U.S. House Provision May Imperil Extension

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 3, 2007

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a provision that could jeopardize the long-awaited extension of rail to Dulles International Airport by requiring closer study of a tunnel through Tysons Corner.

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and several Virginia lawmakers met behind closed doors on Capitol Hill yesterday to discuss whether the provision could delay the project. The provision must be approved by the Senate.

It is not clear who asked for the language, and there is little agreement on what it would do. Elected officials in the meeting included Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and U.S. Reps. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) and Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.).

Scott Monett, president of the advocacy group TysonsTunnel.org, said he met with Moran and Davis last week to ask them for help in reviving the tunnel option. Davis said last night he did not ask for the provision. At yesterday's meeting, Davis and Moran stated their commitment to gaining Federal Transit Administration approval for the rail line as quickly as possible, and both said they would rather build an above-ground line through Tysons than watch the project die, sources said.

Whether to build a one-mile tunnel through the Tysons portion of the 23-mile, above-ground rail extension has become a controversial issue. Tunnel advocates say an aerial line would ruin the chance to transform Tysons, an auto-dependent suburban business district, into a walkable downtown. Advocates for the larger Dulles rail line and officials with the FTA say that a tunnel is too expensive and that FTA's cost-efficiency standards could lead them to deny $900 million in federal funding that the project is counting on.

"This was a productive meeting in which House and Senate leaders of both parties emphasized to the FTA that this is a critically important project to the national capital region," said Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall. "Congressional partners and local partners are committed to working with the FTA to get the approvals necessary to get this long-awaited project underway."

Although it has collected thousands of signatures and calls itself a grass-roots organization, TysonsTunnel.org is largely funded by WestGroup, a commercial real estate developer with substantial holdings in Tysons whose value would be greatly enhanced by a tunnel.

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