Tag Archives: Fairfax County

Largest Northern Virginia jurisdiction near Washington, D.C. Over 1,000,000 million people live there. One of the richest counties in the United States.

Whiele-Ave-Silver-Line-Station

Generations in the marking, the first phase of Metro’s Silver Line is open

Saturday afternoon was a big day for transportation in Northern Virginia and greater Washington, D.C. – the first phase of the Silver Line opened between Whiele Ave-Reston and East Falls Church. Five new stations, including four in Tysons, one of the largest office districts in the U.S., are now in service providing greater connectivity for the entire Washington, D.C. region.

My family and I rode the first train to Whiele Ave-Reston from Courthouse station in Arlington. We were in the front car which was a little more than half full. Several people were in the very front with their cameras. Other riders took the train only as far as some of the Tysons stops, particularly the Tysons Corner stop which serves the two malls. When the train left the Orange Line tracks for the new Silver Line tracks, there was mild applause.

I jumped out at each of the stops to take a few photos, but with the whole family along, including our 1-month old son taking his first Metro ride, I did not explore. It was interesting to get a new perspective on the familiar Tysons area from the elevated tracks. The best view of the Tysons skyline is on the big curve from the media of the Dulles Access Road to VA 123.

At the Whiele Ave-Reston East terminus, there was a celebration hosted by Comstock. VIPs got to go indoors, while the public was entertained by a DJ playing a bunch of music that came out when I was in middle school. We had a quick picnic there anyway, before returning to the platform to take the Silver Line back to Courthouse.

[flickr : Silver Line Opening Day/slideshow]

The ride was smooth, though not as fast as I would have thought, particularly on the return trip.


Rail to Tysons (and eventually Dulles Airport) was something I wondered if would ever happen. Like baseball in D.C., it made a lot of sense, but there were obstacles to getting there. Increased Metro service is a bigger deal than baseball, but the absence of both for most of my life was frustrating.

George Mason University history professor Zachary Schrag (Q & A: The Great Society Subway) made the case in his outstanding book, The Great Society Subway, that Metro should have been built to Tysons rather than Vienna all along. Instead, the Orange Line was built through the median of Interstate 66 all the way past the Nutley Street interchange. Though recent development, mostly in the form of low-rise apartments has come to the Orange Line corridor outside the Capital Beltway, the primary role of that Metro Line is as suburb to city, commuter rail, rather than an intraurban subway. Ultimately, the Silver Line will do the same though. The increasingly urbanized Tysons Corner and its four stations will be the only ones, with the exception of the Dulles Airport station, that are not within the median of the Dulles Toll Road. The commuter rail/subway hybrid has always been a compromise to maximize the constituency (and funding partners) of Metro.


Getting this far with the Silver Line has been messy and expensive. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority struck a deal with the Commonwealth of Virginia and the federal government to build the Silver Line in exchange for taking over the Dulles Toll Road. Much of the funding (too much), is coming out of automobile tolls. Some subsidy from motorists is appropriate, but perhaps a comparatively token fee, such as a $1 a ticket, passed along to Dulles Airport flyers would have been more helpful. The partnership between two public authorities MWAA and Washignton Metropolitan Transit Authority isn’t ideal and this will never be a great deal, but as the saying goes, at least it got built.

The Silver Line has also created a squeeze at the Rosslyn tunnel which has cut into Blue Line service. I ride the Blue Line several times a week, but I have found it to be manageable, albiet more crowded. Come September, it could get very crowded. Optimization of the Rosslyn tunnels is an urgent need and long-term, more tubes under the Potomac is also needed. That will be another 15-25 years, I’m afraid.


Building the Tysons portion above ground rather than below it is a flawed decision, but at a certain point, the attitude of “at least it got built” wins out again. I don’t mind the views, but this was pennywise and pound-foolish. Will it hold back Tysons development? Probably not, Chicago seems to do fine with elevated trains and locally, Silver Spring and Alexandria have strong transit oriented development near above ground Metro lines.

If the Silver Line is to succeed, it will be in spite of its builder, not because of it.

I believe that the Silver Line will ultimately be successful and vital to region, but it, like much of the area’s transportation and development isn’t a home run.

FURTHER READING

Post coverage of the Silver Line

WAMU’s coverage

Tysons, Va. December 10, 2013 snow fall total at 10 a.m.

TYSONS, Va. — It is kind of hard to believe, but after last winter’s snow drought was followed by some measurable March snow, we’re already into our second winter storm of the 2013-2014 winter. In as many days, no less. The snow wasn’t really measurable yesterday; just enough to make it pretty before the mixed precipitation started. Today though, there is enough, only I had a problem — I can’t find my ruler at work. A co-worker offered this solution:

PROTRACTOR IN SNOW!

The official WWN Weather Bureau reading – 3 inches, though some may be from yesterday. I hope to have one more protractor-measured reading around lunch time.

