Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpIn this season of silver bells, Metro’s long-on-the-drawing-board Silver Line is nearing its day to begin its people-moving.

The coming impact on Arlington and environs of the new rail option to Tysons, Reston and – eventually – Dulles was sketched handily Dec. 11 at the Arlington Committee of 100.

Expect more-frequent trains along Arlington’s portion of the Orange Line but also some intensified competition against Fairfax to attract businesses, young residents and shoppers.

Jim Hughes, who has spent 18 years at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, said the first five-station stretch of the Silver Line’s two-phase extension will open “sometime this spring,” following 60 – 90 days of Metro testing.

He’s excited by the first new line in decades, saying it will add 50,000 riders a day on Silver trains that run every six minutes during rush hour and every 12 – 20 minutes off-peak. Arlingtonians will be able to take either the Orange or Silver Line train from downtown and gain quick access to shopping at Tysons.

The Tysons to Rosslyn trip will take 22 minutes for the same fare as from Vienna, Hughes said. He shot down the “myth” that people will be forced to debark at East Falls Church – the Orange and Silver lines use the same track. He did say there will be less-frequent Orange Line trains to Vienna.

The gains for Arlington are less secure on the economic front. The station most impacted – East Falls Church, where the Silver Line connects – will not soon see any of the new development that was approved in concept, as investors have yet to come forward.

With all the new attention to Tysons, Fairfax has a “bigger pipeline” of approved development projects that is approximately three times Arlington’s, according to Alexander Iams, Arlington Economic Development’s acting deputy director and commercial development planner. Because of BRAC, some recent federal agency pullouts and the General Services Administration’s tightened requirements on leasing rates, Arlington’s office vacancy rate has headed up, from 8 percent to 19 percent, he said. Our longtime affordability advantage over Fairfax has narrowed.

But overall, Iams said, the Silver Line benefits the region, and he thinks Arlington can work with businesses to hold its own in the development competition, thanks to its strategic visions for Crystal City and Columbia Pike.

“Arlington has a 40-year head start in transit-oriented development,” Iams said. “Tysons is just starting and is not at parity.” The head start should help keep young professionals residing in Arlington. Our commercial growth was steady through the recession, while “Tysons is a little more susceptible to downturn.”

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Next time you’re on the Arlington bike path, say thanks to Henry Hulme Jr., a 35-year county employee who headed the Public Works Department and led creation of the trails. He died Nov. 25. A third-generation Arlingtonian (Washington-Lee Class of ’50), Hulme was a “stately, courtly gentleman,” I was told by former Arlington activist and real estate agent Jim Robinson.

After hearing a Committee of 100 presentation Hulme made in the late 1980s, Robinson challenged Hulme privately on his claim that all Arlington streets had been plowed after a snowstorm. The next day Hulme called Robinson personally to confirm that Arlington Boulevard, as a state road, was not on the county roster. He arranged for future plowing and gave guidance on obtaining streetlights. Says Robinson, “Sounds like hands-on management.”