Area chambers of commerce are bumping heads on the issue of how to build a metro line through Tysons Corner to Dulles Airport and beyond. While McLean and Vienna Tysons Corner chambers have requested a tunnel option be explored, the Reston Chamber recently sent a letter to Gov. Tim Kaine asking that the current plans for an elevated track be implemented.
The Reston Chamber is concerned that $900 million in federal funding for the project could be lost if the tunnel option forces the cost of the project over Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) cost effectiveness criteria. In a letter dated March 6, Chairman of the Reston Chamber Marion Myers wrote that if federal funding was lost, communities west of Tysons Corner would bear most of the cost to replace what would have been federal money. The letter was written on behalf of Reston Chamber's 800 member companies.
Explaining that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) — recently selected to manage and implement construction of rail to Dulles — would rely on Dulles Toll Road revenues to fund the project's construction, Myers was concerned that any additional financial burden would fall on the shoulders of Reston residents and businesses. "MWAA officials have indicated that they intend to implement more increases in the tolls paid by employees and residents utilizing the Dulles Toll Road, as a means of financing MWAA's responsibilities for the rail project," reads the letter.
Myers points out in the letter that the intersection of Route 123 and Dulles Airport Access Road in McLean does not have a toll facility. If $900 million of federal funding was lost and toll money had to replace it, points west of McLean and Tysons Corner would have to make up the difference. "Thus employers, employees and residents along the Dulles Toll Road would be shouldered with the lion's share of the burden for placing the rail line underground through Tysons Corner. Conversely, those who advocate a tunnel alignment through Tysons Corner would be spared from such cost increases," wrote Myers.
"WHY ON EARTH WOULD we want to lose $900 million," said Scott Monett, president of Tysons Tunnel, Inc. — a coalition made up of residents and businesses in McLean and Tysons Corner — and president of the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce. The McLean Chamber is a strong supporter of building a 3.4-mile tunnel under Tysons Corner, an option which would allow more flexibility in future redevelopment of the area. Tysons Tunnel, Inc. conducted a study for the tunnel option that concluded a tunnel was more cost-effective than an elevated track. Monett said the tunnel proposal amounted to less risk because Dragados — a tunnel building firm — offered to build the four Tysons Corner stations for an approximate price of $826 million. The company would assume the risks associated with planning and additional costs, said Monett. "We removed the majority of the risk," he said, with the tunnel proposal. "The riskiest part is willing to be assumed by a company that has $12 billion in revenue," he said.
Monett also dismissed the Reston Chamber's assertion that all of the risk associated with losing $900 million in federal funding would be borne by its members. "That is another absurd statement," he said. Monett said that 84 percent of the money coming from the special tax district — made up of commercial landowners along the corridors — to fund Phase 1 of the rail extension comes from Tysons Corner, while 16 percent of it comes from Reston. As far as the lack of a toll facility on Route 123, Monett said he pays 75 cents every time he goes west on the toll road, and 75 cents on his way back to McLean, at the toll plaza. Monett added that Tysons Tunnel, Inc., would not have spent $3.5 million on engineering studies if it did not deem them viable.
"Although this suggestion [the tunnel proposal] may have merit from the standpoint of aesthetics and future connectivity in the Tysons Corner area, it also has the potential to disrupt the carefully negotiated financing package that currently is in place for Phase 1 [of rail to Dulles]," wrote Myers in the Reston Chamber letter.
"I would be happy to brief the Reston Chamber any time they want to hear the other side of the story," said Monett.
A DAY AFTER THE RESTON Chamber submitted its letter to Kaine, Matthew Tucker, the director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation submitted a letter to Pierce Homer, Virginia Secretary of Transportation, regarding a review of the tunnel proposal. Carter and Burgess, Inc., a state-hired consultant, conducted a review of the study and concluded that a tunnel is technically feasible, but that the Tysons Tunnel, Inc. proposal was incomplete.
"The overall conclusion is that the proposed single-bore tunnel through Tysons Corner may be technically feasible; however there are significant risks that the construction costs and schedule duration's stated by Tysons Tunnel, Inc. will be exceeded," stated the review.
The review did not include an estimated cost of the tunnel option, and stated that escalation costs for the project run at about $4 million per month. "Procedurally, no one can develop the cost of constructing a tunnel or any other major civil project without first completing the required levels of environmental review and engineering drawings and calculations that would be required by the FTA," wrote Tucker in the letter to Homer.
In Tucker's letter, he refers to Carter and Burgess as an independent consultant, but there are questions as to the level of the firm's independent status. Monett said the firm is currently competing for the program management job for the Rail to Dulles, and holds other contracts with MWAA. For example, the firm's Web site confirms that one of its projects is designing the fourth runway at Dulles International Airport. "There is a conflict of interest," said Monett. He added that the review team refused to meet with Tyson Tunnel's engineering team. "There was no dialogue between our engineers and the review team," said Monett. He also noted that the review did not attack the building of the tunnel, but rather its cost and schedule.
Diane Poldy, the president of the Vienna Tysons Corner Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber actively supported the tunnel option. She said a tunnel under Tysons Corner is in the best interest of the Vienna and Tysons Corner community. "I do believe [the review of the tunnel proposal] was a biased study done by a biased group," said Poldy. She said her understanding was that the review team used the old figures for the tunnel option, and for the large part disregarded the $3.5 million Tysons Tunnel proposal.
MONETT AND POLDY ALSO raised concerns about the process behind the metro rail extension decisions. Poldy said the process is conducted behind closed doors. She said there was no doubt that information has been presented to suggest the tunnel is not only possible, but also more advantageous to the community. Also, FTA said the decision did not have to be reached until the middle of 2008.
Monett said there has not been enough scrutiny on the current project. "Where is the public oversight on the largest transportation project in the country," said Monett. He added that once the project is handed over to MWAA, the public could lose the means to see what is happening with the project. As a non-governmental entity, MWAA is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and can therefore release information regarding the project as it sees fit.
Speaking at a Reston Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday afternoon, Marcia McAllister, the communications manager of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, said Kaine was committed to an elevated track through Tysons Corner. She added that the tunnel proposal has backed up initial plans to begin construction of Phase 1 of the metro line by the end of this year. "We anticipate to be under construction this time next year," said McAllister.
McAllister said that Tysons Corner and the Reston/Herndon area are the two largest employment centers in Virginia. Loudoun County continues to be one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, and the metropolitan area has the third worst congestion in the nation. "We have to provide mobility in this corridor," said McAllister. The 23-mile long metro line, unofficially dubbed the Silver Line, is a part of a much larger effort to provide that mobility and would not solve the congestion problem on its own, added McAllister.
Phase 1 of the project would place five new metro stations in operation by the year 2012. Four of the five stations would be built in Tysons Corner, with the fifth one built in the median of the Dulles Airport Access Road at Wiehle Avenue in Reston. The four stations at Tysons Corner would not be provided with commuter parking. "The goal is to bring people, not cars, to Tysons Corner," said McAllister. The Wiehle Avenue station in Reston would provide 2,300 parking spaces. McAllister said that MWAA announced its commitment to have Phase 2 of the project, from Reston Parkway to Ashburn, operational by 2015.