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Businesses, Groups Still Pushing for Tysons Tunnel

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By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 9, 2006

The Tysons Corner tunnel still lives, at least in the hopes of some Fairfax County residents and business leaders.

As contractors and state officials proceed with plans for a Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport that will run through Tysons on an elevated track, an effort is underway to keep alive a proposal to build the four-mile Tysons part of the line underground.

The Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce is creating a coalition of businesses and community groups to continue promoting an underground route. The chamber has created a Web site, http://www.tysonstunnel.org , and enlisted volunteers to canvass supporters at polling stations on Election Day. The coalition is holding a meeting Wednesday to discuss how to force a change in the design.

"Our efforts have been very well-received," said Scott Monett, president of the McLean chamber. "I was surprised by the amount of people who've said, 'Whatever we can do to help, we're on board.' "

Whether a last-ditch effort on behalf of the tunnel proposal will have any effect remains to be seen. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) announced in September that he had decided against an underground approach after several months in which the proposal seemed to be gaining ground. Although Kaine backed a tunnel in theory, he cited warnings by federal transit officials and local congressional leaders that the added costs and delays caused by a switch to an underground route could imperil the full 23-mile, $4 billion extension.

The move stunned tunnel supporters, who had been anticipating a decision in their favor after a panel of engineers appointed by Kaine came out in favor of the underground approach. The panel found that a tunnel would cost about $200 million more but that it would be worth it because it would cause less disruption to the area during construction and contribute more to Fairfax's vision of transforming Tysons into a walkable downtown.

Monett, the owner of a small technology company, said that he, like many others in Fairfax he has spoken with, were sure a tunnel would prevail but that he had not paid much attention to the issue until after Kaine's decision. Now, he said, a group of business leaders and residents is demanding another look at the tunnel, arguing that an elevated line will wreak havoc during construction and mar the area for generations to come.

"People said, 'Holy smokes, this is going to be utter chaos,' " Monett said. "I asked around and noticed there was a pretty significant consensus that it was a real bad idea."

Monett said he is hoping to raise enough money to commission the engineering of a tunnel approach to show that it would be doable and affordable. He acknowledged that he is a long way from that fundraising goal, which he estimated at more than $1 million. A local engineering firm that was part of a group of companies proposing to build a tunnel, the Dr. Sauer Group, has offered technical advice but cannot proceed with a full tunnel design unless there is money to pay for it.

WestGroup, a major Tysons landowner and tunnel supporter, sent a letter to Kaine after his announcement offering to lead a privately funded effort to produce the full engineering of a tunnel, but Kaine has not taken the group up on it. Monett said WestGroup is not driving the chamber's effort, though it has expressed support.

Some tunnel backers are moving on. Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said he sees Kaine's decision as definitive and that "we need to get on with things and make it work."

Amy Tozzi, a resident of the Regency apartments at Tysons, said she is encountering little such resignation as she collects neighbors' signatures for the tunnel coalition.

"It's got to go underground," she said. "People are just up in arms that no one is listening to us."

The meeting is at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the McLean Community Center, 1234 Ingleside Ave, McLean.


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