Also: Alexandria, Va. December 10, 2013 snow fall total at 10 a.m. & My commute

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Sen. Mark Warner: Silver Line to open in April 2014

New Silver Line map
Silver Line To Start Service In April, Says WarnerWAMU
The first phase of Metro’s new Silver Line will delayed until April 2014 according to Virginia Senator Mark Warner. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is building the Silver Line and will then turn it over to the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Warner says Metro will fail to collect $2 to $3 million in fares each month the Silver Line is delayed. The project was delayed a second time earlier this week so testing on safety software could be completed. Warner says Silver Line won’t open now until April.

A letter Warner sent to MWAA outlines his concerns and is included in the link above.

Of course, Sen. Warner isn’t the one who makes the decisions:

The Silver Line was supposed to open between Whiele Ave-Reston and East Falls Church via four Tysons stations, this month until a delay was announced in June 2013.

Perhaps having a federal airports authority build a rapid transit rail line wasn’t ideal. That being said, at least it’s getting built, I guess.

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WMATA’s new Metro map with Silver Line released

With new Metro map, agency tries to market Silver LineThe Post
The new Silver Line, currently expected to open in early 2014, requires a new Metro system map. In order to accommodate the line that will serve the Dulles Corridor, the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority brought back original designer, Laynce Wyman to figure to create an updated map. An initial version debuted in 2012 in conjunction with Rush Plus.

The new map (with annotations from The Post) keeps the basic design that dates back to the 1970s. There are several differences:

  • The Metro lines are not as wide
  • For the Blue-Orange-Silver portion, there are little white prongs attached to the station circle
  • Abbreviations are also being used for station names — i.e. Morgan Boulevard is now Morgan Blvd

One change that isn’t mentioned is that the line colors are different shades than what was used for about three decades. This change actually occurred within the last couple of years as the proposed Silver Line started appearing on maps.

I decided to go back and find an older Metro map* and compare it with the current edition.

WMATA MAPS PRESENT & PAST

NEW


OLD

maps not to scale

Using graphics software, I grabbed the hex/RGB numbers of each line’s color, past and present and put them together in this table:

WMATA SPECTRUM PRESENT & PAST
LINE NEW COLOR NEW HEX/RGB OLD COLOR OLD HEX/RGB
BLUE #0795d3
198-97-83
  #015593
1-85-147
RED   #be1337
190-19-55
  #e7312e
239-49-46
ORANGE   #da8707
218-135-7
  #f86e33
248-110-51
YELLOW   #f5d415
245-212-21
  #fbd731
251-215-49
GREEN   #00b050
0-176-80
  #00733a
0-115-8
SILVER   #a2a4a1
162-164-161
N/A N/A

I’m not sure that these color changes needed to be made, particularly the Orange Line which is pretty dull now. The Yellow Line seems the least changed.

As for the Silver Line itself:

Now, Metro has turned its focus to what its chief marketer calls “raising awareness” of the new, $6 billion rail line that eventually will run to Dulles International Airport and parts of Loudoun County.

Research among focus groups and from surveys conducted this year showed that only 45 to 55 percent of riders in the Washington region are aware of the rail addition, Metro said.

That leaves some transportation and land-use experts skeptical of whether — and when — the Silver Line will meet its ridership expectations. As one of the country’s most expensive transportation projects underway, the Silver Line is seen as an important test of whether drivers will abandon their cars and ride a transit line.

The Silver Line extension being built from East Falls Church will be 23 miles long when completed. The first phase is 11 miles and includes four new stations in Tysons Corner and one in Reston. Construction of the second phase, which will run to Dulles International Airport and into Loudoun County, is expected to start in mid-2014.

I would like to know more about the survey — which riders are most aware or unaware of the Silver Line. If they are Red Line riders, that’s probably not too big a deal. If they are Orange Line riders in Arlington, we’ll that’s a different story.

I still wish WMATA had gone with a letter/number suffix naming convention.

On a lighter note, I think I’ll wait until the Silver Line is completed to Loudoun County before I order a Metro map shower curtain (We Love DC).

*Finding an old Metro map was harder than I expected. The small one I found turned out to be from Hardball Talk of all things, from last season when the Washington Nationals in a typical tone-deaf move, argued about keeping Metro open in case of late-games.

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More Silver Line problems

Federal official raises concerns about safety on new Metro lineThe Post
On Wednesday, we learned that the Silver Line would likely be delayed. Know, we seem to know why:

Dealing with the changes and with faulty testing of the safety systems could delay the December opening of the $5.6 billion rail extension, officials said.

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, in a letter to local officials, said he was troubled by a contractor’s failure to obtain approval for the changes to what is known as the automatic train control system.

The controls serve the same function as those that failed in the fatal 2009 Red Line crash, and the contractor is the same company that manufactured the Red Line controls.

