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Dulles Rail and the Realities of Suburban Hubs

When Gov. Tim Kaine makes his last-ditch plea for federal funding to extend Metro to Dulles airport, he will of course talk about the need for mass transit both to get air travelers out to the airport and to ease the painful congestion commuters face every day. And he'll talk about the reimagining of Tysons Corner and other suburban Edge Cities that grew up in an entirely car-driven era.

But the emerging research on how we live now and how we're likely to organize our lives in the coming decades adds an even more powerful argument to the case for urbanizing our suburban hubs and using transit to connect those hubs to where we live.

A new study by the Brookings Institution's Harry Holzer and Michael Stoll finds that 65 percent of all Americans and nearly 60 percent of all jobs are now located in the suburbs. We sort of knew that already, but what the study tells us in a fresh way is how Americans move within the suburbs--namely, how throughout the past decade, the population of lower-income suburbs burgeoned while job growth took place primarily in higher-income suburbs. Result: A powerful increase in demand for transportation between those two different kinds of suburbs.

That's what's been feeding the agitation for the Purple Line light rail route in the inner suburbs of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and the Inter-county Connector highway linking I-95 and I-270 in the northern parts of those counties. And that's what's behind the tremendous business, university and political support for the Metro rail extension in Fairfax and Loudoun counties.

One of the biggest shifts the study found in daily movement of people was among Hispanics who live in lower-income suburbs (for example, Salvadorans in Silver Spring, Culmore, or Manassas) and need ways to get to jobs in higher-income suburbs (such as the I-270 biotech corridor, the Dulles tech cluster, downtown Bethesda and Tysons Corner.)

This, the authors say, is a big change from the model that dominated the latter decades of the 20th century, "in which minority residents of segregated urban neighborhoods have limited access to increasingly suburban jobs."

There's still a slightly higher percentage of Americans who live in the suburbs than there is of people who work in the suburbs, but not by much. And while 35 percent of us live in central cities, only 41 percent of us work there, a significant decline from past decades.

The most overwhelming change in the study is in the whereabouts of Latinos, who have been moving to low-income suburbs at a rate several times that of blacks or non-Hispanic whites. (Is this at the root of the agitation against immigrants, a movement centered largely in and near less affluent suburbs?)

And job growth has lagged considerably in those lower-income suburbs, as developers and companies choose to locate instead in more affluent areas of most cities' suburban rings.

For some people, the Washington region is better off than other metro areas in the study, where good jobs are often located clear across the metro area from lower-income suburbs. In those regions, huge numbers of workers must take on commutes far longer than the average drive in this region. In Atlanta, Denver and Chicago, for example, the job growth tends to be located on the other side of the central city from the lower-income suburbs.

Here, while we do have more affluence to the west of the District than to the east, and job growth has lagged in Prince George's County, some lower-income families--mostly Hispanics--are still able to work closer to where they live. But for many blacks and Hispanics in lower-income areas of Prince George's, jobs in the Dulles and I-270 corridors seem awfully far away--and our road and transit systems are not oriented to help with such commutes.

Rail to Dulles wouldn't address that issue of taking people from one side of the District to the other, but it's important to note that most transportation initiatives in the region are essentially east-west in design--smart moves to try to connect where people live with where they do or might work.

By Marc Fisher |  February 1, 2008; 7:39 AM ET
Previous: Move 'Em On, Head 'Em Up: Herding Immigrants in Va. | Next: Break Up To Make Up: The Politics of School Closings


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Interesting point of view, Marc. But the point illustrates the deficiencies in the rail-to-Dulles craziness even more than the FTA letter did. The flawed proposal to help increase density in Tysons, and oh-by-the-way have rail to Dulles, doesn't pass remotely near any low-income area other than Herndon. Rail down the middle of I-66 passing Chantilly going to Manassas would help a lot more people of all income levels. Or how about a Route 7 corridor from Alexandria through Seven Corners to Tysons and then on to Dulles? This current plan goes through the absolutely highest income zip codes in the US (or on the planet, for that matter), including Fairfax areas of McLean, Reston, and eastern Loudoun County. A more flexible light rail or BRT system, which could be changed and scaled with much lower cost and serve more people, might benefit more than those on the receiving end of high density development in Tysons and Loudoun.

Posted by: Let's Get Real | February 1, 2008 9:50 AM

So explain to me how Dulles Rail will get these Salvadoran immigrants (or anyone else, for that matter) from Manassas, for example, to the Dulles Tech Corridor? How does that work?

