Tunnel Talk

Tunnel Talk

Providence District Council issues resolution confirming support of underground Metro track in Tysons Corner.

Jane Quill is ready for the construction of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail line to commence — not only because she thinks it will help traffic congestion, but also because she simply wants to see some momentum on the long-awaited mass transit project. It was 27 years ago that the concept of building a Metro line to Dulles was first discussed in Fairfax County, and Quill says it is hard to believe that "it's 27 years later, and we're still talking about it." Still, she has some reservations about the project as it currently stands.

"The feds — they're going to cap their expenses, the state — they're going to cap their expenses, and guess who's going to be paying billions and billions of dollars?" said Quill at a March 20 Providence District Council meeting. "This isn't a case of overruns — this is billions and billions of dollars — and as a citizen, I am totally concerned because no one is willing to say that the citizens are going to have a cap on their expenses."

At its March 20 meeting, the Providence District Council voted to approve a resolution expressing the council's opposition to the aerial design option for the stretch of rail that will run through the four Metro stations slated for Tysons Corner. In the resolution, the council states that, as the proposed elevated track "lacks strong public support and does not serve the long-term interest of Fairfax County, the potential benefits are greatly outweighed by the negative consequences."

In August of 2005, Gov. Timothy Kaine opted to approve the overhead track design in lieu of the underground tunnel, after a preliminary engineering study concluded that the tunnel option would be more expensive and would therefore jeopardize the $900 million Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) funding that will only be contributed to the Dulles Corridor Metrorail project if it meets the FTA's cost-effectiveness standards. In response to Kaine's decision, Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce president Scott Monett founded Tysons Tunnel, Inc., a coalition of local businesses, homeowners' associations and civic organizations, committed to rejuvenating the underground tunnel option for Tysons Corner.

PRIOR TO VOTING on its pro-tunnel resolution, the council heard from Monett — as well as Fairfax County Dulles Rail coordinator Rick Stevens.

"What we are looking to have happen are three different things," said Monett at the meeting.

Monett said the three objectives of Tysons Tunnel are to subject the final engineering and design of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail project to a competitive bidding process, to have the tunnel option for the Tysons Corner section be taken under serious consideration, and to have side-by-side competitive bidding of the Tysons tunnel and elevated rail before a final decision is made. According to Monett, members of Tysons Tunnel feel that the Commonwealth of Virginia is currently mired in "a bad deal" with the Bechtel Engineering Group, the firm that currently has the engineering contract for the Dulles Corridor Metrorail project. Based on a recent Tysons Tunnel funded engineering study, Monett said that he estimates a possible $3.6 million savings should the project be opened up to competitive bidding.

"We're not asking to re-start the process, we're asking to amend it," said Monett. "We need eight to 10 months to do it, and if we can't do it in eight to 10 months, then we'll accept the loss."

However, Stevens said that there is a public misperception in regard to the Commonwealth's Public Private Transportation Act (PPTA) arrangement with Dulles Transit Partners (DTP) for the project.

"Over the course of the last few months there has been a call for competitive bidding, but what I think people don't realize is that there's actually quite a bit of competitive building built into this PPTA," said Stevens.

Stevens cited the hiring of subcontractors for the project's power stations and fare collection service providers as examples of how the arrangement incorporates competitive bidding.

Stevens also gave the council a brief overview of the current status of the Dulles Rail project, including its projected timeline for design, funding and construction. According to him, preliminary engineering for the project has been completed and Dulles Transit Partners expects to submit a design to the Federal Transportation Administration later this month. Stevens said that the project is approximately one year behind schedule, and rail is expected to be completed and in place by 2013.

IN ADDITION to Jane Quill, several other citizens attending the March 20 meeting questioned Stevens about the potential cost over-runs of the project.

"I'm concerned about the cost," said Bruce Bennett. "Now we're seeing $2.5 billion for Phase I, with $900 million as a fixed federal contribution and $400 million from Fairfax County — well $900 million plus $400 million is $1.3 billion, and we need $2.5 billion. That's a big reach between those numbers and I feel like our worst fears are going to be realized because we're going to be paying for that over-run."

Stevens said that he really could not speak confidently about exact costs until a final price tag is put on the final design plans for the project.

"I don't know what these costs are going to be," said Stevens. "We have to wait for the bid — we have to wait until we find out what the price is going to be... regardless of whether it is underground or over-ground, financial issues are going to be there."

Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth also attended the March 20 meeting, and said that no matter which rail design option is chosen, it must be constructed with pedestrian accessibility in mind.

"I just attended one of the Tysons planning sessions, and one of the things we are concerned about is how it is going to interface with rail," said Smyth.