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  • rickrise@earthlink.net
    You have been sent this message from rickrise@earthlink.net as a courtesy of washingtonpost.com Personal Message: Quote: Currently, some workers in Tysons
    Message 1 of 8 , Sep 12, 2003
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      "Currently, some workers in Tysons Corner complain that they eat lunch at their desks simply to avoid the hassle of crossing streets."

      Tysons Project Adds Dimension To Rail Proposal

      By Peter Whoriskey

      The notion that Metrorail tracks ought to run to Tysons Corner, the capital region's second-largest jobs hub, is viewed by the project's many supporters as an article of unassailable common sense.

      But as business and political leaders prepare to lobby for federal money to cover half the estimated $1.5 billion in construction costs, its fate may ride on one unanswered question.

      Will the sprawling highway crossroads area ever become the sort of dense walkable "downtown" that can spur train travel and justify the vast investment needed to lay the tracks?

      Some believe the answer came last week when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a landmark complex of eight towers on a site between the malls -- Tysons Corner Center and Tysons Galleria -- and right next to what would be the Tysons Central Metro stop.

      Its boosters say the project sets the tone for a more urban setting at Tysons Corner. But as an exercise in creating a place that will accommodate mass transit, the Tysons project is no more than a faint echo of the most successful Metro stop developments around suburban Washington.

      Compared with the development around the Ballston and Bethesda stops, for example, the recently approved Tysons project is less than one-third as dense, provides about 50 percent more parking and creates a less hospitable environment for pedestrians -- the roads are wider, the blocks are longer and the streetscapes less lively.

      It's not just a matter of aesthetics. As the Federal Transit Administration determines which rail projects are worthy of funding, such issues are considered fundamental.

      "It's an awkward attempt at transit-oriented development," said Warren Boeschenstein, a University of Virginia professor who has studied mass transit's potential in Northern Virginia, referring to the Tysons project. "It really looks auto-oriented."

      Tysons Corner is, of course, unquestionably busy -- and rich in potential train riders: Besides being an employment center, its two malls draw more than 25 million visitors annually. The appeal of train transportation there may be limited. The number of projected weekday boardings at the Tysons Central Metro stop is less than half the number of boardings for Ballston or Bethesda, according to the 2010 and 2025 model projections run by the Dulles Corridor Rapid Transit Project, which is pushing the rail plan.

      Its supporters nevertheless see the new Tysons development as a marked improvement over the less dense plans previously approved for the site.

      For better or worse, the project design in many senses was a group effort: Many of the key decisions that shaped it were made not by the developer but by county regulators. The density and the amount of parking, for example, were set based on county rules.

      "No, it's not Ballston density. It's not a downtown D.C. density," said Peter Rosen of Lerner Enterprises. "But it goes back to the density permitted in the county's comprehensive plan. There was no point in studying anything greater than that."

      "It's a great step forward for mass transit in Fairfax County," Bill Lecos, president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, told supervisors during last week's hearing. He then alluded to the development's role in the competition for federal transit money. "This sends a critical message to others in terms of the county's support for mass transit and its importance in advancing the financing plan."

      The race for Federal Transit Administration dollars for rail projects, in fact, appears extremely competitive.

      Metropolitan areas across the country are seeking funding for a total of about $24 billion in transit projects. Yet the available funding would cover roughly one-third of that.

      To distinguish among the winners and losers, Federal Transit Administration reviewers grade proposals on three basic issues: financing, cost effectiveness and land development issues.

      "Land use is a critical part of the rating," said Ron Fisher, director of the agency's Office of Project Planning, who emphasized that he was not speaking of any particular project. "We look at density -- the more the better," he said. "We look at the character of the development -- is it good for pedestrians?

      "Sometimes half of the rating could come down to land use. It's a reflection of the importance we place on transit-oriented development."

      In evaluating development near transit stations, planners generally focus on land within a half-mile radius -- places close enough for an easy walk.

      They favor more density in these areas because more offices, or more homes, means more potential transit riders.

