Reston Re-Develops as Metro Construction Progresses

Graphic credit: Washington Post. (Click for more legible image.)

The financing and politics of the Rail-to-Dulles heavy rail project may be a fiasco, but Phase 1 of the construction does seem to be coming in on schedule and on budget, and the imminent roll-out of Silver Line service is prodding hoped-for redevelopment around the Metro stops. The Washington Post provides a broad overview of the activity taking place around the Wiehle Ave. station on the eastern edge of Reston, which is scheduled to open in 2013.

The $750 million Reston Station is under construction by Comstock Partners. The mixed-use project — 500,000 square feet of office space, 100,000 square feet of restaurants and retail, a 200-room hotel and 900 luxury residences — is being developed above and around the Metro station. The facility, being developed in a public-private partnership with Fairfax County, will include a commuter park-and-ride facility, a transit bus depot, 23,00 commuter parking spaces and several hundred additional parking spaces for the retail establishments being constructed above the Metro station.

Meanwhile, the owner of a mini-storage facility is applying for permission to rezone and redevelop his property into more homes and office space.

Having thoroughly botched development around the Vienna and Dunn Loring stations with commuter parking lots when the original Metro system was built, Fairfax County is determined to get the development right this time around.  The Post compares plans for the Wiehle station to the highly successful development in Arlington’s Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, which provides for significant density immediately around the stations and step-down densities to surrounding neighborhoods.

The planning is not yet complete. Writes Frederick Kunkle: “After more than two years of planning, a task force of county staff members, residents and property owners is still working on guidelines that would dictate the redevelopment around the new station, including an urban grid, parks and more residential and commercial development.”

Still, the evolution of thinking in Fairfax County does represent a step forward toward more functional human settlement patterns.

Meanwhile, re-development of the area around Wiehle Station has been slowed by the uncertainty created by Loudoun County’s indecision on whether to proceed with Phase 2 of the Silver Line. If Loudoun opts out and Phase 2 is never built, the Wiehle Ave. station will mark the terminus of the Silver Line, which could make it a magnet for commuters from the outer suburbs and alter how re-development should take place.

The Post article sheds no light, however, on a pressing question: What pace of re-development will market conditions support, especially given all the new office, retail and residential space that Metro will spur in nearby Tysons Corner? With the Obama administration constraining defense spending and Republicans threatening to throttle non-defense spending, growth projections for the Washington area generally and Northern Virginia specifically are far less optimistic than they were when planning for the Silver Line began.


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  1. larryg Avatar

    well… when what the Feds are spending is 1.5 trillion a year of Chinese loan dollars that will need to be paid back… the Feds should not be fretting about the Metro rent-seekers..

  2. abroderick Avatar

    I would love for the Metro to come out to Sterling. I think it would help redirect commuter traffic, making roads like 495 a lot less hellish. I know a lot of people who would be excited to have the metro so close.

    1. The Metro is a wonderful thing… as long as someone else pays for it. Unfortunately, there is very little nexus between who pays for the Silver Lane and who benefits from it, which means a few people are making out like bandits and lots of people are getting hosed.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        First Jim says, “…Arlington’s Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, which provides for significant density immediately around the stations and step-down densities to surrounding neighborhoods.”.

        Then, he says, “…a few people are making out like bandits and lots of people are getting hosed.”.

        Interesting. Magically, the Arlington – Rosslyn – Ballston renaissance was a miraculous transformation. However, the Silver Line will hose lots of people.

        1. Two totally different issues. How you pay for heavy rail is one issue. That’s what’s being debated now in the Rail-to-Dulles debate. How you maximize the value of your investment in heavy rail once it has already been made is a separate issue. That’s why I point to the Arlington example.

          Now, if you want to go back into the mists of time and ask whether there could have been a better, more equitable way of funding the Metro stations in Arlington, that’s fine, feel free to do so. There might have been a better, fairer way. But that’s ancient history, and there’s nothing to gain by going there.

          1. DJRippert Avatar

            Perfect is the enemy of good.