Oh, I see, now that the Dulles Rail project is faltering, you're gonna wrap it up in the shield of immigration debate rhetoric, along with some very ugly accusations against people trying to maintain their communities in what you term "less affluent suburbs". Sad, just sad.

Posted by: GMU92 | February 1, 2008 10:03 AM

MF: "Latinos, who have been moving to low-income suburbs"

Low-income suburbs like Arlington (18% Latino)? And Alexandria (15%)? Marc, how are we ever going to bring the subway to Arlington and Alexandria?

Posted by: Tom T. | February 1, 2008 10:14 AM

OK, so now that FTA has effectively (but not yet officially? did I miss it?) killed the proposed Metrorail ext'n, which are we more likely to see in our lifetimes - rail to Tysons and IAD, or a 3rd Potomac River highway crossing near... Potomac... to link an extended I-370/ICC and VA-28?

I'm betting that Martians will land on Earth before any real transportation solutions for this region are achieved.

Posted by: smell the coffee | February 1, 2008 10:19 AM


Did Northern Virginians really expect that their state -- which consistently votes conservative in presidential elections and consistently nixes any sort of government spending -- would approve this??

C'mon, they helped put this administration in power... twice.

Posted by: Cynical of Virginians | February 1, 2008 10:24 AM

The most overwhelming change in the study is in the whereabouts of Latinos, who have been moving to low-income suburbs at a rate several times that of blacks or non-Hispanic whites. (Is this at the root of the agitation against immigrants, a movement centered largely in and near less affluent suburbs?) Bingo

If what is occuring in Prince William, Prince Georges, Eastern Montgomery and low-income areas of Farifax occured in North Arlington, Western and Northern Fairfax, and Western Montgomery all you bleeding heart liberals would quickly change your tune on the ILLEGAL immigrant CRISIS

Posted by: Finally an intelligent statement | February 1, 2008 10:24 AM

"65 percent of all Americans .... are now located in the suburbs" & "35 percent of us live in central cities"

So there are exactly 0% who live in rural areas?

Posted by: TonyR | February 1, 2008 10:31 AM

So, that's I mentioned in a previous post, it's infinitely more useful to link the Purple and Silver lines and ignore Dulles. Dulles is just too far out there to be of any real use on the Metrorail system without it being a express line of some kind.

Posted by: dgc | February 1, 2008 10:45 AM

Man, there's nothing more annoying than people that throw around the term "bleeding heart liberal" to blame and villainize any viewpoint they don't agree with. Except when those people use ALL CAPS to emphasize to us just HOW RIGHT they are about THEIR VIEWPOINT.

Posted by: Rosslyn | February 1, 2008 12:54 PM

"That's what's been feeding the agitation for the Purple Line light rail route in the inner suburbs of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and the Inter-county Connector highway linking I-95 and I-270 in the northern parts of those counties. And that's what's behind the tremendous business, university and political support for the Metro rail extension in Fairfax and Loudoun counties."

This is pathetic. Immigration and the need for low-income workers to get out to Tysons has not been part of the argument all along. Metro is a an excellent suburban rail system for getting people into DC -- it will never be a way for poor people to get out to Tysons to shop and work.

Posted by: charlie | February 1, 2008 1:08 PM

Don't blame me that the washington post can't seem to understand the difference between Legal and Illegal

Posted by: To ROSSLYN | February 1, 2008 1:32 PM


The differences are obvious - Legal means obeying the law; Illegal means votes for the Democratic Party (and, I might add, if you are against Illegal, YOU are a racist).

Posted by: NoVA | February 1, 2008 2:03 PM

So the Dulles Metro Rail which, BTW doesn't go to Dulles Airport but only to Reston, is critical to moving low-income workers to their jobs in Tyson's Corner and Reston. Which jobs would those be, Marc? The chicken processing plants in Reston or the landscaping contractors in Tyson's Corner?

Posted by: Huh? | February 1, 2008 2:06 PM

One industry - albeit a microindustry - which will gain from the Silver Line will be property prices in and around the line. Home owner's houses will appreciate in value, leading to more money in their pockets, leading to more spending. The line should be built not just because Washington's premier international airport should be connected by train, but also because it makes business sense.

Posted by: JCLainez | February 1, 2008 2:08 PM

Correct. Calling them illegal immigrants is racist. The politically correct term is undocumented workers. See the difference? They're not law-breaking parasites, they're just hard-working people who screwed up the paperwork.

Posted by: Huh? | February 1, 2008 2:11 PM

I can't figure out why I should be concerned with those statistics. Every community can't and won't have significant job growth, and many stats don't remain the same year in and year out.

