Tunnel Is Affordable, Advocate Group Says

By Alec MacGillis and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A group of Northern Virginia business leaders and residents presented detailed plans yesterday that they said prove that a Metro tunnel through Tysons Corner could be built at an affordable price, raising the pressure on Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and federal officials who have decided the underground route isn't realistic.

"Once they see this information, it will be very difficult for them to say no," said the group's leader, Scott Monett, in presenting the plans at the Fairfax County Government Center. "Now, the ball's in their court. We've given [them] what they need."

The debate over the design of the $4 billion rail extension from West Falls Church to Dulles International Airport has roiled Northern Virginia for the past year, with supporters of a tunnel for Tysons arguing that it would cause much less disruption during construction than an elevated track and do more for transforming Tysons into a walkable downtown for Fairfax County.

Kaine initially was inclined to support the tunnel but in September decided in favor of an elevated track, saying that federal transit officials and Northern Virginia Republican Reps. Thomas M. Davis III and Frank R. Wolf had warned that switching to a tunnel would delay the entire 23-mile project and imperil $900 million in expected federal funding.

"The Federal Transit Administration . . . was emphatically clear that any significant change in the design or delay seriously imperiled . . . federal aid for this project," said Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall, explaining the governor's decision on the tunnel. Hall said the governor's staff would look at the new report but did not expect that to change the decision.

Also in Richmond yesterday, advocates for the Dulles rail project received a scare when they discovered a provision in the recently announced Republican transportation plan that would have blocked Kaine's intention to hand over management of the project to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Buried in the fine print of the 38-page transportation legislation, the measure would have delayed the project for more than a year to give the General Assembly time to approve or reject the arrangement with the airports authority. The airports group quickly hired a lobbyist to get rid of the provision.

House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), who has been a critic of Kaine's decision to partner with the airports group, said the inclusion of the provision was a mistake made in the rush of putting together the transportation legislation. He said it would be removed from the bill.

"It's coming out as we speak," Howell said.

The unintended provision was just one of a series of mistakes the Republican lawmakers made last week as they raced to unveil the massive compromise transportation bill. The lawmakers forgot to include a provision to raise auto registration fees, a $71 million mistake. And they accidentally made the fines for bad drivers harsher than they had intended.

Lawmakers said the legislation, which was completed after more than a month of closed-door negotiations, was being rewritten yesterday to fix the problems.

The debate over whether to tunnel under Tysons Corner or build an elevated track had been declared over by the governor in the fall. But a group of residents and business leaders organized by the McLean Chamber of Commerce and dubbed TysonsTunnel.org has fought on, collecting 12,000 signatures and raising $3.5 million to pay for preliminary engineering plans, proving, its members say, that a tunnel would cost no more than an elevated track.

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