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Fairfax Votes For Tysons Rail

The Fairfax County Board voted 8 to 2 this afternoon to help finance construction of a new Metrorail line through Tysons Corner, a crucial step in the county's effort to focus its development on transit stations and move away from its dependence on automobiles.

Commuters in Tysons, where 100,000 people work, could see signs of the project as early as September, when workers are scheduled to begin relocating utilities to clear the way for rail line construction along Routes 123 and 7. But several other steps still must occur: The Metro board must agree this month to take control of the rail line when the construction out to Wiehle Avenue is done in 2013, and the Federal Transit Administration must agree to finance $900 million of the $2.647 billion project after a review likely to be done by the end of August.

The Fairfax Board today agree to contribute $400 million to one of the most debated transportation projects in the Washington region. Lately, that debate has focused on whether the rail line through Tysons will be above or below ground, but plenty of other issues have been raised during the lengthy controversy: Will there be enough riders to justify building one of the most expensive transportation projects in the nation? Would a rapid bus system be more cost effective than rail line? Would planners and traffic engineers be able to get commuters in and out of a major regional employment center during the construction phase? Is it fair to ask drivers on the Dulles Toll Road to help finance a rail line?

A second phase of the rail project would take it to Dulles Airport and into Loudoun County, if a financing plan can be put together, and that has added an additional layer to the debate. (Total project cost now is estimated at $5.1 billion.)

Still, the seemingly doomed prospect of building the Tysons portion of the line in a tunnel dominated discussion before today's vote at the Fairfax Government Center. Every board member had something to say before the votes were cast. Not one word was said against the idea of building the rail line in a tunnel, but most board members said they were unwilling to risk the fate of the entire project by dropping out of the federal review process to restudy the underground option.

Board members Dana Kauffman and Linda Smyth cast the no votes. They said they did not believe it was worth going ahead with a project they believed was fundamentally flawed. But the other board members generally said they were voting yes even though they did not believe the plan was perfect -- most said specifically that they still would prefer a tunnel through Tysons.

"Rail to Dulles is the single most important transportation investment this board, or any board, is going to make," said board Chairman Gerald Connolly. He said that when he was first elected to the board in 1995, no one was talking about rail to Dulles because the project was considered dead. "We're now in the brink of turning dirt," he said.
"Should we make perfect be the enemy of the good?"

By Robert Thomson  |  June 18, 2007; 2:22 PM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
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Comments

"Rail to Dulles is the single most important transportation investment this board, or any board, is going to make"

I'm sorry Mr. Connolly, but I can't recall the last time I needed to go to Dulles. I do, however, know of many areas and interchanges in FFX county that are snarled and which desperately need some alleviation. I have to disagree with you that getting the richie Riches to their international flights and to their daily shopping at Tysons II sans car is more of a priority than the rest of the tangled, inadequate road infrastructure your county has.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 18, 2007 3:50 PM | Report abuse

This is possibly the biggest waste of public money in this region's history. Who is going to ride Metro to Tysons or even to Dulles? These stations are not being pitched as ways to alleviate traffic on clogged highways, but as an airport link, and commercial corridor to further encourage reverse commuting.

I ask the board members who voted for this project, if they didn't think the deal was "perfect," then why didn't they work harder to make it "perfect." The bottom line is that they cannot admit that developers and construction companies in the region are all looking for money because of reduced growth in the region, and rail to Dulles will give them plenty of work to do for the next 15 years. Typical politicians!!!!

Posted by: Stepup | June 18, 2007 4:19 PM | Report abuse

I do think people will ride the expanded orange line to Dulles as well as to Tyson's. I think people in the region would take rail to a lot of places that aren't served by rail or reliable mass transit. BWI, Columbia Pike, most of midtown DC, National Harbor, and the Silver Spring-to-Bethesda route are all areas that could use better mass transit options. I'm happy to see that Tyson's is no longer a part of the list (even if the rail is above ground).

Posted by: Tim | June 18, 2007 4:37 PM | Report abuse

People who think the above ground rail will fail have no imagination. In Alexandria, the above ground rail snakes through neighborhoods and you barely notice it.

There are a lot of cities with elevated train tracks that have thrived, including Boston, Chicago, and the outer boroughs of NY.

Posted by: CDell | June 18, 2007 4:39 PM | Report abuse

My only concern is, how is the already grossly overcrowded Orange line, which already shares a track with the Blue line downtown, going to handle the load of sharing the new line until past Falls Church?

Posted by: CDell | June 18, 2007 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Above: "I have to disagree with you that getting the richie Riches to their international flights and to their daily shopping at Tysons II sans car is more of a priority than the rest of the tangled, inadequate road infrastructure your county has."

The rich ride public transit and the poor are "stuck" in their cars? What an upside-down worldview!

