Tuesday, August 4, 2009

For the first time since the Green Line was completed in 1991, the Metro system will add a new line. Construction on the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, part of the Silver Line, began March 12 after years of discussion and political wrangling.

The Silver Line will begin at the Stadium-Armory stop at the end of the Blue and Orange lines in Southeast Washington, running adjacent to 18 Orange Line stops and breaking off after its East Falls Church stop. The line is expected to run 23 miles through Fairfax County and Washington Dulles International Airport and end several miles into Loudoun County.

Since January 2008, the infrastructure for electric, telecommunications, water and other utilities has been modified in preparation for rail construction. The project is on Phase 1, which extends from the Orange Line through Tysons Corner until Wiehle Avenue. It is expected to be completed in 2013.

Though many government institutions and residents over the years have advocated building a rail extension to Dulles airport, some businesses in the Tysons Corner area are not pleased with the impact of construction on them.

Joe Nocerino, chief executive and owner of Century Planning Associates, a proposal-development firm in the Tysons Corner area, is pessimistic about the new rail line. The entrepreneur says many small businesses will move out of the area within five years because it will become too expensive and the largely aerial rail system will be unattractive.

“They’re not going to come back,” Mr. Nocerino said of the businesses that leave Tysons Corner. “This is going to hurt Tysons in the long run, because when you establish a business in another place, it’s your new home.”

Though Mr. Nocerino’s firm has not been greatly impacted, he says getting to and from the office is a hassle. He also claims that nobody in the business park where his company is located was consulted about Silver Line construction before it began.

The idea of a rail connection to Dulles airport predates the founding of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority by President Johnson in 1966. The Federal Aviation Administration suggested in 1964 that the median of the Dulles Access Road could provide room for future rail expansion.

Howard Menaker, communications and outreach manager for Dulles Transit Partners — a private contractor involved in building and designing the extension’s first phase of construction — acknowledges that businesses would be affected by construction. However, he points to the contractor’s 600 meetings with businesses and residents since 2004 as evidence that community voices are being heard.

“We began years ago,” Mr. Menaker said, “in a combined effort of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and Dulles Transit Partners to reach out to business and residents and to begin to explain what the project was, what its benefits are and what the impact of construction would be.”

Mr. Menaker also explained that his firm works with the Virginia Department of Transportation to issue traffic advisories and has established a 24-hour hot line that addresses construction issues.

However, restaurateur Sayed Husain, owner of the Da Domenico Italian restaurant in the 1900 block of Chain Bridge Road in McLean, says he was never consulted. He says his restaurant, in the vicinity of Silver Line construction as well as the development of four new toll lanes along the Capital Beltway, has seen business decline almost 50 percent as a result of its location.

Though he admits he is unsure whether he is affected more by the construction of the Silver Line or new toll lanes, Mr. Husain said he has had to deal with dirt drifting into his restaurant, customer confusion over its location and the occasional presence of portable toilets.

“I think this area is going to get worse before it gets better,” Mr. Husain predicted. “So we have to suffer three years more, and God knows, maybe I’ll have to shut my business. Because if the customers don’t get in, how can we pay the rent and the utilities and the [employees]?”

Mr. Menaker said he was unsure whether Tysons Corner businesses are taking a hit because of the recession or construction. Diane Poldy, president of the Vienna-Fairfax Regional Chamber of Commerce agreed.

“It’s hard to tell what is a result of the economy and what is a result of construction,” Ms. Poldy said. “And it’s probably a combination, but its hard to decipher what has the greater impact.”

In the long run, Mr. Nocerino is left worrying that the project’s price tag will grow, directly affecting taxpayers. Currently, official estimates put the cost of Phase 1 construction at $2.6 billion.

“The county is taking on an enormous potential liability,” he said. “This thing could be $5 billion or $10 billion. When they say the county is putting in money, it’s businesses like mine that are being taxed.”

Jeff Bishku-Aykul is a student at McGill University in Montreal.

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