      They also strive to make sure that the area's sidewalks are comfortable and attractive for pedestrians. In practice, this comes down to narrower streets, wide sidewalks lined with shops, not the blank walls of garages. Currently, some workers in Tysons Corner complain that they eat lunch at their desks simply to avoid the hassle of crossing streets.

      And finally, planners and transit modelers consider the availability and pricing of parking. More parking simply makes driving, not transit, more attractive. In the Tysons area as a whole, there is a relative abundance, much of it free.

      The Tysons project will have 2.6 parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of office space, for example, while projects at Bethesda and Ballston typically are required to have 1.9 or less.

      "I would question seriously the efficacy of the whole project," said Chris Nelson, a Virginia Tech urban planning professor based in Alexandria, who has studied parking ratios near an Atlanta transit line. "When you're at that amount of parking, that's not a whole lot different than what you'd get in a suburban office campus."

      Advocates for the project nevertheless argue that it should be considered transit-oriented because it is denser than what was previously planned for the property. Moreover, as the project is developed in the coming decades, it is possible that further additions and refinements may be made.

      "This project is not the giant leap forward it could have been," said Fairfax County Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly (D), whose Providence District includes Tysons. But "this rezoning is not the final word on what will be built there."

      Like others in Fairfax County, Connolly too, considers the rail to Tyons project a necessity with its own overwhelming logic:

      "It doesn't even pass the giggle test that this area could not be served by rail."




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    • rickrise@earthlink.net
      You have been sent this message from rickrise@earthlink.net as a courtesy of washingtonpost.com Personal Message: Important news--pass it on. Study Finds Net
      Message 2 of 8 , Sep 29, 2003
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        Study Finds Net Gain From Pollution Rules

        By Eric Pianin

        A new White House study concludes that environmental regulations are well worth the costs they impose on industry and consumers, resulting in significant public health improvements and other benefits to society. The findings overturn a previous report that officials now say was defective.

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      • rickrise@earthlink.net
        You have been sent this message from rickrise@earthlink.net as a courtesy of washingtonpost.com Strained Rail Systems Charting Short-Term Relief By Lyndsey
        Message 3 of 8 , Dec 30, 2003
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          Strained Rail Systems Charting Short-Term Relief

          By Lyndsey Layton

          Parking at the Virginia Railway Express station at Burke Centre has become a competitive sport. Routinely, more than 700 vehicles try to squeeze into a lot with 543 spaces. By day's end, cars are strewn on the grass, in gullies, in fire lanes.

          Salvation -- in the form of a $24 million parking garage -- is years away.

          In search of a fast, easy and relatively cheap way to relieve parking pressure, Fairfax County began running an innovative shuttle bus program this month.

          The EZ bus picks up riders at no charge at a designated spot in their neighborhoods and brings them to the VRE station five minutes before their train departs. In the evening, the bus leaves the station five minutes after the train arrives, dropping passengers at the same designated spots.

          Commuter railroads as well as the region's main transit system, Metro, are running out of room. Robust ridership means packed parking lots, stuffed trains and platforms that can't accommodate another commuter. Solutions in the form of new parking garages and lots, additional trains and expanded platforms cost millions and take years to implement.

          In the meantime, a handful of innovative ideas could deliver some short-term and relatively inexpensive relief to the men and women who daily fight for parking spaces and pile themselves into jammed stations and rail cars.

          The last time Cheryl Ashton took a bus that stopped a block from her home, she was in high school. But Ashton, who is in her mid-fifties, didn't hesitate to subscribe to the EZ service when it was launched Dec. 1.

          "Parking down there has gotten really bad," said Ashton, who lives a quarter-mile from the Burke station and has been riding VRE for seven years. "This bus comes just at the top of the hill where I live. I don't have to clean my car off and dig myself out when it snows; I just walk up to the top of the hill and go. It's great."

          About 60 others are also riding the colorful EZ bus, which is operated by Yellow Transportation and funded for one year with an $800,000 grant from the state. If it grows in popularity, the service may be expanded, said Fairfax County Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova (D-Braddock). She thinks it has the potential to become a regional model.

