A Barrelful of Evidence For a Tunnel Through Tysons

By Alec MacGillis and Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 1, 2007

The question in politicians' offices last week, from the Fairfax County Government Center to Capitol Hill to the legislative halls of Richmond: "What in the world is that?"

That was a cardboard barrel, about three feet high, two feet in diameter and sealed with a shiny metal top. Inside, once someone managed to wrest open the top: 40 pounds of documents representing the full preliminary engineering design for a Tysons Corner Metrorail tunnel -- more than $3 million worth of plans produced by dozens of engineers working overtime for the past two months.

The group that commissioned the design, a coalition of businesses and residents organized by the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce and dubbed TysonsTunnel.org, decided to send 60 barrels with the complete paperwork to stress its argument that building a tunnel under Tysons is doable.

In September, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) ruled in favor of an elevated track after federal transit officials and Reps. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said that switching to a tunnel could derail the 23-mile extension to Dulles International Airport.

"We wanted to send a clear message that we are completely serious about this," said Scott Monett, the group's leader and chamber chairman.

Monett and other group members said they got some funny looks as they delivered the barrels Jan. 22, including five to Capitol Hill for the state's two senators, Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), Wolf and Davis.

Not surprisingly, skittish U.S. Capitol Police officers gave the barrels a close going over, said Tatyana Schum, who made that delivery. To get through the metal detectors, she said she had to unload all the documents from the barrels: 800 pages of legal-size drawings, eight binders of related environmental reports and petitions bearing 12,000 signatures.

By week's end, Monett said, the group had heard discouragingly little in response to its massive paper dump. He still thinks the barrel distribution was a good idea, even at its estimated cost of $15,000 -- and no small number of trees.

"We spent $3 million to do this, so what's another 15,000 bucks?" he said.

Meeting Adjourned

Clocking in at 1 minute and 15 seconds, it was perhaps the shortest public meeting in county history. Once a year, the Board of Supervisors is required to sit as the Fairfax County Solid Waste Authority, which nominally oversees disposal of solid waste at the county's Interstate 95 Energy/Resource Recovery Facility.

But there wasn't much to talk about. Last week, the authority elected officers for 2007, approved minutes of the 2006 annual meeting and adjourned.

"It comes and goes so fast, but it is a special moment," board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said, joking.

Code of Ethics Redux

The county has produced the first revision of its Code of Ethics since 1963. Officials said the changes were intended largely to update archaic language. But some of the editing produced interesting shifts in emphasis and nuance.

The blunt admonition to "expose corruption wherever discovered," for example, became "report concerns in the workplace, including violations of laws, policies and procedures." Where the old code was silent on discrimination, the new document calls on employees to "affirm the value of diversity in the workplace and in Fairfax County."

The board's review of the new code last week sparked questions about another ethical issue: the "revolving door" of officials leaving to work for companies doing business with the county. County law places a one-year ban on former employees' doing anything on matters they were "personally and substantially" involved with during their county service.

Connolly said he thinks the law should go further, barring any dealings for one year.

"From a public perception point of view, that 12-month period ought to apply to everybody," he said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company