Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dulles MetroRail - On Track for Reston and Fairfax, Unclear for Loudoun

Early this past week, a Bisnow RE event showcased local experts, administrators and stakeholders in the Commercial Real Estate community discussing the present and future aspect of the Dulles Corridor Metro Rail project. Among the luminaries; John "Til" Hazel, long-time Northern Virginia developer and Robert Simon (97!) visionary developer of Reston.


In a nutshell - things are looking pretty good for the opening of "Phase 1" on December 20th, 2013 - through Tysons Corner to Wiehle Ave. Things are somewhat still up in the air, particularly with respect to funding, for Phase 2 - extending to the airport and possibly to Routes 606 and 772 in Loudoun.

On the note of funding for Phase 2, Til was especially blunt - expressing that the notion that tolls paid by Toll road commuters paying for the construction is "absolute nonsense", and the overall funding realities are simply not being addressed. Far more important to the regional transportation system is the need for additional bridges across the Potomac "ocean" as he calls it, including through the Western Corridor (i.e. Loudoun). Also, there seems not yet enough planning and development progress with respect to the 30,000 extra homes needed to be built per year, to accommodate the regions's growth and support the commercial development underway.

Bob Simon was all about community as you'd expect, focusing on the intersection of residential and business development that's essential for the success of the Dulles Rail corridor, making the astute observation that the "plaza (open public space surrounded by ground-floor retail and attached residences) is a successful concept recognized everywhere in the world BUT the U.S. Eery development should have at its core a plaza driving community success and family fun with its mix of social, artistic and economic impact. He's not a fan of non-communicative art, however, that appeals only to the artist, that the rest of us really don't understand."

Other interesting points:

Pete Otteni of Boston Properties described their development planning for the "connector" area buacting as a pedestrian connector, with elevated urban plazas, to the urban core. Maggie Parker of Comstock Partners described the very successful public-private partnership underway for the large Wiehle Ave. station, with its integrated underground parking facility for Metro buses, commuters (2300 spaces), the public - intended really to become the "6th neighborhood" of Reston. On the subject of Reston vs. Tysons Corner growth models, the consensus seemed to be that Reston Town Center area truly was an "urban" model on par with the pedestrian-friendly advances made in the Ballston/Clarendon area, while Tysons was more of a "suburban" model (i.e. drive, park, leave). Art Fucillo of Lerner Enterprises was especially blunt, advising less access (and less parking) to cross-regional transit from the new population centers, as "creating the bottleneck creates the city".



Former U.S. Representative for Virginia Tom "I left Congress undefeated and unindicted" Davis explained (and was supported by Sharon Bulova, Fairfax County Supervisor) that Phase 2 will indeed happen, though under 3 certainties - higher commercial/residential densities were necessary, higher tolls, and higher operating expenses for the Rail. A lot of negotiation is underway to reduce the cost of the 2nd estimate to date (at $3.8 Billion), and to find the best balance between anticipated toll revenues, bonding and returns from local tax jurisdictions (no Federal funding is available for Phase 2, unlike Phase 1).

Conclusions?

1) The Rail is coming, for sure to Reston, riding the wave of commercial development initiative, funding and partnership initiatives with Fairfax County - not clear yet if all the way to Loudoun.

2) Right now seems to be a good time to think about both commercial and residential investment along the Dulles Corridor, especially near the Reston Town Center.

3) Find a job that doesn't involve driving the Toll Road, preferably in Loudoun or the Reston area.

4) Everyone should download the first and only GoFairfax (GoFFX) Mobile App for Android/iPhone to keep up with the very latest in Fairfax events and entertainment along the Dulles Corridor, from Tysons to Reston. Download Loudoun360 for events in Ashburn, Leesburg and beyond. Will be especially useful riding the Silver Line, or sitting in $10 traffic on Rt. 267 watching the metro flash on by. Dulles corridor businesses - add your events/places for free - or contact GoFFX to highlight/advertise!

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