          "If this turns out to be successful and gets us through the period of time it takes to build a parking garage, maybe we'll continue to have it to augment parking at the garage, or maybe it could be a solution at Rolling Road [VRE station] or at our Metro stations," Bulova said.
          Metro Running Out of Room
          Metro managers are also seeking innovative parking solutions. "Maybe we use a church parking lot, or a mall parking lot, and run shuttle bus service between the lot and the station," said James Gallagher, Metro's deputy general manager for operations. "We should be talking to any owners who are willing to have their lots used for a different purpose."

          Metro, the second-busiest subway system in the country with an average daily ridership of 671,000, is fast running out of room. Station platforms are sometimes dangerously crowded; trains are full at peak travel times; and forecasts show that within four years, the Orange Line won't be able to absorb additional riders. The Blue Line will hit that ceiling in five years, and the Red and Yellow lines in six years, transit officials say.

          To alleviate the crowds, Metro wants $1.5 billion to buy 120 more rail cars and 185 buses and rehabilitate tracks, elevators, escalators and other equipment. Metro officials say they need additional rail cars to run eight-car trains during peak periods, which would reduce crowding in trains and on platforms. But at $2 million apiece, rail cars don't come cheap.

          Metro managers are predicting that if they don't get the $1.5 billion they seek, service will begin to seriously decline by 2008, with additional train breakdowns and delays. But federal and local governments haven't agreed to pay any part of that tab, and as Metro launches a lobbying effort to get the money, it is unclear how successful it will be.

          Metro officials and transit experts, meanwhile, point to a handful of modest improvements that could ease pressure on crowded trains and stations.
          Speeding Up the Trains
          One of the cheapest solutions is to speed up the movement of trains through the stations. The faster a train moves from one end of the line to the other, the faster it can turn around and start running its return route.

          Metro trains have an ideal "headway," or the distance between trains, of 135 seconds during peak periods. Consultants to Metro have said that if the headway was reduced to 120 seconds, it would result in four additional one-way trains, enough to carry an additional 3,800 passengers per line during the rush period. But Metro managers say that's a theoretical analysis.

          Metro could also shrink the "dwell time," the amount of time a train is in the station to load and unload passengers. The average dwell time is 30 seconds. At the busiest stations, including Metro Center and Gallery Place, it might be impossible to reduce the dwell time because of the crowds. But dwell time could be cut at some of the less-busy stations, Gallagher said.

          Engineers and planners have begun studying whether train speeds could be safely increased, Gallagher said. The Metro system was designed to operate at speeds of 75 mph but trains today operate at a maximum of about 59 mph, he said.

          Speeding up trains and reducing their time in stations is a touchy subject, Gallagher said. "We hear from a lot of people that we're closing the doors too fast at Metro Center and they don't have enough time to get off or on," he said. "A change like this is a hard one. It has all sorts of different consequences, real and imagined. It has to be done very carefully."

          Another delicate proposal is rearranging seats in Metro rail cars to create more room for standees and make it easier for passengers to enter and exit during peak travel times.

          Switching from two-by-two seats, known as transverse seating, to side benches would widen the aisle, creating enough room to add 16 standees per car, said Chuck Wochele, vice president for business development at Alstom Inc., which is rehabilitating 346 Metro rail cars that have reached midlife. In addition to creating more space for standing, bench seating would make it easier for seated passengers to exit crowded trains, because they wouldn't have to climb over seatmates or require them to get up and move.
          City vs. Suburb
          Those who represent the District seem most inclined to change the seating; representatives from suburbs farther out lean toward preserving the current design. The split reflects geopolitical differences: Suburban passengers riding to the District have the best chance of snagging a seat and are less concerned about standing room, and urban riders are most likely to have to stand on packed trains.

          "It's been politically difficult in the past to discuss this -- there are differences of opinion," said Chris Zimmerman, who represents Arlington on the Metro board of directors. "But it's something we ought to be looking at."

          Changing the seat configuration would not have to wait until Metro purchases new rail cars; it could be done to cars being rehabilitated by Alstom. The rail car manufacturer is already making alterations, including getting rid of the floor-to-ceiling poles clustered around the doors that have helped create a choke point -- a magnet for throngs that form a human blockade to anyone trying to enter or exit.