            Jim – on transportation issues (and transportation issues alone) you seek perfection. You hope to find some perfect way of assigning today’s costs to beneficiaries who (in some cases) have not even been born yet. This is folly. People who were not yet born when the Hoover Dam was built benefit from both the water impounded by that dam and the clean electricity created by its hydro-electric generators. You yourself were able to benefit from the Eisenhower highway system for which your taxes paid little.

            As for the “mists of time” … that’s precious. By my calculations, you were 16 when construction of Metro began and 23 when the system first opened. You don’t like to consider the history and success of the Metro in Arlington because it contradicts your Tea Party – inspired party line.

            Finally, your suggested alternatives are hard to fathom. You think it’s unfair to raise tolls on DTR commuters because they commute by car rather than by train. Of course, the Metro hasn’t even been built yet so it’s hard to take your “they are car commuters, not train commuters” argument seriously. Who knows how the people who now use the DTR will get to where they are going once the Metro is built? Who knows what their children will do? Certainly you don’t know. Your alternatives? Tax the property owners. Already being done. Raise prices at Dulles Airport. Seriously? It’s unfair to raise the tolls on local commuters on the DTR because they may not take the Metro. But it’s perfectly fair to raise prices on people from Atlanta who happen to be flying through Dulles Airport.

          2. Here’s a novel idea, Don. You want to raise money for Metro? Trying charging the people who ride the Metro!

      2. DJRippert Avatar

        Everybody in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties will benefit from the extended metro. Just like everybody in New York City benefits from that city’s extensive subway system. Just like everybody in every major city benefits from the subway systems that are found in virtually every major city in the developed world.

        Subways have been benefitting cities for over 100 years. To act like they are some kind of experimental effort in nouveau transportation policy is quite bizarre.

        1. The cities/regions that benefit the most from heavy rail have surrounded rail stations with appropriate land use. If you don’t put the right land use into place, you’re pissing money away. Fairfax botched the job with its first two Metro stations. It’s good to see that it’s finally doing things right.

          So, let’s assume that, done correctly, heavy rail is a tremendous regional asset. There comes the question of who pays. If heavy rail creates so much economic value, why is it so difficult to create mechanisms to capture that value from those who use/benefit from the system to pay for its construction and operation?

          Conversely, if it’s so difficult to capture that value, then how can we be sure the value creation is really there?

          1. DJRippert Avatar

            Why didn’t the people of Southern California finance the Hoover Dam themselves? After all, they were the biggest beneficiaries, I guess. Because the people who would ultimately benefit were not even born yet?

            On a micro scale, why doesn’t every county finance its own education system itself? After all, it’s the children of the people in the county that will benefit. Or, better yet, why don’t we simply charge the children to go to school? After all, their prospects are enhanced by the education they are receiving and they will earn more than they would have earned without that education. We can even set up loans that elementary school children can take in order to pay for the education they receive.

            Jim, you seem to have a rough understanding of long term investments and the challenge of tying the benefits of those investments to future beneficiaries. But then you go all blind to those challenges when it comes to transportation.

            Sometimes, society itself has to finance the improvements.

            Should there be better analysis of these projects? Yes – with the caveat that predicting the future is more art than science. I remember a lot of controversy regarding the building of the original Metro. However, I don’t recall anybody saying, “It will work great in Arlington but poorly in Fairfax.”. funny how the future doesn’t always submit to the models we build today.

          2. DJRippert Avatar

            “Conversely, if it’s so difficult to capture that value, then how can we be sure the value creation is really there?”.

            Ken Elzinga called. He offered to return the money you paid for attending his class in economics.

            My company is about to build a new product in our suite of products. Is it really practical for me to pre-identify the unbuilt product’s customers and then pre-charge them for a product I don’t yet have?

            Or, do I have to find an investor willing to put up the money required to build the product with an understanding that he / she may make or lose money in the bargain?

          3. “Find an investor willing to put up the money required to build the product with an understanding that he / she may make or lose money in the bargain?”

            Now you’re talking! When you can find an investor willing to put up his own money to finance a transportation project, I’m all in favor of finding a way to make it happen.

