Roy Tinsley Dodge, 85, the retired Army Corps of Engineers brigadier general who as the Washington Metro's first design and construction chief in the 1960s and 1970s helped in the birth of the capital area subway system, died of complications from lung cancer Nov. 8 at The Fairfax retirement community at Fort Belvoir in Alexandria.
He had lived in Alexandria since 1967.
Recruited by his former military superior and Metro's first general manager, Jackson Graham, he won a reputation for honesty and transparency during the system's tenuous infancy. During his tenure, from 1967 until retiring in 1978, Gen. Dodge was credited by friends and critics of Metro with keeping what was then the nation's largest public works project free of the corruption and influence-peddling endemic to big-city, big-ticket ventures.
"He embodied a construction integrity when anything less would have sunk the system," said Theodore C. Lutz, Graham's successor as Metro general manager in 1976 and currently The Washington Post's business manager. "There were enough people ready, trying to kill it."
Critics intent on defunding the system were ready to point to the cost overruns and delays that did occur, however, and as a military man who stressed discipline, the affable and unassuming Gen. Dodge cringed at these realities, occurring in a national period of inflation and budget woes.
Lutz recalled a reunion of Metro veterans, many of them also from the Corps of Engineers, at which Gen. Dodge introduced himself saying, "I'm in the 12th year of managing this 10-year construction project."
He had some anxious moments after the 1969 groundbreaking when federal money was withheld for two years in an attempt to force the District to build more freeways.
In a 1999 interview with The Post, he recalled Graham's admonition to begin construction as quickly as possible, saying, "If we get a big enough hole in the ground, they can't stop us."
And Gen. Dodge did get a hole in the ground, actually many of them, resulting in a construction and traffic tangle for Washington and its suburbs in the 1970s as subway tunnels were carved below.
Remarkably, there were few major construction glitches, though a big scare did occur in the twilight of his career, when in 1977 a construction accident caused a flood that closed the Blue Line.
His days were occupied with analyzing the details of contracts for the project, running into the billions of dollars and spread out among more than 40 firms; grant delays; environmental studies; and complaints about handicapped access and set-asides for minority contractors. Having been a combat engineer and a Corps of Engineers official who dealt with such massive issues as the water level of the Great Lakes, Gen. Dodge was unflappable, and often wryly funny, in the face of such challenges.
He was one of the few people considered close to Graham, and he looked to retire after Graham's own retirement in 1976.
Gen. Dodge, a native of Gadsden, Ala., was a mechanical engineering graduate of Auburn University.
He joined the Army in 1938. Among his first assignments, on the Texas-Mexico border, was finding water and fodder for the horse cavalry.
He served with the 83rd Infantry Division during World War II and commanded a combat engineer battalion that fought through five campaigns as part of Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army.
Later in life, when construction schedules were tight, he could tell the story of working at night to establish a bridgehead over the Elbe River that allowed U.S. troops a clear shot at Berlin. "We did that in 24 hours in darkness," he said in a 1999 interview with The Post. "We're now 32 years into building Metro."
His later assignments included a teaching stint at the Army Engineer School, serving as an engineer for the Eighth Army in Korea and director of Army schools in the Continental Army Command.
In his last assignment before retiring in 1967, he was north-central division engineer, responsible for military construction and civil works in 13 states. He made headlines when he announced in 1966 that the corps would "shut down" the U.S. side of Niagara Falls to make repairs and remove rock.
Among his decorations was the Army Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit.
In his second retirement, he assisted in planning, construction and operations at The Fairfax.
Gen. Dodge was a fellow of the Society of American Military Engineers and an officer of the Mount Vernon chapter of the Retired Officers Association.
He also was a trustee at St. James Episcopal Church in Alexandria.
Survivors include his wife, the former Gwynne Irvin Barrett of Alexandria, whom he married in 1941; three children, Caroline Dodge Herrick of Annandale and Roy Richard and Elizabeth Dodge Menikos, both of Fort Worth; eight grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.