          Wochele said he did not know how much it would cost to reconfigure seating.

          "It would cost something, but on the other hand, when you consider it costs a couple of million to buy a new rail car, it might be worth it to change the seats and squeeze out more capacity," said Zimmerman, who thinks Metro should experiment with reconfiguring seating on some cars. He said Metro could follow the lead of Madrid, where subway cars have a variety of seat designs.

          Congestion on the Metro system is concentrated downtown. About 60 percent of Metro trips are made to 35 percent of the stations: those in the center of the District. The busiest hour in the morning is between 7:30 and 8:30. In the evening, crunch time is 5 to 6.

          Transfers between lines are frequent because of the way the system was designed; riders can change from any line to another line with one transfer. Transfers are heaviest at Gallery Place, followed by Metro Center. At those stations, lines form to use escalators, passengers press together on platforms, and entering or exiting a train may require steely determination and sharp elbows. If a train is delayed, platform crowds can build to unsafe levels.
          Transfer by Footpath
          One way to expand capacity a bit is with an underground walkway connecting Metro Center with Gallery Place and another connecting Farragut West with Farragut North.

          Passengers riding from Metro Center to Gallery Place to transfer to the Green Line could simply walk 750 feet between stations instead of getting on a packed Red Line train and fighting their way out of the rail car at Gallery Place.

          With a pedestrian walkway connecting the Farraguts, a passenger on an eastbound Red Line train would avoid having to travel an extra stop to Metro Center to catch Orange or Blue Line trains to Virginia.

          "How many of those trips on the most burdened parts of the lines could you eliminate by not making people switch at the zoo that is Metro Center?" said Dan Tangherlini, D.C. transportation director.

          The idea is to move people underneath the city streets but not necessarily by putting them on crowded trains and platforms. The two walkways, at a cost of about $75 million each, would relieve congestion at Metro Center on all platforms and would relieve Red Line train and platform congestion at both stations, creating several years' worth of breathing room.

          "It would take a lot of strain off the Red Line and make it run better," Gallagher said, adding that underground walkways could be lined with retail space, providing conveniences for passengers.




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        • rickrise@earthlink.net
          You have been sent this message from rickrise@earthlink.net as a courtesy of washingtonpost.com Personal Message: Some sensible comments towards the end....
          Message 4 of 8 , May 3, 2004
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            Express Toll Lanes Pique Maryland's Interest

            By Lyndsey Layton

            Maryland's Transportation Department plans to announce today that it is considering creating a statewide system of express toll lanes to speed traffic along some of the region's most congested highways.

            State Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan is adding proposals to build express toll lanes as part of highway expansion projects involving the Capital Beltway, Interstate 270, the Baltimore Beltway and I-95 between Baltimore and White Marsh.

            "The opportunity to drive on a congestion-free lane is well worth paying for," Flanagan said.

            Meanwhile, Virginia is pressing forward with proposals to build high-occupancy toll lanes on its side of the Capital Beltway as well as on I-95 and I-395.

            The two states are coordinating their plans, attempting to form a network of special lanes where motorists with extra cash but little time can bypass the daily jams that make this the third-most-congested region in the country, Flanagan said. "There's great interest on the part of both states to create this network," he said.

            Express toll lanes are special lanes added to highways that allow motorists to pay their way out of traffic jams. Motorists in an express toll lane pay a fee that is automatically deducted through an electronic reader as their car or truck moves along at highway speeds, similar to the way E-ZPass works.

            The price would change with the degree of congestion, so that a premium is charged when the rest of the roadway is especially crowded but the toll drops as the highway empties. On State Road 91 in Southern California, one of the earliest examples of this relatively new trend, express lane tolls range from $1 to $6.25, depending on the traffic in the adjoining free lanes.

            The Maryland Transportation Department plans to analyze the potential impact of toll lanes on all four highway projects before making a decision. The I-95 project north of Baltimore, the furthest along in development, could be completed with toll lanes by the end of the decade.