      3. DJRippert Avatar


        The Silver Line isn’t open yet. How do I charge the riders of the Silver Line before the doors open? I can only assume that you think the commuters in Rockville who take the Metro into DC should be charged for a line they will never use. Somehow, in your theory, it’s better to charge Rockville to DC commuters for a Leesburg to Tyson’s subway than to charge the Lessburg to Tyson’s commuters using the DTR.

        Wow. You really are running out of ideas here, aren’t you?

  3. larryg Avatar

    DJ – when you travel to all these foreign destinations, do you use their subways?

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Sometimes, I do. But I am a distinct minority. The people I see on those subways seem to look, sound, dress and act like locals rather than foreigners. London – yes. Tokyo – yes. Paris – rarely. Toronto – never.

  4. The people saw the magic lamp, called Silver Line. They rubbed and rubbed the lamp, waiting for the Silver Line to make traffic congestion less and less and less. The lamp spoke back and said you must first buy me for billions of dollars. The people did not have billions of dollars so they pretended people using the Toll Road would pay unlimited sums of money to pay for the lamp.
    Then the people had a vision. The Silver Line had a capacity of somewhere between three and 14 trains per hour, with eight cars, holding 200 or so passengers. Each Silver Line train above three per hour reduces service on the Orange Line route. The modal split for the Silver Line will be less than the R-B corridor and less than Bethesda.
    Excluding Reston, the arrival of the Silver Line means $2.3 billion in new road improvements, including as many as 3-5 new lanes on the Toll Road and a new lane on the Beltway between Route 7 and I-6, heading south. These roads must be added by 2030, at which time, the traffic gods have forecasted them to fail with higher traffic volumes. The addition of density at Reston will also require added roadway capacity (unknown at this time), but most certainly added capacity on the Toll Road.
    But the people knew this vision was wrong. Magic will happen and the Silver Line will make traffic better. It had to cuz it just wouldn’t be a good story if it didn’t.
    This little fable also explains why the rubes from RoVA regularly eat the lunches belonging to the smart and sophisticated people of NoVA.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Another fable –

      Henry Ford came to Virginia with his “infernal combustion engine”. It had become popular up North where the people who fought on the wrong side of “America’s Second War for Independence” lived. He claimed that his invention would someday be owned by almost every family and would let people travel at 10X the speed possible by horse. But, the Virginians knew better than to trust any such hocus-pocus. The fuel for the contraption could only be found in a few fields in Pennsylvania. The horse trails were too narrow for two of the beasts to pass each other. And, while the well educated white men of Virginia society might be smart enough to operate such a complicated monstrosity certainly they would be the only ones.

      So, Virginians looked to their leaders (and betters) in Richmond for guidance. “Keep your horses and stables” said the political elite. “This silly Northern Trend will soon pass” was their slogan. The people went back to growing ever more hay for the inevitable rise in the population of horses while the General Assembly resumed their discussion of financing a state-wide string of blacksmith schools to provide for the Commonwealth’s future.

  5. larryg Avatar

    What is the true benefit of heavy rail? What argument do you make? It does not really reduce congestion – even at rush hour but it DOES provide better mobility – at rush hour – to riders.

    Heavy rail in Japan – makes a farebox profit… right?

    so why do we insist on subsidizing here?

    anyone have an opinion of this:

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      My opinion is that Bacon has it half right. Land use planning must be changed in order to maximize the value of mass transit. I disagree with him in believing that the world must stop spinning and all progress must halt until perfection is achieved.

      Isn’t it funny how the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond will make the PLA a publicity event by proposing all manners of laws against it but never even discuss the possibility of making land use reform a consideration?

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        As for Japan – first, look at land use in Japan. Then, before you get too congratulatory of Japanese government, take another long look at the geography of Japan.

        Trains turn a profit in Japan because there is no alternative.
        There is no alternative in places like Tokyo because of population density.
        The population density is astronomically high because most of Japan’s limited land is almost uninhabitable mountains.

  6. larryg Avatar

    ” The Silver Line isn’t open yet. How do I charge the riders of the Silver Line before the doors open?”

    I missed this but if we’re going to toll the heck out of DTR drivers to pay for the Silver Line bonds… then why not do the same bonds to be paid back from farebox?

    re: “alternatives” – so .. building more roads in NoVa actually harms METRO?

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