Neighborhood Group Backs Tysons Tunnel, With Cost Warning

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 29, 2006

While Northern Virginia developers and business leaders rally around the proposal for a Metrorail line to Dulles International Airport that runs under Tysons Corner instead of above ground, some neighborhood groups are leery of the project's cost and its potential for triggering excessive growth.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) is edging toward a decision in favor of the tunnel option and could make an announcement as early as today, according to contractors, local officials and other knowledgeable sources who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid upstaging Kaine.

The McLean Citizens Association, one of the area's most influential neighborhood groups, sent a letter to Kaine last week endorsing a tunnel as the more aesthetically pleasing and economically desirable alternative but with explicit caveats about costs and potential consequences.

The association wants assurances that cost overruns -- a virtual certainty on large public works projects -- will not be borne exclusively by Fairfax County taxpayers, but shared equitably with the state and federal governments. A tunnel through the four-mile Tysons stretch is expected to add at least $200 million to the cost of the 23-mile rail extension, estimated at $4 billion.

County plans allow for a significant increase in building density in Tysons -- as much as 65 percent -- if the rail line is built. It is widely believed that a tunnel would be a more powerful magnet for new construction than an aboveground segment.

Although the extension of Metro might solve certain transportation issues, the association said, it will generate traffic problems and demands on the county's school system. It must be accompanied by badly needed road improvements, such as the conversion of Route 7 into a boulevard, the association said.

"The Metro extension must be rationally and fairly implemented or it may eventually cause more problems than it solves," the association wrote Kaine.

The group's position on the tunnel came only after vigorous debate. Association president Tom Brock declined to elaborate on the letter, saying that he preferred that it speak for itself.

But former president Susan Turner, who opposes the tunnel, said yesterday that "a number of people were vehemently opposed" to the plan.

"It came down to who had the louder voice," said Turner, who no longer sits on the group's executive board but said she heard from numerous residents who were upset by the association's decision.

Other key neighborhood and civic groups are struggling with the issue, which goes beyond the question of tunnel versus elevated track to the issue of what Tysons could be: a suburban commercial hub or a more urbanized development similar to the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington.

"We're going to pass on this," said Will Elliott, a spokesman for FairGrowth, a nonpartisan citizens group concerned with land-use issues in Fairfax, when asked about his group's position on the tunnel. He said the organization has yet to develop a united position on a project "with so many nuances."

Providence District Council president Charles W. Hall said his organization, which represents 60 homeowner and civic associations, had yet to stake out an official position, but he said much of his membership regarded the tunnel and aboveground options as seriously flawed for aesthetic, economic and planning reasons.

One major issue, Hall said, is the long distances between planned rail stations in Tysons, which could discourage those living and working there from using rail. He said he fears that Tysons could end up "with the worst of both worlds" -- runaway growth and a dysfunctional transportation system.

The county's business leadership remains bullish on a major expansion of Tysons. The Fairfax Chamber of Commerce recently announced that a survey it commissioned found that 82 percent of 1,800 residents believed that an urbanized area with access to mass transit, nightlife, restaurants and diverse shopping would benefit the county.

The Annapolis-based OpinionWorks survey found that 44 percent believed an urban area would benefit the county "a lot," and 38 percent thought it would benefit "a little." Fifteen percent said it would help "not at all."

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