It will be neither easy nor cheap to turn an automobile-dependent suburban office park into a transit-dependent urban center over the next 40 years. The Fairfax County Planning Commission's Tysons Corner Committee acknowledged as much in its fourth version of its "Strawman" recommendations last month. Like its namesake scarecrow, the document should give Fairfax County taxpayers quite a fright.
In order to entice a sufficient number of commuters to use the $6 billion Silver Line Metrorail project now under construction, at least $3 billion in public infrastructure improvements are needed to turn Tysons' pedestrian-hostile street grid into one resembling a more traditional downtown.
Therein lies the conundrum. When members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the Silver Line, they knew it would be sucking all available transportation funding out of the region for decades. So when they approved massive high-rise development in Tysons last year, they had no idea how to pay for road improvements or a circulator bus system that would make it all work.
The committee's solution? Ask the state and federal governments -- which both dumped most of the Silver Line costs onto the backs of local taxpayers -- for more money. If there's a Top 10 List of Wishful Thinking, this recommendation would certainly make it: "All stakeholders in Tysons, including the County, residents, landowners, businesses, and developers engage together in a proactive, and concerted and sustained effort to lobby and secure funds for Tysons from the state and federal governments, and any regional entities."
And if that "proactive, concerted and sustained" lobbying effort doesn't produce the "not yet identified" funding sources needed to urbanize Tysons Corner? That's the scary part.
Developers have already agreed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build streets and sidewalks around their own projects, but that still won't cover the $3 billion-plus tab. The McLean Citizens Association asked the committee to shield county residents from an open-ended liability by including a taxpayer cap of 25 percent on all infrastructure expenditures, but county staff refused. So the future burden on taxpayers countywide remains unknown and unlimited.
Supervisors should never have approved either the Silver Line or massive increased density in Tysons Corner without this critical bit of information. By making taxpayers the deep-pocketed funders of last resort, they virtually guarantee that this long-term project will be approached with negligence toward the bottom line.