Posted by: just saying | February 1, 2008 2:15 PM

I'd suggest that Cynical do some research before making stupid generalizations. It's well-known to anyone that bothers to pay attention that Fairfax County is not as red as the rest of the state. See the election returns for the 2000 and 2004 Presidential Elections:

Please don't let your ignorance and inability to use Google render me responsible for the joke that passes for a President.

Posted by: To: Cynical of Virginians | February 1, 2008 2:20 PM

The problem with connecting working class neighborhoods with jobs is that as soon as transportation to a neighborhood improves, the price of housing in that neighborhood increases. Then the workers who would benefit from the transportation are eventually forced to move to less accessible, and therefore less desirable and less expensive, neighborhoods.

Infrastructure plans based on the location of jobs and workers could quickly become obsolete and underused. Bus routes are much more flexible, though no one really likes to ride the bus.

Posted by: MKN | February 1, 2008 2:24 PM

Actually "Huh?", all I defined was "Legal" and "Illegal".

YOU added the "immigrant" word.

When in truth, somebody entering ANY country on this planet illegally will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law as an invader, except the good 'ol US of A.

Interesting, no? So, next time read somebody's post for what it actually says, not what you think it says.

Otherwise, YOUR bias is showing.

Posted by: NoVA | February 1, 2008 3:21 PM

"Bus routes are much more flexible, though no one really likes to ride the bus."

There are a number of bus routes in Loudoun County that originate in the burbs and terminate at West Falls Church, Pentagon, DC, etc. There are no bus routes that go to Reston, Tysons, etc. The Dulles Metro helps solve both real-world situations.

The toll road and Greenway are just as gridlocked as any other major road in the area, only we have the "privelege" of paying for our traffic jams.

Posted by: Leesburger | February 1, 2008 3:21 PM

Those immigrants already ride the bus, along with many of us native-borns. Buses serve everyone, and preserve existing housing, trees and the rest of the community in the process. Rail leads to rezoning and removal, of housing, residents, trees, birds...Buses lack movers and shakers to push for them. Rail, however, has real estate developers -- along with state & local gvt. folks who want to pump every piece of land for property tax revenue.

Posted by: Bus Rider | February 1, 2008 3:42 PM

Don't forget the southern end of the burbs: VRE is a pretty poor substitute for a Metro line extending from the Beltway to Fredricksburg or at least Fort Belvoir. Sure, the bus is available, or people can spend extra time coiling through overstuffed parking garages to take the Metro, but if it's really about transporting people to jobs and not about real estate development, a line to Fort Belvoir Woodbridge & Fredricksburg would be high on the list too.

Posted by: anonymous | February 1, 2008 4:32 PM

What this opinion column ignores is the fact that most of the people that take Metrorail are NOT lower income. The suits that flock onto it day in and day out are anything but. The reason the Purple line makes sense is that it connects two ends of the Red line, cutting off 40 minutes to an otherwise hour-long trip. It'll help me (an upper income worker who lives in Silver Spring) get to things I may want to go to in Bethesda, and it will help friends in Bethesda get to me. Of course there will be lower income people using it, but I guarantee that it will not be an overwhelming number.

Posted by: Eric | February 1, 2008 4:41 PM

The Dulles corridor is one of two that need addressing in NOVA. Dulles to Winchester is highly traveled by commuters from Virginia and West Virginia. Also a forgotten corridor is from Woodbridge to Tysons Corner. There is a large contingent of people from Fredericksburg, Stafford, and Woodbridge that commute to and from Tysons everyday, yet there is no mass transit of any kind helping their commute. NOT EVERYONE is going to the district. To commute on present bus, rail systems to Tysons is a joke from southern VA towns to DC then Tysons. Time is a commodity not easily given when someone has forgotten not all employment is centralized to DC.

Posted by: t p | February 1, 2008 4:55 PM

Unless significant changes from Metro's current configuration are designed into the Silver Line, it's usefulness will be limited.
In hindsight, one of the biggest shortcomings of the current Metro rail design is the absence of a third track to handle express trains. Any future Metro lines should include a third track. Otherwise, many potential riders will be put in the situation of people who need to travel from Olney to Rockville, and who don't feel like taking a 2-hour trip through downtown on the Red Line Local to get there.

The second biggest shortcoming of the current Metro rail configuration was the decision to run the Orange Line up the median of I-66 instead of under Lee Highway or Arlington Boulevard. Yes, running Metro up the I-66 median was cheaper in terms of construction costs. But in doing so, WMATA and Fairfax decided against having the Lee Highway corridor become another Ballston, with all the attendant economic activity, which would have more than paid for the underground Metro in the long term. Metro needs to run below ground through commercially dense areas, or areas that are zoned for dense commercial development. Hey FTA, that means TYSONS.