Posted by: Eric | June 18, 2007 10:10 PM | Report abuse

Does anybody seem to know how bringing Metro to Tysons, to Reston, and to Dulles will actually benefit Tysons, Reston, and Dulles? Last I checked, most commuters used to Beltway to travel to Tyson's. And is a $5 billion rail line necessary to bring people to Dulles?

Posted by: J | June 18, 2007 10:38 PM | Report abuse

I think its a great idea, i doubt the richies will abandon their cars for a rail, many might, i'm more concerned about the 90k something working class commuters who will now have public transportation to better serve the richies, as well as the god-knows how many shopppers of all income classes from around the reigon.

i say above ground. without a doubt that is what will keep the price down. dwellers of the ffx area will hate the visual obstruction...boo hoo.

it is however insulting that this behemoth of a project is aproved when previous projects in not so rich areas, never made it off the ground. such as the columbia pike line idea.

i do think that fairfax and loudon counties can and should contribute more to the proposed budget

Posted by: N | June 19, 2007 6:37 AM | Report abuse

"There are a lot of cities with elevated train tracks that have thrived, including Boston, Chicago, and the outer boroughs of NY."

You ever been to downtown Chicago? I think it's thrived in spite of the El. Those trains are NOISY, extremely noisy, but they're also a firmly-ingrained tradition out there.

The fundamental difference between Chicago, New York, and London compared to the DC area is that the former three cities' public transport systems grew up with the cities. In the DC area, we're now trying to construct public transport to serve an area that grew up without it. That's a completely different task and a far more difficult one.

Posted by: Rich | June 19, 2007 12:08 PM | Report abuse

The fact that Dulles rail is a boondoggle for developers and construction companies and a "legacy' ego-trip for politicians has been made all the more clear by yesterday's vote and Gerry Connelly's comments.

As the first poster on this blog noted, there are far more pressing transportation needs that would REALLY alleviate congestion.

Dulles rail will only make congestion worse. People will drive to the stations. After all, the Reston and Herndon stations will be in the middle of a 12-lane highway, so they won't be part of anyone's "walkable community".

Anyone who really thinks enough people will drag luggage onto whichever train or bus they will orginally ride THEN take this white elephant to Dulles is smoking some really good stuff!

Plus, all that "transit-oriented development" (which BTW is called "sprawl" by rail transit advocates when it goes up along a new road) will create traffic - those who live and work there will have vehicles. Not to mention deliveries and services. All on an inadequate road network that no one plans to expand.

Then there's the price tag. First it was $3 billion, then $4 billion, now they are talking about $5.2 billion. Can we say "Big Dig"?

Whatever the cost of construction, it's only the beginning. The Dulles rail boondoggle will require operating/maintenance subsidies FOREVER.

And the majority of those left holding the bag will STILL be rotting in traffic on a STILL inadequate road network.

And those in the areas that REALLY need rail transit will STILL be out in the cold.

This is good?

Posted by: CEEAF | June 19, 2007 3:06 PM | Report abuse

The main problems with building the Metro to Dulles is the contract and seemingly limitless cost. What is it at now, five billion from two? As a poster correctly pointed out the orange line of the Metro is already overcrowded. Most people will be using the silver line inbound. Tysons Corner will never be the center of this region no matter how pedestrian friendly it becomes. DC will always be the center and to think otherwise is simply arrogance. The lack of innovation is what truly bothers me about our leaders. To have Metro operate as an urban system in the suburbs is completely against Metro's design. Tysons Corner should have maybe at most one Metro stop and some other kind of mass transit should be put in place to serve the area (monorail, light rail, etc). That makes the most cost effective sense. The board should have voted against the proposal and worked out a new deal being that all the major work has already been done. Somehow I see this being another fleecing of America. If I were on the DOT oversight committee I definitely would not approve this terribly designed project.

Posted by: Sivad | June 19, 2007 4:41 PM | Report abuse

I am totally against the aerial project as planned through Tysons. Tysons is a top ten US retail center. What better way to bring workers and shoppers in and out through the center, invisible and unconflicted to the traffic above and protected from the weather, than through the underground. As an example, the underground walkway in Crystal City has worked well for years and has actually been expanded and improved over time. Later this summer, work on a 3.5 mile long tunnel will begin under Manhatten to connect the Long Island railroad with Grand Cntral Station as a major commuter improvement. Work will be going on 24 hours a day using a Spanish owned and Italian made (sound familar) tunnel boring machine. They will be digging through hard rock, which is geologically more challenging than Tyson's subterraneous earth. The cost for all this is a pretty steep 6.8 billion, with money coming from the fedral and state governments. So why did the Board of Supervisors sell out to the Tyson's aerial project while the more expensive Manhatten Project has the Fed's approval? Did the board fear the Fed's disapproval of the Tyson's tunnel plan? Why wasn't the Spanish firm's tunnel proposal not considered for the Tyson project at a cost less than the current 5.2 billion estimate? Too many questions and too few good answers.

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