Reston, McLean Chambers Open Feud Over Fate of Tysons Tunnel

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 12, 2007

Chambers of commerce almost always observe their version of Ronald Reagan's "11th Commandment" for Republicans. They rarely speak ill of one another in public.

But regional tensions over the fate of the planned extension of Metro to Dulles International Airport have prompted the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce to call out its sister chamber in McLean. Its message: If you want to see a tunnel under Tysons Corner instead of an elevated track, you need to share in what could be the considerable extra cost.

Reston's swipe last week came in the form of a letter sent to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) expressing concern about the McLean chamber's outspoken advocacy of a 3.4-mile tunnel under Tysons as part of the planned $4 billion rail project. Tysons Tunnel, a coalition of business and political leaders and residents organized by the McLean chamber, thinks a tunnel better suits a pedestrian-friendly, urban vision for Tysons Corner. It financed a $3.5 million study showing that a tunnel was technically possible and cheaper than an aerial design.

State officials responded Thursday with an engineering report concluding that construction of a tunnel held significant financial, environmental and safety risks.

The first phase of the rail project runs from just east of the West Falls Church Metro station to Wiehle Avenue in Reston, and Reston chamber leaders worry that any move to adopt the tunnel would cause delays that could cost the project $900 million in federal funding.

Because the central business districts of McLean and Vienna and the Tysons McLean Business Park are not -- like Reston -- in the special tax district that will underwrite much of the rail project, they face no financial consequences if the federal funds disappear, Marion C. Myers, Reston chamber chairman, wrote to the governor. "Thus, employers, employees and residents along the Dulles Toll Road would be shouldered with the lion's share of the burden for placing the rail line underground," she wrote, primarily in the form of increased tolls.

"Conversely, those who advocate a tunnel alignment . . . would be spared such cost increases."

Myers said last week that the Reston chamber wanted Kaine -- who opposes the switch to a tunnel -- to know there were still strong local voices favoring the project as designed.

"They're not giving up," Myers said, referring to Tysons Tunnel. "And, frankly, we wanted to be on record giving support to the governor in case there was any continued pressure on their part. We have a lot to lose and a lot to gain out here on the corridor. They have no liability whatsoever."

Myers suggested that McLean and Vienna might want to consider joining the tax district. And while they are at it, she said, maybe they would agree to a toll plaza at the Dulles Access Road and Route 123/Dolley Madison Boulevard -- the only toll-free interchange along the route.

Scott Monett, president of Tysons Tunnel and chairman of the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce, said Myers's argument was nonsense. McLean and Vienna are not in the tax district because they have paid for the Metro stops in their communities, he said. Moreover, Monett said, tunnel advocates are trying to save the region money in the long run.

"They're basically buying into what the state's telling them," he said. "They have never asked us to present our side of the case, never asked to look at our plans, never asked to meet our engineers."

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