Tuesday, December 4, 2007

It's Not Over 'Til It's Under--Or is It?

It seems that both sense and nonsense are flowing out of the Tysons Corner area at the moment. Last week, the Post reported that the group, Tysonstunnel.org had sued the US Department of Transportation over the selection of an elevated alignment for the Silver Line as it passes through the congested office district. They feel that proper consideration was not given to constructing a set of subway tunnels to host the sleek Metro trains.

Now, it seems that some of those who backed the tunnel are throwing their support behind the locally preferred alternative. Apparently, they feel that having a Metro station above ground is better than not having a Metro station period. This group is calling itself Tysons Tomorrow, and hopes to throw community support behind getting federal funding for the project.

As I opined last week, the auto-oriented nature of the Tysons area is a severe impediment to creating the transit-oriented mix of uses envisioned by the land owners there. Furthermore, I questioned the wisdom of placing transit in a freeway median. In Tysons' case, however, there seems to be little alternative to using the freeway corridor. At least planners have taken the step of placing the four Tysons stations away from the Dulles Toll Road and Capital Beltway. Of course, I feel that a Metro line to Tysons is a vitally needed link. There are an estimated 70,000 jobs in the area, and the first phase is the stepping off point for rail service to Dulles Airport.

Tunnel proponents argue that an elevated rail line will hamper efforts to convert Tysons into a pedestrian friendly node. They contend that subway stations are more likely to attract transit-intensive uses, and point out the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor as evidence. Of course, one could just as easily use Alexandria's King Street Station, or the Metro/MARC facility in Silver Spring as elevated stations which have also attracted the types of growth that planners are hoping for in Tysons. As I mentioned last week, the presence of major freeways will do far more to harm Tyson's TOD chances than will a few concrete pylons.

It is unclear whether the lawsuit has standing, but what it represents is the attempt to scuttle the Silver Line. Of course tunnel supporters would claim that they only intend to bury the line, and that may well be what happens. The delays which would be caused by switching to a Tysons tunnel would likely kill the project outright. On the bright side, it might only delay the project by 10 years or so, since Washington would have to get back at the end of the line. With construction costs rising and more and more cities competing for fewer and fewer transit dollars, the Silver Line must get started immediately if it has any hope for completion.

Let's hope that Tysons Tomorrow can bury the "under not over" argument before the argument buries the Metro. After all, Tysons will have absolutely no hope of converting their neighborhood into an urban node without the proposed transit. The locally preferred alternative has been selected, even if it isn't supported by 100% of the populace. It's time to get behind the Silver Line proposal--before Tysons misses the train.


Anonymous said...

Your bias is clear. Congratulations on playing the fearmonger instead of being fair to the arguments proposed by Tysons Tunnel! To assume that competitive bidding and an environmental assessment by FTA will take 10 years is absurd. It is this very fear your propigating which is jeaopardizing the project. Look in the mirror if the project get's scuttled.

Anonymous said...

"A few concrete pylons"? A "few"? I don't know if you have done your homework on engineering, but it is going to take more than a few. Engineering preliminary drawings indicate a pair of pylons to support the double-track elevated structure above, every 70-100 feet. Now, get on your shoes, walk the distance and measure it out. I think it is a lot more than "a few".