President of the Virginia Institute for Public
Policy, publisher of Virginia Viewpoint.
Northern Virginia, transportation planners seem hell-bent on
committing the region to a $3.3 billion, 13-station,
Metrorail extension in the Dulles corridor. They
want a decision on rail or bus rapid transit (BRT)
before they will start work on a financial plan to
fund either. This is analogous to a family trying to
choose between a Bentley or a Rolls Royce, when a
Chevrolet or Ford might be better suited to the
family’s needs and budget, and only then
considering how to finance the purchase.
expensive options are being pushed by a planning
study that is being conducted jointly by Washington
Metro (WMATA) and the Virginia Department of Rail (VDRPT).
These are agencies with big vested interests in
heavy rail, or at least in a rail-like super bus.
It’s what puts them on the map. It’s what they
only would the WMATA/VDRPT system be far more
expensive than more flexible road-based
alternatives, but it also would offer inferior
service and attract lower ridership. The WMATA/VDRPT
ridership projection of 70,000 daily riders for rail
is totally fanciful. That’s the equivalent of
about half the drivers on the
Dulles Toll Road
suddenly deciding to leave their cars at home and
ride the rail, even though at least half of them
have destinations nowhere near the Metro. Seven
thousand riders per day is a more likely estimate.
70,000 projection assumes massive new residential
and commercial developments clustered immediately
around and on top of the proposed stations. That
would not happen because neighborhoods nearby
strongly object to such “upzoning” and because
commercial space is heavily overbuilt already. There
will not be any substantial new commercial
development for several years, while the existing
surplus is absorbed. Developments based on
station-access alone are not likely to be attractive
almost everybody using those median stations –
whether rail or BRT stations – in practice would
be forced to rely on long walkways across the road
to parking decks, and shuttle bus trips to and from
those stations. The walking and waiting times would
make the station-based system unattractive.
Patronage would be low, fare revenues would be
small, and huge subsidies would inevitably be
required. There would be negligible traffic relief.
is wrong for DullesAirport, too. As an international and long-distance
airport, most travelers there have luggage. People
will not take serious luggage up and down
escalators, through turnstiles, and onto trains.
Also, most air travelers on long trips go to the
airport directly from their homes or hotels. The
Metrorail system doesn’t get close to most homes
or hotels. Dulles
airport is comparable to BWI in that BWI has rail
directly to the terminal that is used by a few
airport employees, but by almost no travelers.
Dulles corridor suburbs and the airport need transit
based on cabs, vans, minibuses, and buses running on
an adaptable and evolving combination of special
lanes, priority ramps, and existing roads. That way
people and goods can be picked up and delivered by
suitably sized vehicles on a door-to-door basis with
a driver available to heft luggage. Such vehicles
will be able to proceed nonstop – rail in the
corridor would be stopping at station after station
– with minimal transfers. Road-based transit will
be more economical to build and operate, and will
attract a higher ridership than unsuitable
station-&-transfer based rail.
to Tysons Corner from
West Falls Church
may be justified. Tysons has a large concentration
of workplaces and commerce, could support shuttle
services going into the suburbs of the Dulles
corridor as well as to different terminals at the
airport. Some would use the Dulles Toll Road
, others could choose alternative routes. A Tysons
rail terminus also would
allow motorists to transfer from the Beltway,
or the Toll Road, to Metro in a way they cannot at
West Falls Church
or indeed any other Metro station.
only would a more modest approach – rail to Tysons,
roads beyond – save the region from a special
taxing district and higher tolls, but it would keep
the charming drifts of windswept pines in the
central median of the Dulles
Toll Road thus retaining a small element of beauty there.
December 2, 2002
Peter Samuel is editor of
Toll Roads Newsletter, and a member of the Board of Scholars of the
Virginia Institute for Public Policy, an education
and research organization headquartered in