Fairfax County Board of Supervisors makes two rail-facilitating moves; Arlington ends streetcar project.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors makes two rail-facilitating moves; Arlington ends streetcar project.

As the Silver Line Metororail project progresses towards its second phase opening date of 2018, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors are helping pave the way.

At their meeting on Nov. 18, they made two rail-facilitating moves: The first was approving a funding agreement with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to design and build a Town Center Parkway Underpass Rail Support Structure.

In the area of the future Reston Transit Station, the county’s comprehensive plan calls for extending Town Center Parkway from Sunset Hills Road to Sunset Valley Drive, west of Edmund Haley Drive, according to the board’s agenda background.

But doing that work under an operating railway could be disruptive, so this agreement is for a support structure between the roadway and the railway that would effectively separate the two during their respective constructions. The project, estimated to cost $8.7 million, was part of the supervisors’ Six Year Transportation Priorities for FY 2015 to FY 2020.

ON THE SAME DAY Fairfax County appeared to be moving forward with public transportation approvals, Arlington County stalled when its Board Chairman Jay Fisette gave a midday press conference announcing that he would recommend ending the streetcar project that would’ve reached Crystal City, Pentagon City and Columbia Pike.

“I believe that debating the streetcar issue further, with continued discord and dueling facts, will not serve our community and will distract us from addressing other pressing issues before us,” Fisette said at the conference.

Though the announcement drew frustration from Fairfax County Chairman Sharon Bulova and Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross, Springfield Supervisor Pat Herrity believes the project “died under its own weight.”

Herrity and Sully District Supervisor Michael Frey were non-supportive of the streetcar to begin with.

“I just don’t think it makes sense from a transportation standpoint,” Herrity said in an interview, “to go that short period of time at less than 13 miles an hour, you can almost walk faster. It became a streetcar undesired. There were enough people in Arlington that clearly saw this as another million-dollar bus stop that doesn’t make sense, and I’m glad that people are paying attention.”

Several hours after the streetcar announcement, the board made its second Silver Line development move, this time approving financing a pair of station parking garages. They brought the matter forward during a public hearing late in the day.

The two garages would be for Phase II’s Herndon and Innovation Center Metrorail stations, with an estimated cost of $115 million. To cover the cost, the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority would deal out about $142 million in Metrorail System Parking Revenue Bonds, which would be paid back with money from the new and existing Metro parking structures.

“I am pleased that Fairfax County will own and operate these garages and collect revenue from parking,” Bulova said in a statement. “This financing structure reduces the overall cost of Phase II of the Silver Line by using parking fees, instead of general fund tax dollars.”

Carey Campbell of Springfield was signed up to speak during the public hearing, on behalf of the Independent Green Party of Virginia. He didn’t attend the meeting, but released an edited version of the statement he planned to deliver to the board, after they made their decision.

“Today the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on more subsidies for big oil, big auto, big asphalt,” he said in the statement. “Voters passed a $100 million bond in November -- $6 million of it goes to sidewalks and pedestrian improvements county-wide, $78 million to goes to bike lanes and paths. Rail is safer. Walking and biking are healthier. Walkable, bikeable, rail communities are more popular and growing profits."

IN AN INTERVIEW, Campbell said, “One-third of all trips, recent analysis shows, in Fairfax County are less than three miles. That means we need more bikeable, walkable options. We need to bring bike share on a massive scale, not more taxpayer-subsidized garages.”

And though the county’s new master plan for bicycles should set up more than 1,000 miles of new routes in the next three decades, they’re also facilitating more people driving to Metro.