            Public opinion about toll lanes is shifting. The idea of "congestion pricing," or charging motorists for using limited road space, has been around since the 1960s. But public policymakers long thought it was political suicide to begin charging motorists for something they were used to getting for free, and the idea carries the unappealing label of "Lexus lanes."

            In the mid-1990s, toll lanes in California and Texas opened, and subsequent studies showed they were used by motorists of all income levels, usually when people needed to get somewhere in a hurry. They gained support among motorists who didn't use the lanes regularly but saw them as a way of diverting vehicles from the regular lanes.

            The lanes didn't prevent traffic jams from growing, officials on those projects said, but the ability to move vehicles into the special lanes likely slowed the rate at which congestion worsened.

            Surveys taken by AAA Mid-Atlantic show growing support for express toll lanes. A telephone poll of about 300 Washington area motorists culled from driver registration records last fall showed that 49 percent favored allowing drivers to pay to use special lanes if it would ease traffic. That was a 10 percent jump from three years ago.

            "We come to this as a reluctant bride," said Lon Anderson, director of governmental relations for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "We do worry very much that we could create a dual system of travel on public roads, with the fast roads used by the haves and the slower roads used by have-nots. That said, if we're going to have any major new road projects, they're going to have to be built on a toll basis, given we have no hope of building these things with public funding."

            The difference in approach between Virginia and Maryland -- and the reason a similar idea goes by a different name in each state -- is that Virginia wants carpoolers, van pools and buses to use the special lanes at no charge as an incentive for ride-sharing. Maryland officials don't want to give anyone a free ride, saying they can't adequately monitor the lanes to make sure that carpools consist of at least two people. "We'd be better off tolling everyone," said State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen.

            Observers say that Maryland, Virginia and other states have turned to toll lanes as a way to expand road capacity and pay for billion-dollar highway expansions at a time of tightening budgets.

            The toll lanes "may provide a new source of additional revenue for the state, and in these days of fiscal austerity, every penny counts," said C. Kenneth Orski, a transportation consultant who lives in Potomac and has been studying toll lanes for years. The money generated by tolls can be used to widen the highway or pay for other improvements, he said.

            Another reason for the newfound popularity of toll lanes is growing pressure on state governments to do something about congestion, Orski said.

            "As highways become more and more crowded, the public is demanding some sort of alternative to getting stuck in traffic," he said. "The principle behind HOT lanes is traffic flow in those lanes will always be fluid. Motorists employing HOT lanes will never be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. And using the pricing mechanism, you can actually control the volume of traffic entering these lanes."

            But Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said Maryland appears to be more concerned with adding asphalt than with reducing congestion.

            "Tolling carpools sends the wrong signal and will significantly cut back on carpooling in the region, worsening our air quality," Schwartz said, adding that tolls aimed at highway expansion do nothing to help rail transit. "They're adding highway capacity in a way that will sprawl development at greater distances to our job centers. [Their] fascination and concentration on highway expansion reveals a lack of commitment to rail transit."

            Maryland officials plan a series of public meetings this month and next month to explain their concept and answer concerns.



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          • rickrise@earthlink.net
            You have been sent this message from rickrise@earthlink.net as a courtesy of washingtonpost.com As Pressure Increases, So Do Ways to Curb Polluted Runoff By
            Message 5 of 8 , May 24, 2005
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              As Pressure Increases, So Do Ways to Curb Polluted Runoff

              By Lisa Rein

              Hopewell's Landing isn't just another subdivision paving over a forest of red cedars and pine trees at the reaches of suburbia.

              Most of the back yards being graded for the luxury homes off Route 29 in Gainesville will have sunken gardens filled with moisture-loving plants and mulch to absorb rain. The streets will be five feet narrower than usual, to reduce paved surfaces. The 155 homes will be flush with the road, resulting in shorter driveways. And instead of the curbs and gutters that usually carry rain to a nearby stream, deep trenches full of shrubs and stones will line the road to slow and filter the water.

