by James A. Bacon
At long last, Northern Virginia leaders have a source of regional tax dollars that they can divvy up according to local priorities, not dictated by Richmond. When they deliberated last week on how to divvy up the first dollop of money — $209 million, including a $94 million bond package — one of the biggest allocations on their list was a project I never would have predicted — the Innovation Center Metro station.
Innovation Center is the name given to the planned Phase 2 Metro stop at the intersection of the Dulles Toll Road and Rt. 28. It’s right outside Washington Dulles International Airport and adjacent to the state’s Center for Innovative Technology (CIT). The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority approved a project package that allocated $20 million toward the project, which is estimated to cost $89 million in design, right-of-way acquisition and construction.
Fairfax County had committed to funding elements of Phase 2 of the Dulles rail project over and above the estimated $2.7 billion cost (before construction bids came in lower than expected this spring). This NVTA action significantly reduces the county’s obligation.
According to NVTA’s project description, the multimodal Metro station will include bus bays, bicycle parking, kiss-and-ride and taxi-waiting areas as well as pedestrian bridges. There is not much at present for bicycles and pedestrian bridges to connect to. But that could change in the not-too-distant future. CIT, the state-funded organization dedicated to spurring technology innovation in the state, has big dreams for the area around the station. States the CIT website:
Plans are underway to transform land around the CIT Complex into Innovation Center, a nationally recognized center for innovation comprised of a smart growth, transit-oriented development that includes a mix of high-rise research, office, residential and retail establishments directly connected to the new Metro stop, also named Innovation Center, and Dulles International Airport.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post‘s Tom Jackman describes a debate emerging over whether it would be premature to start planning for the air rights. A Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) study found that it would cost $34 million to install the necessary pilings and platforms needed to build over the station if done during the Metro construction but $60 million if done later.
Fairfax Supervisor Patrick Herrity wants to explore the sale of air rights and full development atop the Silver line, which, he argues, could help bring down the debt of Metro construction. But MWAA says construction of the pilings and platform should wait until demand arises. “We could come back in 20 years and build then,” said one spokesman.
As might be imagined, Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, is a big fan of smart growth. But he’s concerned that the market won’t sustain an air rights project for another 30 years. “There is already an overwhelming supply of land at existing Metro stations in the region,” he told Jackman, “plus Tysons Corner, plus what’s available at the Phase 2 Dulles Rail stations, in addition to all of the non-transit accessible land in places like the Route 28 corridor.”
Bacon’s bottom line: The politics of highway interchanges typically has been a dismaying spectacle in Virginia. I’m guessing that the politics behind Metro stations won’t prove to be any more edifying.
P.S. “Innovation Station” would be a better name for the Metro stop. It rolls off the tongue better than “Innovation Center.” Just my two cents.