What a dream. Photo by m t miller.

Today’s Washington Post reports that Tysons transportation improvements will cost $15 billion. There’s just one problem: it’s false. The article, bearing the alarmist headline, “Tysons will need $15 billion — ‘with a B,’” begins:

Remaking Tysons Corner into the second city of Washington will take a lot more than a new Metro line and a downtown of tightly clustered buildings designed for walking. It will take almost $15 billion in new roads and public transportation.


When Lisa “sprawl is a dream” Rein writes, “[it] will take a lot more than a new Metro line,” do you conclude that the $15 billion represents costs on top of the Metro line? That’s the way it looks to me. But actually, the $15 billion figure includes the $5.24 billion for the Silver Line. And that’s not just the portion to Tysons; it’s the whole segment all the way to Loudoun County, which will serve a lot more than just Tysons commuters.

That’s not all. The $15 billion also covers rail to Centreville, for $2.3 billion, which wouldn’t even go to Tysons. There’s another $2.5 billion in there for some vague “other rail,” which could be the Purple Line and could possibly go to Tysons. Or maybe not. Who knows? Who cares, when you’re the Washington Post Fairfax team? In all, $10 of the $15 billion is just general Northern Virginia rail projects.

What else? There’s all of the operating costs for these lines over 40 years, much of which will come from the tax revenue. Of course, Rein doesn’t count any revenues. It’s just all of the costs. Heck, why not toss in all of the cost of lunches that Tysons employees will probably buy, or all the paper the offices will consume? Then the figure could go to trillions! That would really make for an exciting headline.

You wouldn’t know from Rein’s article, but Fairfax planners break up the actual projections into 2010-2030 and 2030-2050 time frames. In the 2010-2030 phase, the street grid itself costs $742 million (that’s not with a B), including right-of-way acquisition costs. However, much of the acquisition will come from developers in exchange for the density, so it’s not all outlays of actual money. The Circulator will cost $389 million for capital and operating funds. And the probably-unnecessary ramps and Beltway lanes would cost an additional $369 million.

Most of the other costs are already part of the Fairfax Comprehensive Plan, independent of this Tysons plan. In total, the infrastructure that Tysons would need above and beyond the existing plan totals about $1.48 billion, including unnecessary lanes and ROW acquisition costs that developers would pay.

Even looking at the whole $15 billion for all of Northern Virginia over 40 years, that comes out to $375 million a year. For a huge jurisdiction that could essentially build a brand new medium-sized city, that’s actually a steal. And for Tysons alone, the $1.5 billion over 20 years is just $75 million.

Unfortunately for Rein and her headline writer, $1.48 billion with some paid for by developers sounds so much less outrageous. So does “$75 million ‘with an M’!” or even $375 million. No, $15 billion “with a B” made for better copy, even if it lumped in substantial infrastructure outside Tysons, other already-planned improvements, operating costs for 40 years, and even speculative transit that nobody has planned yet.

Could it be that Rein just didn’t realize this? Nope; it’s pretty clear from the list showing the planners’ totals. (The pages are in reverse order, with 2030-2050 first.) And here’s the presentation from the Wednesday public meeting that triggered Rein’s article. But Rein clearly doesn’t seem to let pesky facts get in the way of a good story. To do so might reduce the backlash against plans that could destroy those dreamy acres of parking lots.

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David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.