Metro to Loudoun: Crazy idea?

So the issue of bringing Metro to Loudoun County is quite the hot topic in many circles these days and it’s been suggested that I should be talking about it. Now, before I do, please allow me to repeat what I wrote in my “About” page:

This is my blog, which means I write about what interests me. I do appreciate debate so long as it’s rational and pertinent. I don’t condone ad hominem attacks and I won’t allow them here in the comments, directed at me or otherwise.

Lastly, there are some issues that will be big in the news that won’t interest me at all. Rather than ask why I’m not writing about this or that, start your own blog and you write about it. Send me the link to your blog and we can reciprocate links on our blogrolls.


I certainly do appreciate questions on matters and am happy to engage in reasonable debate on a variety of issues. However, I don’t have the time or the interest to write on every topic. Since this one’s been recommended, however, I’ll give it my go.

As with just about any topic that has any controversy at all, you’ll find the extremes where 1 group of people are ecstatically in favor or this or that and the other side where people are vehemently opposed. The Metro system’s plans to come out into Loudoun County is no different. In order to understand where I’m coming from on this, a little history is in order. I moved to this area in the mid- to late 1980’s when the airline I was working for transferred me to their Dulles hub operation. As I was getting to know the area I would occasionally run down into DC, usually on the Metro’s Orange line out of Dunn Loring, and I heard all kinds of people telling me confidently that they were going to extend the Metro all the way out to Dulles. It was a project that would be started any month, now. In 1988. Twenty-four years ago. You’ll notice there’s no Metro to Dulles, yet.

Years have passed and plans have been debated and made and we finally have construction begun on the Silver Line. The line will extend from the Orange Line, just west of the East Falls Church station, out to Route 772/Ryan Road in Loudoun with stations in Tyson’s Corner (4 of ’em), Wiehle Avenue, Reston, Herndon, near the intersection of the Dulles Toll Road and Route 28, Dulles Airport itself, and one on route 606 just past the airport. Supporters of the line tout the ability to ride all the way into DC and beyond on the system without having to drive through the nations’ 2nd-worst traffic picture, park in the some of the worst parking situations I’ve ever seen, and generally endure the nonsense of navigation in DC. Detractors talk costs and the concept that there won’t be sufficient ridership for “10-15 years” to warrant even having the line. The suggestion that I write on the topic seemed to suggest that I’d be on the detractor side of this equation.

Well, I certainly see the point of the cost. The fact of the matter is that Loudoun County, wealthy as it may be, has struggled to find the cash necessary to fund the things we all say we want and, especially, the things we need. The localities that are seeing the Metro stations are being told they have to pony up the money for contruction and operations. I even suspect that the real reason Loudoun is getting those last 2 stations – technically, the Silver Line doesn’t enter Loudoun at all until it gets past Dulles Airport – is so the planners of the line had an excuse to hold out a hat to Loudoun and tell us to ante up. Detractors also, explicitly or implicitly, don’t want the Metro coming out here because it will bring more of the dreaded development. And, you know, those… those… those… people actually need services when they move here! Things like police cover and firehouses and schools and stuff. And, well, some of those detractor clearly don’t want that.

But, as someone who drives on Route 28 and the Dulles Toll Road 5 days a week, I’m really amazed at the notion that there’s insufficient ridership to justify the Metro. Apologies to those who make that claim, but… bullshit. I’m driving at hours of the day when the traffic is down because there are so many people out here who are traveling in toward the city. The evidence that there are plenty of potential riders is right there in front of my eyes Monday through Friday and to tell me that there isn’t is just ignoring reality. Sorry, but that argument is just dead wrong. Now, if they are constraining their comment to just the 2 stations in Loudoun… that there’s not going to be 250,000 riders boarding up at Ryan Road every weekday, well ok. There’s likely not going to be the kind of ridership the Orange Line terminus at Vienna is seeing, at least not for a while. But is that really a reason to not build the transport infrastructure today? We should wait the 10-15 years until the population of Ashburn and surrounds has that level of density that we need the public transport before we start buying the track and breaking ground?

Another argument I keep hearing is for Express Buses and how they’re so much more efficient and better and more cost-effective. I’ve ridden the buses, folks, and it might be a wonderfully comfortable seat, but you know what? It’s in the same traffic as I’m in in my car. The only difference is I’m not at the wheel. And it takes 6 times longer to make lane changes. When there’s an accident on the toll road, or Route 7, or Route 66, those buses are every bit as stuck as I am in my car and when the traffic is crawling at 5-10 mph, it doesn’t matter that I’m sitting in a comfy seat 6 rows back from the windshield or behind the wheel of my ride, I’m crawling. But no, no, they say, we’re talking about buses on dedicated lanes, zipping back and forth between Loudoun and wherever. Great! Where are those, again? And if this is a proposal to start building such things, where are these express, dedicated lanes going to be on the inside of the Beltway? Or are we just not going to go all the way in?

I’m concerned about my taxes, just like everyone else and I don’t want to see Loudoun get fleeced for something we’ll not be getting much value out of. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding the position being taken by people who don’t want Metro out here and they’re not actually calling for the entire Silver Line to be torpedoed. If that’s the case, someone on that side of this debate needs to be a bit more specific about what they’re proposing because simply keeping the status quo and shrugging off the massive traffic issues we have isn’t acceptable, either. So, unless someone has a real proposal on the table that I can look at and judge accordingly, I’m in favor of building the Metro out as planned.


One comment

  1. […] As I’ve already written about here, the Washington Metro is in the process of building a new line, the Silver Line, out from the existing system to Dulles Airport and beyond. There is considerable conflict out here in Loudoun regarding that “and beyond” part, specifically the 2 stations currently on the map that extend past Dulles Airport, the ones at Route 606 and Route 772/Ryan Road. That’s all well and good. This is a large project and an important decision. We should be having a serious and comprehensive debate on the matter. […]

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