Metro Extension To Dulles Delayed

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 19, 2006

The months-long debate over whether to build a Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport below ground through Tysons Corner has pushed the construction schedule back about a year, state officials said yesterday.

Subway construction probably won't begin until late next year or early 2008, said officials of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. It was supposed to start early next year, prompting some Fairfax County supervisors to question whether the state's management of the project was also to blame.

Corey Hill, the state's project manager for the planned rail extension from West Falls Church to the airport, cited a five-month review of a tunnel option under Tysons Corner as the main factor setting construction back. Gov. Timothy Kaine (D) decided last month to nix the tunnel after federal officials and area congressmen made clear that the costs of an underground link could jeopardize the entire 23-mile, $4 billion project.

"There are now some activities that should have occurred [during the tunnel review] that didn't," Hill said. "It's longer than just the time we made the decision to look at a tunnel."

Exploring the tunnel no doubt cost planners and engineers valuable time, county supervisors agreed. But they also blamed the delays on what they called the state's sluggish management.

"The tunnel was a valiant effort," said Fairfax Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee). "But the state is visibly trying to blame someone other than itself for its delays in setting the terms and conditions of the project."

The delay means that riders -- and voters -- are unlikely to watch the first leg of the line break ground before next November, when the Board of Supervisors and General Assembly are up for reelection. Northern Virginia politicians in both parties are eager to show off a new rail line in the absence of other big transportation improvements in the congested region.

Design work began last spring on the first phase, a 11.6-mile segment from West Falls Church through Tysons to Reston. At that time, state officials estimated that construction would begin next year and end in late 2011.

Now the Tysons leg would open to riders in 2012. The line would reach the airport and Loudoun County by 2015.

"I would like to have rail up and running by yesterday," Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said. "We're anxious to get on with this."

The federal government is expected to commit $900 million for the $2 billion leg through Tysons before construction can proceed. Virginia and Fairfax County are splitting the rest of the cost. Connolly said he told Hill and other state officials that the project must reach some milestones by next fall. "Anything we can do to expedite this process," Connolly said.

Before the Federal Transit Administration can sign off on its contribution, an environmental review must be completed, and Congress must review it, Hill said.

Connolly and other supervisors also attributed the delays to a change in leadership at the Federal Transit Administration, where the top job was vacant for several months this year. They also said it took the state longer than expected to put in place a system to oversee the preliminary engineering.

Kauffman said he is concerned that Virginia has been slow to set terms and conditions on the project "to make sure we don't get taken to the cleaners." He said he is pushing for the state to hire a construction management expert to oversee design work and preliminary engineering.

That work is being done by the state's contractor, Dulles Transit Partners. After negotiating with Dulles Transit, the state will decide whether to keep the company as the main contractor to build the line or seek other bidders.

Once the FTA approves the final design, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is scheduled to take over the project sometime next year.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company