Just drive down Wiehle Avenue and over the Dulles Toll Road. As you do, look first to your right, then to the left. To your right, you now see the Wiehle Avenue Metro Station in an advanced stage of construction. To your left, look carefully and you’ll see track construction coming fast from the east.
Yes, indeed, the train is coming to Reston pretty much as they say — just
over a year from now.
Meanwhile, the Fairfax County planning processes to prepare for the arrival of rail continue at a pace that looks with admiration at each snail whizzing past. For nearly three years, the Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force appointed by longtime Supervisor Catherine Hudgins, has been preparing for rail by formulating a new Master Plan to guide development, first in the areas surrounding the three planned rail stations and, then for the entire Planned Residential Community of Reston.
The most urgent phase was to be completed for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ consideration nearly two years ago. Today, as I write this progress update, the Task Force has failed to complete even the first part of the Master Plan. Drafts of half-baked schemes for the three station areas were completed over a year ago but, for reasons known only to Hudgins and County staff guiding the Task Force, have not been reviewed/approved by the Task Force itself yet. When the second part of planning for greater Reston will begin is
This is a classic, but not the only, example of ponderously slow, bureaucratic Fairfax County. Another example is the planning process finally completed for the redevelopment of Tyson’s Corner. After 5 years in the works, the approved plan is still being debated. Essential capital improvements are in doubt and implementation generally faces long-term uncertainties. While one would hope that both Supervisors and staff would have learned from the Tysons experience, there is not a shred of evidence to support such a hope.
While the inexplicable delays in completing planning even for the rail corridor part of the overdue new Master Plan are annoying, they pale by comparison to the mess the county and developer-dominated Task Force threaten to make of our very special, once well-planned community. As it stands, the preliminary land-use plans and densities emerging from part one of the Task Force’s work will quickly overwhelm the transportation and other infrastructure essential to support such growth.
At a critical June meeting of the Task Force, this clash of growth without the infrastructure to support it was rightly characterized as the prescription for
turning Reston into a “dysfunctional” community, reminiscent of the Tysons
experience. A long-awaited and, like everything else, long overdue, transportation analysis for the development being considered crystallized how out of whack the process is for those who had any doubts.
Senior county transportation officials presented summary data showing that, even if all major transport infrastructure on the county wish list were actually constructed, the major intersections in critical areas of the corridor still would be rated as failing. And the catch is that only a small portion of the wish list infrastructure has a snowball’s chance in Hell of being built within the 20-year planning horizon. For example, of the four additional crossings needed over the Dulles Toll Road and Silver Line, only one is projected as likely to be financed and possibly built in the planning period.
John Carter, a distinguished community land-use planner and Lake Anne resident, once again raised the critical question: Are the land-uses contemplated by the Task Force in balance with the transportation infrastructure needed to support it? The Transportation Chiefs and County Planning staff refused to answer the question directly. But they didn’t have to — the negative answer was painfully obvious from their report. There was clear consensus, apart from the developer community and apologists in the ranks of political appointees, that the imbalance has to be addressed. When directly asked, however, County staff and the Task Force Chair refused to acknowledge the imbalance or the need to address it.
In the real world, there are only two ways to address imbalance between
overambitious growth and insufficient infrastructure to support it: 1) reduce the proposed land-use densities to levels actually supported by planned transport and other infrastructure, OR, 2) greatly increase funding and accelerate the production of infrastructure to meet the needs of the dramatic new densities proposed.
Imagine our conservative governing elites these days raising revenues for, egads, public investment. Not likely! And, while developers may finance some supporting infrastructure, they will look for the public to pay all the big tabs.
I think we should make a point of asking Supervisor Hudgins, her political
appointees and County staff when we see them—or call them—how they plan to address the imbalance between land-uses being considered and infrastructure that will be financed and built. Option 1 or option 2 above?
We can all see the train coming. So, please remind them to get their act together by completing a plan, in consultation with the community, NOW!