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Town Gets on Board Tysons Tunnel

Vienna Town Council endorses competitive bidding for tunnel option.

The Vienna Town Council officially hopped on board the Tysons Tunnel train Monday night, signing onto a petition being circulated by Tysons Tunnel Inc. The petition calls for public, competitive bidding for a Metrorail extension through Tysons Corner and insists that the bidding be conducted simultaneously on designs for both an elevated rail and a three-and-a-half-mile tunnel under Tysons. The total length of the rail will run out to Dulles International Airport.

The question of whether to sign the petition was placed on the council agenda last-minute, as a result of Councilmember Laurie Cole's attendance at the Changing Face of Tysons Corner meeting convened by the Vienna-Tysons Chamber of Commerce Saturday, Nov. 30.

Cole noted that, at the meeting, project spokesperson Marcia McAllister had stated that the bidding process was already competitive because the Dulles Transit Partners — Bechtel and Washington Group International — had bid competitively for the original planning contract. A provision of that contract is that the chosen contractor gets to make the first bid for construction. Only if that bid is too high will other bidders be considered.

"How do you know a bid is too high if you're only getting one?" Cole asked, adding that, if the bid were deemed too high, "that just sets a benchmark for the subsequent bidders to know they've got to come in 1 percent below what was deemed too high."

TYSONS TUNNEL INC. was founded by the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce and is funded by various local corporate sponsors. The group is spending about $3.5 million to have preliminary engineering plans for a tunnel drawn up and a study conducted on the environmental impact of such a tunnel. This is in spite of the fact that the plan for an elevated rail has already been approved by Gov. Tim Kaine and is currently going forward. Tysons Tunnel Inc. expects to have the studies completed by early January.

Most residents and businesses in McLean and Vienna, said Cole, would prefer the Tysons extension of the rail to be underground, largely because of the potential local impact of the construction process for an elevated rail.

"At what point are we concerned that we might lose federal funding?" asked Councilmember Mike Polychrones.

The Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) has promised to supply $900 million of the approximately $4 billion project budget, provided that the project meets certain cost-effectiveness standards. It was deemed that a tunnel would not meet those requirements, and there is concern that delaying the project to re-plan the Tysons extension as a tunnel could also increase its cost beyond what is acceptable to the FTA.

"I DON'T THINK that asking that the process be bid in parallel affects that," said Cole. She noted that the county is expending more than $900 million, which she felt entitled local governments to a say in the rail's construction.

"I just don't want to see us lose the federal matching funds," Polychrones responded. "We seriously need this."

"I refuse to believe that those regulations can't be tweaked a bit," said Councilmember Maud Robinson, noting the area's clout in Congress. "I don't think enough effort has been made to find out if the feds will bend a little on these requirements," she said.

The council voted unanimously to endorse the Tysons Tunnel petition.

"We did write a letter to the governor asking that he re-look at this," said Mayor Jane Seeman, "so this is just another step in that direction."