Proposed WMATA Site on Cinder Bed Road Has Nearby Residents Angry
They cite traffic and environmental concerns
The proposed site of a bus garage for WMATA has drawn the ire of numerous residents who live near the potential location.
Local residents objections aren’t specifically with the location at 7901 Cinder Bed Road, although its proximity to private homes has raised concerns with respect to air and noise pollution. It is but a few hundred yards from the nearest development.
The location that is in dispute is actually over a mile from the proposed site (see the attached map), at the intersection of Backlick Road and Fairfax County Parkway. The intersection has been mandated as the only way that buses coming to and from the garage may access Cinder Bed Road from Fairfax County Parkway. According to Mount Vernon District Planning Commission Member Earl Flanagan the intersection was given an F rating for congestion, the lowest possible grade. An F rating means that drivers must wait at least three minutes or more at a traffic light. "It's already too congested," Flanagan said.
Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland shares Flanagan’s concern about the intersection and pointed out that since the Cinder Bed Road address is over a mile from the nearest arterial roadway, it would make building there illegal according to Fairfax County statute. Another arterial roadway, Loisdale Road, runs to the rear of the Cinder Bed Road address, but it too is over a mile away.
“I’m worried that if (Fairfax County) gets sued over this building, we’ll be in danger of losing the case because this proposal doesn’t meet the one-mile criteria,” Flanagan said. “That would just end up costing taxpayers even more money.”
WMATA, through its developer Iskalo CBR LLC, filed a 2232 application with the Planning Commission, which would grant the project an exemption to the problems that Flanagan and Hyland cited.
Ironically, the approximately 17 acres that make up the Cinder Bed Road address is located in Lee District. To date, no citizens groups in Lee District have expressed opposition to WMATA’s plan. But representatives from Newberry Station HOA, Raceway Farms HOA and Newington Civic Association have been vocal in their opposition to the site from the start.
WMATA first started searching for a new location when it became clear that their site at 600 N. Royal in Alexandria was no longer tenable. That facility stores and repairs 160 buses, which is the amount that would come to Cinder Bed Road. WMATA first petitioned Fairfax County in the summer of 2009.
At one point, there were up to 12 sites under consideration, but that was narrowed to three and then, finally to the site currently at issue.
Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay, who is also on the WMATA Board of Directors (which is an unpaid position), acknowledges resident’s concerns and that the site is not perfect. “There aren’t many people anxious to have a bus garage built in their neighborhood,” he said.
But McKay noted that the location is already zoned industrial like many of its neighbors, which include, among others, a bus depot for Fairfax County Public Schools, a Fairfax Connector garage, a VDOT office and a Fairfax County Water Authority location.
In Hyland’s mind, that’s not an asset. “Cinder Bed Road is already too crowded. It’s a disaster and now we’re talking about making it even worse,” he said.
McKay also pointed out that the site has the capability for Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). There is an undetermined portion of the WMATA fleet that uses CNG in place of gasoline, an effort by WMATA to use alternative energy technologies. Putting the garage at another location would require CNG lines to be installed, McKay said, and the cost for that could conceivably be passed along to WMATA users. According to McKay, the Cinder Bed Road site was the only site under consideration with existing CNG capacity.
Last, McKay said the price is right. Finding a similar location elsewhere in Fairfax County (there are already bus garages in Fairfax and Burke) would almost certainly cost taxpayers more money.
He urged local residents to look at the picture from a different perspective.
“We have to put our regional hats on here. It definitely makes sense when you put all the pieces together,” McKay said. “And one of the best ways to improve air quality and the environment is by investing in mass transit, which is exactly what we’re doing here.”
But several citizens groups think otherwise.
“The fundamental issue is a lack of transparency,” Cynthia Smith, President of the Newington Civic Association said. “There are a lot of unanswered questions.”
A Fairfax County Staff Report dated December 28, 2010 and presented to the Planning Commission ignored recommendations made from a detailed study that had been completed just two weeks previous. In that earlier report, a Fairfax County Director of Zoning Evaluation noted that “in some locations the bus envelope may extend beyond the roadway’s pavement edge, conflict with approaching buses/lanes and not clear the existing guardrail.” (See attached photos of the Backlick Road/Fairfax County Parkway intersection).
That same report suggested that the applicant (WMATA) “should provide intersection improvements on Backlick Road.”
WMATA has no plans to widen any of the roads in question as part of the project, which is tentatively budgeted at $4.3 million. Furthermore, the area in question has bridges and underpasses on proposed and potentially alternate routes, so the logistical likelihood of widening roads to accommodate the hundreds of extra vehicles to the area seems limited. Studies of the site note that the additional traffic will not be from automobiles, but from vehicles measuring 42 feet in length.
Citizens groups also fear that once the site is in place, buses will ignore Backlick Road altogether and use Newington Road to get to Telegraph Road and then proceed to Fairfax County Parkway. That section of Newington Road passes through a residential area and Levelle Dupell Park. McKay said such routes would be forbidden. But residents have reported numerous occasions where buses from Fairfax County Public Schools have used the road, even though they have no such permission.
“There’s no enforcement now, so why should we expect there to be any in the future?” said Smith.
Also at issue is whether or not the buses that will be stored and repaired at the Cinder Bed Road location will service the surrounding area, a prerequisite for the location having been chosen. McKay says they will, while Flanagan and Smith were led to believe that the buses would service Alexandria and Arlington, just as the present Royal Street location does. This could not be confirmed with WMATA.
The public comment period for the issue ended on January 13th, but citizens can still submit written statements to the Planning Commission through Thursday February 3rd, which is the date of the next meeting. The Planning Commission has deferred voting on the issue at least twice, but a decision appears imminent, if the construction schedule for a completion date of late 2011/early 2012 is to be met.
“This is not a NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) issue,” Hyland said. “There are other viable sites available.”