              The design mimics a time when Hopewell's Landing was 53 wooded acres. Rain naturally soaked into the forest floor, instead of rushing -- as it does in most of today's suburbs -- over parking lots and roofs and streets, into streams that overflow easily. The residue of daily suburban life is swept along -- fertilizer, brake fluid, oil from gas lawnmowers -- until it flows into the Chesapeake Bay.

              Prince William County persuaded developer D.R. Horton to test the new environmental features to help turn back a little-addressed cost of a half-century of suburban sprawl: polluted runoff.

              For decades, the federal government has overlooked the dangers of such a dispersed pollution source, instead targeting sewage treatment plants for cleanup. But now, its attention is turning to storm-water control to protect streams and rivers across the country, including that jewel of the Washington region, the Chesapeake Bay.

              The Environmental Protection Agency, prodded by lawsuits from environmental groups, is enforcing a 30-year-old provision of the Clean Water Act, ordering state and local governments across the nation to remove pollution from rainwater before it fouls waterways.

              "In the old days, we paved everything, and the attitude was, 'Let's put a pipe underground to get rid of the water as fast as we can,' " said Carl Bouchard, director of storm water management for Fairfax County.

              Faced with stricter federal enforcement, local governments are scrambling to find affordable ways to meet their obligations. Public works departments are rebuilding streams to stop erosion, replacing leaky pipes and retrofitting storm-water ponds. And planners are encouraging "low-impact" techniques, such as the rain gardens in Hopewell's Landing -- mini-wetlands planted with native vegetation to intercept runoff.

              The consequences of doing nothing loom. In the Washington area, pollution limits could become much stricter if they are not met by 2010, the deadline for the multibillion-dollar federal and state effort to restore the bay to its once-pristine condition.

              Dozens of tributaries in the bay's 64,000-square-mile watershed are assigned limits on nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients that, in high concentrations, can choke waterways with oxygen-depleting algae and endanger fish. The EPA has threatened to impose new pollution limits for the bay, which would add a potentially onerous burden to state and local governments.

              Remedies carry exorbitant costs -- especially, for example, in older neighborhoods inside the Capital Beltway that were built with no storm-water controls. A recent report by state environmental agencies on the Chesapeake Bay estimated new cleanup costs at $30 billion, much of it to control storm water. That reportedly will mean a total of about $12 billion in Maryland, Virginia and the District.

              Businesses and homeowners eventually will pay the expense through new or increased fees on their property tax or water bills. Prince William's annual fee of $21.76 for single-family homes, for instance, will cover county inspections to ensure new Gainesville homeowners maintain their boggy gardens.

              "It's major maintenance the county is taking on, just like trash collection," said Wade Hugh, Prince William's chief of watershed management.

              Fairfax County is nearly doubling its spending on storm-water cleanup, allocating $18 million in next year's budget. Bouchard estimates that the county will need to spend $800 million in the next 20 years.

              As antipollution efforts increase, the field of municipal engineering has sprung up -- as have such terms as bioswales, pervious surfaces, soakage trenches, green roofs, French drains, porous pavers and bioretention facilities. Those techniques create mini-treatment plants that store surging runoff as they filter pollutants, then let the water soak into the ground.

              In the District, several hundred modern buildings -- including MCI Center, the Washington Convention Center and the Mandarin Hotel -- have installed labyrinths deep beneath the street: vaults of sand the sizes of small apartments to filter rainwater.

              Even tiny cities such as Falls Church (population 10,400) face new costs.

              The standard technique for handling storm-water runoff is the drainage pond, a man-made lake built in subdivisions and office parks that releases water slowly into drainpipes and streams. But the ponds are becoming unpopular. They do not filter pollutants and, if not properly maintained, can collect sediment. Homeowner groups complain that the ponds are ugly, are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and are unsafe for children.

              But of greater concern to local officials and environmentalists are such older neighborhoods as Alexandria, Silver Spring and areas of the District that were built with no storm-water controls.

              "To rein in that situation, you have to go back and try to retrofit buildings," said Doug Siglin, director of the Anacostia River Initiative, an environmental group. He said the District has a "huge stake" in cleaning up storm water flowing into the Anacostia since so much economic development, including a new baseball stadium, is planned for the riverfront.

