are coming from.” At this point in time, Comstock says most of those clients are sticking to McLean and Tysons for their searches, “but you can already see the effect moving outward. Purchase inventory is very limited in those areas, so those clients, and others, are starting to be willing to widen their search – especially since they can now hop on the train and get closer to the city if that’s what they want.”
Fairfax County Supervisor Cathy Hudgins agrees with Reston Association President Knueven about some potential pitfalls but like Knueven, she firmly believes in the positives to be gained. “Being the short-term terminus for the new line will require us to really manage the situation, but overall this is a great thing for Reston and for all of us. The long-term impact will be to provide us with higher quality services, more opportunities for everyone, and to keep us together as a community. Of course there’s some angst. Change is hard. And this is a big change, but a great one.” In addition to her work for the Hunter Mill District of the Fairfax County Board, which includes Reston and parts of Herndon, Hudgins has become a noted authority on transportation issues and options in the area, having served as Chairman for the WMATA Board, the Northern Virginia transportation Commission and the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board. She has been a part of this project since Day One. “It’s exciting to see something this large and impactful finally come to life.”
Hudgins is looking forward to another opening – even before the first train carrying paying commuters leaves the station. “I am looking forward to really taking a look at the new parking facilities. I think that takes place on July 19.” Many locals don’t realize just how much parking is being made available at the Wiehle-Reston East Station. Karen Case of Reston didn’t. “I had no idea,“ she said. “That should really help.”
THE FACILITY, on the north side of the station, will include a 2,300-car garage, a secure, reserved bike room for more than 200 bicycles, a Kiss and Ride area and a 10-bay bus terminal with services to connect the station to numerous stops throughout Reston and Herndon. There will even be buses to Dulles Airport and to the Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum. “That is a good thing,” says Jose Morales of Herndon. “We don’t have a car right now, so it would be nice to go to places like the museum with my family. And we could go into D.C. now.” Taking the bus to the Udvar-Hazy would also mean saving the $15 parking fee.
Angela and Mike Salafia of Reston didn’t know about the additional facilities at the station, either. Nor did they know that part of the Silver Line will have additional policing in the form of Tysons Urban Team 9, a specially selected group of law enforcement personnel authorized and funded by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to add additional security to the four new stations in that area. The Salafias say they are all in favor of Metrorail in Reston and will probably use it to spend more time enjoying D.C., but do admit to some reservations. “The Line goes both ways. You hope that people who come this way will care for and respect our community. We have a really great place to live here.”
This sampling of community reaction to the opening of Metrorail service through Reston and Herndon (as random and unscientific as it was) seemed to show a community that was ready for the change. Of course, “Maybe we’re just tired of waiting and all the construction, come what may,” said one unwilling-to-be-quoted Restonian. But everyone who shared their comments and thoughts seemed to genuinely believe that – properly managed, with community input and protections in place to preserve the “urburb” atmosphere, particularly on Reston Town Center – Metro’s Silver Line was a welcome addition to the neigborhood. All aboard!