Connolly Hosts Metro Forum

By: Keith Walker
Published: September 27, 2011
WOODBRIDGE, Va. —Rep. Gerald E. “Gerry” Connolly, D-11th, was in the area Monday talking up the idea of extending Metro to Prince William County.In January, Connolly introduced a resolution to get money for a feasibility study to find out how hard it would be to bring Metro to PrinceWilliam.He’s still pushing for the resolution to pass.Connolly brought a panel of experts with him to Harbor View in Woodbridge to lay out the process and talk about the benefits of bringing commuter rail to the area even though it could be years before anything happens.

“I certainly don’t presume to tell Prince William County what the answer is, but I do think that in my capacity as your representative in Congress, it is incumbent on me to get that dialogue started,” Connolly told an audience of about 150.

Panel member Richard Taube, of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, said commuter rail service saves money and time, reduces pollution and brings in revenue.

Metro today takes 600,000 cars off the road and prevents 1 million tons of pollutants from ever getting into the atmosphere, Taube said.

“The tax revenues thrown off from development around the Metro stations is also enormous. The figure is something like eight percent of the land area in Arlington generates 50 or 60 percent of your total property tax revenues,” Taube said.

He also said building a commuter rail system is cheaper in the long run than building roads.

“If you are building capacity that can move a lot of people in an environmentally friendly way and contribute positively to development, then it’s more of an investment than an expense,” he said. “Comparing the cost of building rail to the cost of building freeways, it comes out in favor of rail.”

John McClain, of the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis, was also on the panel and said Metro would offer county residents transportation options.

“One of the key things we know from history and some of the experiences we’ve had is that it can be an alternative way to commute and it’s always good to have a choice,” he said.

Panel member David Robertson, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, reminded the audience of about 150 that getting rail extended to Prince William County would be a “marathon, not a sprint.”

One of the questions that came to the panel on a 3X5 index card seemed to indicate that bringing Metro rail to the county could be sneaked past the public.

Taube said that aside from funding, other obstacles in front of such a project included forming a transportation plan for Northern Virginia, establishing a state transportation program, going before a transportation planning board along with conducting feasibility plans and architectural, historical and environmental impact studies.

“There are lots of agencies that have to provide approvals and most of those will require public hearings,” Taube said. “There are many agencies that have to step in and rule along the way.”

Connolly assured the audience that nothing could be done undercover.

“If there are those who are concerned that somebody might sneak this by, it’s an extremely public process. It’s a long process. You can’t hide this one,” Connolly said.

Other questions that came to the panel asked about increased traffic, the cost of bringing Metro to the county and crime rates around Metro stations.

McClain said traffic decreases when Metro comes to an area even though development might increase.

The development around Metro stations tends to be mixed use that encourages walking, he said.

“The evidence in the Reston-Ballston corridor is that there’s less traffic on the streets,” McClain said.

He also said business increases around rail nodes.

“It’s an enabler of economic activity,” he said.

All on the panel agreed crime rates did not go up when Metro came into an area.

Connolly readily admitted that funding for the project would be a problem.

When the Metro system was first started, Connolly said, the feds paid about 80 percent on the project.

When the $5 billion project to extend Metro to Dulles International Airport was approved the feds were only on the hook for 16 percent of the cost.

Sen Linda T. “Toddy” Puller, D-36th,  was in the audience and said if Metro was to be extended to Prince William County, money would have to come from everywhere and the community would have to be behind the project.

“We’re not going to get it funded unless the local government, the state government and the federal government each do their part to make it happen,” she said.

Del. Luke Torian, D-52nd, was also in the audience and said it’s time to get started.

“It’s going to help us if it takes another 10 years to do it, we’re going to get started now. We’re casting a vision for bringing Metro to Prince William County. It’s going to improve the quality of life for my daughter and hopefully my grandchildren,” he said.

Cleveland Anderson, Torian’s Republican opponent in the race for the district seat, attended the meeting and sent out a press release Monday night.

“Metro to Woodbridge is an unrealistic project that will cost over $3 billion and will result in a massive tax increase for Prince William County. Mr. Torian and his liberal friends may like the idea of a tax increase, but with my decades of business experience, I know that a tax increase will devastate our economy,” Anderson wrote in the release. “Metro to Woodbridge is nothing more than a Democrat talking point that comes out during election years. We might as well propose buying every household a helicopter to get to work, because that is just as likely to happen as Metro to Woodbridge.”

Senior reporter Keith Walker can be reached at 703-369-6751. 




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