              The District bears the extra burden of having its storm-water runoff and sanitary sewers in the same pipes. After a heavy rain, sewage flows into streams and rivers. This spring, a judge ordered the city to separate its combined system over 20 years -- an expense estimated at $1.9 billion, on top of storm-water costs.

              Environmental groups are pushing the D.C. Council to increase a small storm-water utility fee, which the city has levied since 2000, to fund the water system costs. D.C. households pay $7 a year on average, generating $3 million a year, but Siglin said that is not nearly enough.

              Montgomery County tacked its first storm-water fee onto property tax bills two years ago. Arlington County and Alexandria officials said they are considering similar policies, and an advisory group in Fairfax has recommended adding a fee to water or tax bills, starting in 2007, that would be safe from budget cuts.

              New bureaucracies are forming to measure the area of paved or impervious surfaces on commercial properties so governments can tax them accordingly. And as counties weigh fees for homeowners, they debate the fairness issue: Should everyone pay the same rate, or be taxed based how much of their property is soil and how much is asphalt?

              Prince George's became a pioneer by levying the region's first storm-water fee in the early 1950s to address chronic flooding. Today, some experts call it a national model for promoting low-impact systems.

              Builders in Stafford must apply for a waiver if they do not want to put in rain gardens or other water filters. The District requires developers renovating old properties to install storm-water systems on site if the paved surface around the new building exceeds 5,000 square feet.

              Anne Arundel makes the same demands of builders and owners of single-family homes. And the county plans to invest millions of dollars in experimental "green roofs" on six county buildings, including a police station and a library. Green roofs are covered with soil, grass and plants.

              Arlington went a step further 18 months ago, rebuilding Langston Brown, a school and community center complex off Lee Highway, with three-story high cisterns that collect rainwater from the roof, then become giant watering cans for the lawn. The building has a rain garden next to the playground. And the parking lot was dug to a depth of 12 feet, filled with sand, gravel and dirt and topped with asphalt that looks like a mosaic of tiles, which are separated just enough to let rainwater seep through.

              But there are downsides to these marvels of municipal engineering. The caverns of sand under dozens of office buildings in Washington have been monitored poorly, environmental advocates have said, reducing their effectiveness as filters. In Fairfax, the county recently built rain gardens at the county courthouse and in a Centreville park, only to create soggy wetlands that must be torn up and replaced because the original soil mix wasn't porous enough.

              And employing the anti-pollution techniques can be pricey.

              "On a per-lot basis, all of these regulations are getting very expensive," said Bill Zink, an engineer and president of the Fairfax chapter of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association.

              Homeowners are signing on for much more than lawn mowing and azalea pruning. Prince William officials said they worry that the new residents of Hopewell's Landing will not keep up their rain gardens -- and they wonder how, if at all, to penalize them if they don't. They also acknowledge that not everyone will enjoy the sight of a bog next to the backyard barbecue after a rain.

              "When water comes in, it does stand for a certain time period," said Hugh, the storm water chief. "People will have to get over the perception that they have a drainage problem."


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            • rickrise@earthlink.net
              You have been sent this message from rickrise@earthlink.net as a courtesy of washingtonpost.com The End of Sprawl? By Eduardo M. Peñalver Why the mortgage
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                The End of Sprawl?

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                Why the mortgage bust is a boon for opponents of urbal sprawl.

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                EPA Sued for Denying States Right to Curb Emissions http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/010208R.shtml Margot Roosevelt of The Los Angeles Times reports:
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                  Margot Roosevelt of The Los Angeles Times reports: "California and 15 other
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                  You have been sent this message from rickrise@earthlink.net as a courtesy of washingtonpost.com Cycling Back Around By David Montgomery This is the summer of
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                    Cycling Back Around

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                    This is the summer of women on bicycles riding around town free as anything, wearing long dresses or skirts, sandals or even high heels, hair flowing helmet-free, pedaling not-too-hard and sitting upright on their old-school bikes, the kind with front baskets where they put their laptops, and han...

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