In his letter, obtained by The Washington Post, Rogoff said the contractor, Alstom Signaling, “unilaterally made various design changes to the [automatic train control system] without prior approval” from Metro or the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Ugh. What were they thinking?

The Silver Line’s first phase will run from Whiele Ave. in Reston to the Orange Line between West Falls Church and East Falls Church stations via Tysons. It seems a 2014 opening is a lock now, but when in 2014?

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WTOP: Silver Line delayed until 2014

WTOP Exclusive: Silver Line opening delayed until JanuaryWTOP
I can’t say I was surprised when I saw this tweet this afternoon:

Once the Bechtel Corporation completes the work and the airport authority certifies it, Metro will take at least 90 days to independently test the trains and tracks and hire and schedule staff to operate the Silver Line.

When pressed, Carnaggio admitted Oct. 1 would be a likely date for the handover to Metro, making Jan. 1 the earliest launch date.

“Weather has played a role in the reason the date is where it is now and we are confident the contractor will meet it,” he says.

In theory, the delay will be as little as three weeks. Having a 2014 opening instead of a 2013 is disappointing, particularly given the awful traffic around Tysons prior to Christmas.

The second phase, completing the Silver Line to and beyond Dulles Airport is expected in January 2019.

On a happier note, WMATA is expected showcase the 7000 series Metro rail cars tomorrow:

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Silver Line progressing with a possible late year opening

New Silver Line map
In the last few weeks, Metro rail cars have begun traveling up and down the Silver Line. The tracks, at least east of Tysons, have been energized and testing is ongoing.

[flickr : Photos tagged with silverlineopenhousemaps/slideshow]

Big changes are coming when the Silver Line opens, some of them outlined in this Dr. Gridlock update from earlier in the week. The Metropolitan Washington Area Transit Authority (WMATA) discloses that Blue Line riders will experience a decrease level of service as a result of the Silver Line, but argues that five riders will see benefits for every one rider who sees repercussions.

Last month, I went to an open house about the Silver Line in Crystal City hosted by WMATA. I jotted down some notes and took some photographs. A few notes:

  • Increased shuttle bus service in Tysons will be concurrent with the Silver Line with current West Falls Church buses being reassigned to serve Tysons stations.
  • Car parking and secure bike parking will be available at the Wiehle-Reston East station, but not any of the Tysons stations. Bike-sharing is a possible solution in Tysons.
  • Of great interest in the long-term is that Metro is evaluating adding a second Rosslyn station that would restore blue line trips to Rosslyn with a Silver line “interface” as well. Another option is a wye from Orange to Blue.
  • A new downtown line (M Street corridor) isn’t in long-term plans, but height-limit revisions could accelerate need. WMATA believes that additional rail cars could delay the need for expansion for another 15 years or so.
  • 64 new 7000-series rail cars entering service to replace 1000 series cars which date to the systems launch. Another 64 are being allotted to the Silver Line.
  • The Silver Line will extend to Largo, paired with the Blue Line.

It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out – I’m kind of skeptical they can get it operational by end of 2013.

OFFICIAL SITE


Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project– DC to Dulles Metrorail

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The crumbling Beltway

Beneath the surface, the Beltway crumblesThe Post
The core infrastructure of the Capital Beltway (Interstate 495 and between Springfield, Va. and Beltsville, Md. also Interstate 95) is approaching the end of its usable life.

Under the surface of all but some recently restored segments, fissures are spreading, cracks are widening and the once-solid road bed that carries about a quarter-million cars a day is turning to mush.

In a perfect world, it would be torn up — the asphalt and concrete, and the bed of crushed stone below — right down to the bare earth. From that fresh start a new and stable highway would grow. But this is the Beltway, and closing down whole sections of it would tie one of the most congested regions in the nation into a Gordian knot.

“With the older base layers under the asphalt, the surface is not able to absorb the pounding the way it used to,” said Doug Simmons, deputy highway administrator in Maryland, home to almost two-thirds of the 64-mile Beltway and to the more serious of the highway’s problems. “It is at that 50-year age point, which is too close to [the end of its life]. It’s a good example of the challenges we’re going to be facing not only in Maryland but other places in the country.”

Two big challenges await getting the Beltway rebuilt:

  1. funding – the traditional method, the gas tax, doesn’t pull in enough funds to meet the needs and there is no political mandate to raise it to realistic levels. All sorts of ways around raising the gas tax, like multinational companies building privately financed toll roads, are being developed.
  2. The actual reconstruction would be painful, as Northern Virginia commuters experienced with the 495 Express lanes.

There is some good news – those express lanes on the Virginia side have resulted in a whole new roadway for all drivers, though the income being generated is below projections. The bad news is that the Prince George’s County side of the Beltway handles the I-95 through traffic.

Things will probably get worse before they get better.

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