Third, taking Metro to and from an airport is not feasible for many, if not most locals. How many of you have had the experience of trying to find space for a large roll-on and a laptop case on a Metro train to DCA or Union Station in rush hour? Oh, the joy! Then there's the matter of trying to find a taxi FROM a Metro station upon your return from the airport. I can't remember the last time I saw any taxis waiting at the Vienna, West Falls, Van Dorn or Springfield stations when I've returned from DCA with luggage. Unless and until Metro permits long term parking at suburban stations, it makes little monetary sense to run the Silver Line all the way to IAD. A shuttle bus from IAD to/from a Reston or Herndon station would be much more cost effective.

Posted by: Mister Methane | February 1, 2008 5:23 PM

I know where our Virginia Governor lives, and it's not in the executive mansion - it's in the pockets of Bechtel (of Big Dig and Iraq NO BID CONTRACTING fame) and the landowners, developers, and businesses along the proposed rail line. This project has been bastardized to appeal to their interests and their interests only. Stop listening to the Reston, Loudoun, and Fairfax Chambers of Commerce who represent only business interests and start listening to the people. The riders, those of us who live in the suburbs and who will use the rail line, want it done correctly with our tax dollars. So bid this project out now, Governor Kaine. Stop being so sleazy.

Posted by: Lisa | February 1, 2008 6:26 PM

"If what is occuring in Prince William, Prince Georges, Eastern Montgomery and low-income areas of Farifax occured in North Arlington, Western and Northern Fairfax, and Western Montgomery all you bleeding heart liberals would quickly change your tune on the ILLEGAL immigrant CRISIS"

Except, as Tom T. pointed out, Arlington and Alexandria are both over 15% Latino. In DC, Adams Morgan and Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Heights, all neighborhoods where housing values have skyrocketed in recent years and are still heading upwards even after the subprime lending debacle, are over 20% Latino.

What is now occurring in Prince William, Prince George's, Eastern Montgomery and the low-income areas of Fairfax has *already* happened in Arlington and Alexandria and DC, and it turned out not to be a crisis after all.

Posted by: otherquaker | February 3, 2008 8:37 AM

Eric, I suggest you ride the Green line for variety. You clearly take mainly the Red line, or maybe Orange. Yes, poor people *do* ride the Metro when it's available to them.

Posted by: Amy | February 3, 2008 10:41 AM

The part I like is the part where we blame the administration for the loss of Rail to Tysons. The facts paint an interesting picture. Republican Congressmen Tom Davis, Frank Wolf and Republican Senator John Warner, when they were in the majority in power, managed to push every button to keep the Rail program on track despite its weak justification.
Let us remember, in the 2006 election the Majority in the House and the Senate changed hands and the power shifted to the Democrats.

Apparently unrelated in the minds of some, as the new democratic power came into office, the members of that new power structure griped, carped and generally complained about all the abuse being heaped upon them. I ask who was driving this poltical train in 2007 as the rail project slipped into the ditch.

Pogo had the answer to the Democrats in back the 1950s when he said, "We have met the enemy and it is us."

Posted by: Bruce Bennett | February 3, 2008 9:06 PM

I will admit I don't know much about DC to comment

I do know that Arlington and Alexandria have large illegal immigrant ghettos

Here is what all you liberals should do

Leave your cozy North Arlington and Old Town Alexandria neighborhoods and move to South Arlington or any other place in Alexandria. I'll give you three months to wake up and change your tune

Better yet why dont you build some affordable housing in your own North Arlington/Old Town neighborhoods

Oh yeah that's right your policies are for other people not you hypocrtical NMBIYs

Posted by: um not really | February 4, 2008 10:41 AM

"Um not really:" I am a bleeding heart liberal who has lived in both South Arlington AND Alexandria (the latter address was seven blocks from the end of the Yellow Line). I know all about living cheek by jowl with pupusarias, check cashing joints, and convenience store parking lots that smell like pee because Mr. Second Generation Immigrant Manager doesn't want to let Mr. First Generation Immigrant Day Laborer use the toilet.

I came out of the experience even MORE committed to social justice, treating people like people instead of animals, and affordable housing causes. Somehow I doubt that's what you meant by changing my tune, but a one note wonder such as yourself wouldn't recognize any another song besides your own.

Posted by: Amused | February 4, 2008 2:58 PM

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