0
Votes

Battle over Dulles Rail Becomes More Confusing

New Dulles Rail advocacy group appears after federal lawsuit filed.

November has been a confusing month for the long sought-after extension of the Metrorail to Dulles International Airport.

On Election Day, two candidates won elections in part on their support for building the Metrorail as a tunnel instead of an overhead track. Democrat John Foust, who unseated Board of Supervisors Republican Joan Dubois, was sharply critical of her vote against the tunnel option for the rail extension.

Foust told the Connection Newspapers that he was "very much opposed to the elevated rail, and I think Tysons can be good as long as we do it right and don’t try cover all the 1,700 acres with high density."

In the 34th House District, Democrat Margaret "Margie" Vanderhye defeated Republican Dave Hunt, hand chosen by Vincent Callahan, the long-time holder of the seat, in part on her record on transportation issues.

The voters of the 34th are largely opposed to running the Metrorail above ground as surface rail and Vanderhye too opposes the above ground plan.

The $5 billion rail line, which is planned to extend from the East Falls Church station on the Orange Line to Wiehle Avenue in Reston and then Dulles International Airport as the "Silver Line," and later on to Loudoun County, runs heavily through the 34th District. The first phase is estimated to cost $2.8 billion of which $900 million would have to be contributed by the federal government.

The Federal Transit Administration is making a determination as to whether they will make that payment. If it does not, Gov. Tim Kaine has warned Virginia could not afford to go forward. The controversy on a rail connection to Dulles through Tysons Corner has gone on since 1994.

Nine days after the election, the Washington Metropolitan Airport Authority announced that work would begin on utility relocation for the above-ground route even before the fate of the crucial $900 million in federal funds is known. Foust said he worried that the move would create an "air of inevitability."

On Dec. 3, Marcia McAllister, spokeswoman for the Dulles Metrorail Project, said that actually no work will begin until "after the holidays." She said survey crews are out mapping areas, but no construction has begun.

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10) announced mid-month that Congress had approved another $35 million for the Dulles aerial rail project.

Scott Monett of the Tyson Tunnel.org, the group in favor of an underground plan, finds Wolf’s position contradictory.

On the one hand Wolf is a major critic of the law that allows Virginia agencies to negotiate major contracts without open bidding and has asked the Virginia Attorney General to investigate the contracts that allow an Australian company to manage the Greenway to Loudoun County. The same law was used to award contracts for the Dulles surface rail, which was done without a public bidding.

ON NOV. 26, the Tysons Land Use Task Force held a public hearing on transit-oriented development to hear Cambridge Systematics, a group which will help the task force form its proposals. There are four Metro stops planned in Tysons and the group has one plan with high density development and another with lower density. The Cambridge group has used the experience in Arlington of development in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor as sort of model for its thinking.

Mark Zetts of the McLean Citizens Association Board of Directors has objections to this planning. He pointed out in a briefing for the McLean group that in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor there is good traffic flow with lots of egress and exit streets. Tysons, he argued, is virtually cut off by the interstates including Route 66, the Beltway and the Dulles Toll Road. He said his estimate is that rail will not correct the incredible traffic bottleneck that already exists in Tyson. "Out of every 10 trips to Tysons," he said, "six to eight are going to be automobile trips and there is no getting around this." He said he provided long written reports on his views to county officials and the task force.

But at the Nov. 26 meeting many of the people kept asking how the transit planning can be completed without a sense of the density of this area.

THAT SAME DAY, Nov. 26, the Tysons Tunnel, Inc. and Rattner Companies, LLC charged in a federal court suit that federal transportation authorities failed to consider all alternatives to the aerial Dulles Rail connection in violation of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

It said that NEPA requires the Federal Transit Administration and its parent, the U.S. Department of Transportation, to produce an Environmental Impact Statement that analyzes "in detail all reasonable alternatives that could meet the project’s purpose and need."

The suit said federal authorities examined two plans, "known as Alignment T5 and Alignment T13; that would have included a tunnel through the Tysons Corner segment. Both were rejected without detailed analysis."

The suit said that "USDOT did not conduct any investigation into the feasibility or cost-effectiveness of using large bore tunneling technology on the project."

The issue has been over cost. The backers of the aerial plan claimed the tunnel would cost nearly $900 million more than the aerial route. But the suit alleges that the estimate was made by a firm involved in the aerial project.

Critics charge that under Virginia’s law allowing projects to be negotiated with one sole source and not bid, the state was making a major mistake in the tunnel project. But USDOT argued that states are allowed to conduct a "procurement project" as they see fit.

The suit alleges that USDOT is in violation of NEPA and sections of its procurement law. It asks the court to "enjoin the defendants taking final actions, granting any federal approvals" until USDOT and the FTA "have complied" with NEPA and procurement regulations.

A day after the suit was filed, G. T. Halpin, the chairman and chief executive officer of WestGroup — one of the biggest developers in Tysons and source of much of the funding of the Tysons Tunnel organization — sent a letter to Gerry Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, disassociating WestGroup from the lawsuit. "As you know, for the last 50 years, WestGroup has not resolved differences of opinion regarding public policy in court," the letter said.

Halpin said in an interview that he still favors an underground Metrorail and believes that the federal government should consider all bids before making its decision.

LAST FRIDAY, a new group surfaced called Tysons Tomorrow, many of whom like Halpin had been supporters of Tysons Tunnel.

William Lecos of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, who assisted in putting the group together, said it was landowners in Tysons of smaller segments, "two acres here, three acres," not the major land owners like West Group and Lerner. He said they plan to work as a group to further the Dulles Rail project. Originally most of them had favored the tunnel, but have decided it is not viable, and want rail to go forward.

"This is a critical juncture for Metrorail. … When the tunnel was not viable; we put the rail priority first." Without the rail, he said, many believe that Tysons will remain a suburban shopping center.