As the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s contractor works to finalize the preliminary engineering of constructing Metro’s planned Silver Line to Dulles, and Ashburn, there are various aspects of the project worth considering, such as convenience and the maximization of economic development.
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The Loudoun Board of Supervisors — which recently raised questions about the value of rail compared to the investment — will have 90 days after receiving the preliminary engineering information, which will include the latest estimated cost, to decide whether the county’s in or out. Up to now, successive county boards have consistently voted in favor of the project.
Among the more apparent concerns for supervisors to consider, particularly to anyone who has ever tried to drive in and park at an existing Metro station: available, convenient parking.
In the latest plans, 3,300 spaces have been planned at the Ryan Road(Route 772)/Moorefield station and 2,750 have been planned at the Route 606 station.
It’s not uncommon for the second stations from the end of Metro lines to have lower parking than the last station. While Franconia-Springfield has 5,069 spaces, Van Dorn has 361; Shady Grove has 5,745, compared with 524 at Rockville; and Vienna’s 5,169 usurps the 1,326 spaces at Dunn-Loring. In the case of Dunn-Loring, the private sector has private significant additional parking.
Clearly those other areas are not like Ashburn, making comparison an inadequate determiner. Spaces are also planned at the Route 28 (2,000), Herndon-Monroe (3,500) and Wiehle Avenue (2,300) stations.
Anecdotally, commuters from Loudoun are all too familiar with the precision timing required to land a space at the Vienna Metro station, or any of the park-and-ride lots between Ashburn and the station. Vienna has doubled its parking decks since opening and it remains a problem.
“We’ve also seen the experience in Vienna,” said Tony Howard, president and CEO of the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce and past COO and senior vice president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. “It’s sold out very early in the morning.”
Stone Ridge Homeowners Association Board member Mike Rhodes has experienced Vienna.
“I’ve tried to take the Metro from Vienna a number of times,” he said. At the same time, with respect to parking at the Ashburn station, he admits “I haven’t looked at it in much detail.”
For commuters in communities along the Route 50 corridor — including Stone Ridge, South Riding and Kirkpatrick Farms — Route 606 is likely to be their targeted station; it has also been dubbed the “commuter station” in past county discussions, despite having fewer spaces planned than Ryan Road.
And while the spaces at Ryan Road, as currently planned, are split north and south of the Dulles Greenway, those at Route 606 are all planned only north of the Greenway. In addition, those spaces include the existing park-and-ride lot, which is not exactly adjacent to the planned lot from the planned station.
For those driving north to the Route 606 station, the planned parking may seem elusive at first; they’ll have to take a left beyond the 606/Greenway interchange and loop back past the existing lot to the planned parking garage.
The Loudoun Chamber has raised questions about the proposed parking, and looks forward to a study the county has undertaken to estimate ridership and from which direction those riders will come.
“We are wondering is there are enough space planned at both stations,” Howard said. “Are they sufficient and are they located in the right place. We’ve had discussions with county administrator and the board of supervisors. We know that there’s going to be a tremendous amount of traffic coming from the south. And the north and west.”
Other business entities have also offered comments about the parking or its location. In an Oct. 1, 2010 letter to MWAA from the Committee for Dulles threw its “strong” support behind a current or future addition of a parking garage to the south of the 606 station “to intercept the very heavy ridership demand coming from the south along Route 606.”
On the same day, the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to MWAA stating that the 2,000 planned additional spaces appear “far from adequate.” The letter also questions the station’s location within the 606/Greenway interchange, east of initial plans for which the existing “bubble” in the Greenway route was created.
The Antigone family owns a significant portion of land around the 606 station and has pushed for MWAA to move the 606 station west 600 feet to accommodate, not only a parking deck to the south, also a touted potential economic development engine called International City.
MWAA has opposed the move and many supporters of rail fear such a change could derail progress. There are those who argue any change could kill the project, while others argue the project will fail if not adequately planned.
Christopher Antigone has argued that a past decision by supervisors not to study such a move was based on faulty information. While the cost of such a move was estimated at $30 million to $40 million, little rationale for the estimate was presented. Antigone concedes that the cost would be significant, but points to the potential benefits — a parking deck to the south and a significant increase in economic development return. He also said his engineers estimate the cost of actually moving the station much lower; it’s many of the accoutrements — many of which benefit commuters as much as his property — that drive up the cost.
Loudoun County Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) was critical of the past board of supervisors for declining to examine such a move, not just for parking but also for potential economic development value of International City. [Editor's note: Economic development potential will be the subject of a future story.]
“I think it’s also going to be easier to put more commuter parking on the south side,” he said back in December. “That’s going to be a huge need. At the end of the day, is moving it better, ultimately, than keeping it where it’s at? That’s what would be worth studying.”
The Chamber’s Howard points out that parking decks, as currently planned, are very expensive, and that concerns about overbuilding are equally warranted.
“It’s kind of a balancing act. Parking decks are expensive,” he said, estimating the cost at $20,000 a space. “That’s real money.”
All the more reason, the county need accurate ridership estimates. At moment, county on hook for decks — a multimillion dollar undertaking — which will compete for space within the county’s debt capacity with schools and other needs.
In addition, Howard pointed to the Dunn-Loring station in Fairfax, where the private sector stepped up to provide significant parking to supplement Metro. Such opportunities “can fill in some of the need,” he said.
Jeff Salmon, a member of the Loudoun Planning Commission and the South Riding Proprietary Board, speaking only as an individual, said parking is an issue he suspects many community associations will begin to examine.
“Frankly, we haven’t talked a whole lot about it,” he said. “I’m not sure how many people are going to use the Metro, but there seems to only be parking on one side of the road. The parking, to me personally, is something I’d want to make sure whoever does this has done their due diligence on the ridership and number of spaces needed.”
While Stone Ridge also has not spent much time thinking about Metro parking up to now, Rhodes said he finds the questions about parking intriguing and wonders whether bus service “might mitigate some parking demand.”
To learn more about the project, visit the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project website.
[Correction: The previous figure cited for parking garage costs were mistated. The number also included other amenities, some outside of Loudoun.]