The Only Constant in Life is Construction (and That’s a Problem)

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A couple of weeks ago, I was driving west on I-66 in Northern Virginia out to Front Royal. For as long as I’ve lived in Virginia, which is coming up on four years, I-66 has been under construction for a major 22.5-mile widening project from Arlington to Gainesville, operated jointly by the Commonwealth of Virginia and a private company.

I know a lot of people will take highway widening over new housing, unfortunately, but this got me thinking: How much of what we call “NIMBYism” (“Not in My Backyard”) is a reaction to the assumption or perception that proposed projects simply never get finished? They just seem to go on for years and years, such that construction noise, road closures, and traffic disruption become a permanent part of the area. If that’s what development means, it kind of makes sense to just want things to stay the way they are. When you give people either stagnation and sameness on the one hand, or constant disruption on the other, many will pick stagnation and sameness.

And, of course, it’s not just public works projects, though they do tend to drag on (we’ll see if I-66 is done before the first trains run along Virginia’s delay-plagued Silver Line Metro extension). Lots of work on buildings and private developments, like the Reston Station or Halley Rise projects where I live in Reston, just goes on forever. This news story on Halley Rise, a mixed-use project not far from the Reston Town Center, is instructive:

The 36-acre redevelopment project is set to open the first phase of its residential units in early 2022, and a Wegmans grocery store is expected to open before the end of 2022. Delivery of the first phase of offices for the project is expected in mid-2023, to align with market demand.

The mixed-use district in Reston is expected to be complete by 2026.

2026! Lots of people who’ve seen this project in progress the whole time they’ve lived in Reston will not even live there anymore by the time it’s finished. I’m not sure where this terminology of “phases” came from—did they take it from Marvel, or did Marvel take it from the construction industry?—but it’s a little dismaying to me that these projects aren’t simply done on a timescale that feels realistic or even reasonable. Forget human-scale; how about human timescale? I generally support this growth, especially around transit, but it is a little disorienting, in a way, to never have a moment when it feels like your whole town can just take a breath.

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