Business Community Gets Onboard to Revive Dulles Rail Plan

Officials last week told Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine that the Dulles rail project was ineligible for $900 million in federal money.
Officials last week told Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine that the Dulles rail project was ineligible for $900 million in federal money. (By Jacquelyn Martin -- Associated Press)
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By Kendra Marr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 6, 2008

When Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine met with federal transit officials in Richmond to discuss the fate of the proposed Metro extension to Dulles International Airport, Northern Virginia business leaders were already worried.

At a networking breakfast in Chantilly the same morning last week, Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce President Eileen Curtis called on executives to endorse the expansion, which has been in the works since the 1960s and which many consider vital to the region's future.

"Can I have your attention? Take out your cellphone for a group exercise," she told the crowd. "I'm going to give you the number for the White House comment line, and we need to weigh in."

All 55 attendees dialed in, but they were too late. The Federal Transit Administration told Kaine the extension was ineligible for $900 million in federal money needed to move development forward, in effect killing the project. The business community discovered it would need much more than a phone call to revive the endeavor.

Last Friday, several of the region's chambers of commerce began to mobilize. They organized a news conference and brought in local employers, such as bottled water firm Elements H2O of Chantilly and Reston Hospital Center, to discuss how the proposed rail would improve the quality of life for workers in the Dulles corridor. More than 1,300 businesses, organizations and individuals have signed an online petition in support of a reevaluation of the project and beginning rail construction this year. Executives are writing letters to the FTA, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and lawmakers, raising awareness of traffic gridlock's strain on Northern Virginia's economy.

"Before, only people with a special axe to grind were engaged," said William D. Lecos, president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. "Now it's a much broader voice."

Local chambers are calling members asking them to step up, and employers are asking their congressmen to push for the project. The nonprofit Dulles Corridor Rail Association and the Washington Airports Task Force have placed three ads in Washington newspapers advocating the rail extension and listing its business supporters.

The 23-mile Metrorail extension from Falls Church to Dulles International Airport was expected to carry 60,000 passengers a day. Business leaders hoped a rail line through Virginia's busiest job corridor would improve the region's paralyzing traffic -- and with it employee retention, morale and opportunities for company growth.

The project is especially important to Loudoun County, said Tony Howard, president of its Chamber of Commerce.

"We're kind of an island," he said. "We're the only county in the Washington region that's not connected to a rail line or interstate."

The rising price of gas combined with frequent traffic jams are taking a toll on construction workers traveling between job sites, said Tanya Matthews, president of TMG Construction in Purcellville.

"They are always unhappy," she said.

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