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Dulles Rail Plan Vital to Suburbs

State and local officials in Virginia are ready to do whatever it takes to meet federal conditions and get a new Metrorail line built through Tysons and on to Dulles. But the U.S. Department of Transportation is taking a long time to review the rail plan, and as Amy Gardner says in today's Post, it may not go along.

The rail line has noteworthy problems: Huge cost, dissatisfaction with the above-ground route through Tysons and uncertainties about how it will mesh with the rest of the Metro system.

But abandoning the project would be a disaster for Northern Virginia and the Washington region. There's no second choice. Planning for the future of Tysons, the economic linchpin of Northern Virginia, is organized around the four new Metro stations the rail line would provide. Along the Toll Road on the way to Dulles Airport is Reston, another boomtown without a significant transit connection. At the end of the line is the airport area. Many business and civic leaders talk about its future in the way their 19th century equivalents talked about the future of the harbors in Boston, New York or Baltimore.

If only, they all say, we had that rail line to focus the development of those communities and provide access for workers, residents, travelers and shoppers.

The $5 billion cost of achieving this goal is indeed staggering. The rail line would be one of the most expensive public works projects in the history of the nation. But it would not be another Boston Big Dig.

Difficult design and construction conditions led to enormous cost overruns as Boston built the tunnels and depressed the central artery highway. The line across Northern Virginia is mostly on the surface or elevated. It would run along Routes 123 and 7, and then along the Toll Road. Most of the technology and resources needed to design and build this railroad has been around for a while.

While the project gets more expensive the longer it gets delayed, the construction phase isn't going to result in a doubling and tripling of costs a la Boston.

The U.S. Department of Transportation can and should work out whatever problems it has with the rail plan and allow this vital project to proceed.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 17, 2008; 8:34 AM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
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Comments

I certainly agree with your sentiment, Robert, but what drives me crazy about the whole thing is that they should never have awarded a no-bid to Bechtel like this. Given the history this contractor has on project of this size, and given the fact that no-bids reduce the chance of obtaining a truly cost-effective, innovative, and more broadly palatable option, it's not surprising the feds are (finally) having second thoughts. I think that the Silver Line has been mismanaged from the beginning, that the tunnel option was dismissed far too readily (another victim of the no-bid process), and that costs will balloon far beyond current projections.

Yes, Dulles Rail is essential to Tysons Corner and to the region as a whole, but man it's a utter disappointment that this solution is the best we could come up with.

Posted by: iammrben | January 17, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

What drives me crazy is that this line isn't the top transit rail priority for the region. It's not even the top priority for Northern Virginia. De-coupling the Blue and Orange line to build another line through downtown (and removing the Rosslyn choke point) should be the top priority for the region, not some line 30 miles from the city. Building a line from Pentagon under Columbia Pike would do more for Northern Virginia - at the length of the Silver line, it could go all the way to Fairfax Station.

The Dulles line might be 5th on the list of regional priorities, so why are we building it?

Posted by: washcycle | January 17, 2008 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Washcycle-
The Dulles/Tyson's line is extremely important to the region. Over the last 20 years, the center of the regional economy has shifted from Washington to Tysons, and as Reston continues to grow it is shifting that way too. Washington, in all respect, is not the economic center anymore of this region and does not deserve more financial resources than other areas. The line to Tysons and Dulles is meant to help the region and economy to continue to grow and prevent it from snarling up.

Posted by: Patrick | January 17, 2008 10:08 AM | Report abuse

It's already snarled. Traffic in and around Tyson's corner is unbearable without the idiocy of above-ground rail construction. Perhaps the federal government actually sees what the politicians do not - starting with Bechtel being the prime contractor, and the decision to run this above ground through an already over-burdened road infrastructure, even before adding construction to the nightmare. And why does Tyson's need four stations? Who wants to spend over an HOUR on Metro to get from DC to IAD? You can actually DRIVE that distance faster, even now.

Posted by: Too late | January 17, 2008 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Wow, the FTA really is doing their job, and not just rubber stamping a silly proposal.

Although, I think that they will still approve the deal. This is probably just a CYA tactic for the FTA. So later when the project goes overbudget they can say "I told you so".


1800s technology is not that critical to region. The studies showed a highly subsidized low projected ridership that was going to do little to reduce congestion. Further, no one has really addressed how to handle the crushing increase of growth in the Tysons area that would follow. The limited access to and from the area will not handle the projected growth. Let's be real about the number of people really riding the trains to and from tysons.

Posted by: Tom | January 17, 2008 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Why in the world should we spend billions of dollars on a plan to give perks to people who already have perks (large houses on nice lots)? This money should be spent in improving infrastructure INSIDE the beltway so that those areas are more attractive to live, and validate the price for housing close to the city. Improving bus, Metro, and roads inside the beltway is a much more efficient use of funds than selling out to people who have already chosen to sit in hours of traffic.

Posted by: Kill Dulles Rail | January 17, 2008 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Can anyone really sit here with a straight face and say this is the best way to spend 5 Billion dollars. Thats with a B Billion dollars.

There are plenty of other projects that are more 'Vital' to this region

Let's start with the actual bottlenecks and the fact that 80% of people drive.

Here is what we should do

1 Billion for an extremely elaborate Bus Rapid Transit system (actual cost 500 Million) and 4 Billion for additional road capacity.

Posted by: Common Sense Please | January 17, 2008 10:48 AM | Report abuse

No roads can ever be built again inside the Beltway. You can't afford to live there anyway, and there's no reason you should want to drive through their precious county in a reasonable amount of time either. You should have bought closer in when they did, and then you wouldn't complain about the need for more roads or transit. 66 should be razed entirely, not expanded. A million cars idling in bumper to bumper traffic is much better for our air quality than moving cars getting where they're trying to go, after all, but no cars at all would be the best option!

With that NIMC(ounty) attitude, it's not surprising traffic here is horrific and only getting worse. The best solution is simply move out of this area entirely, before it becomes 24/7/365 gridlock.

Posted by: Have you met Arlingtonians? | January 17, 2008 10:56 AM | Report abuse

The outer suburbs are not really tranist oriented in their design or in their culture. There is a rare opportunity to perform an experiement that will answer a buring question. Let's fully fund all and ONLY the transit projects and pedestrtian and bike improvements that the inner jurisdictions want (DC, Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, etc - I'm Virginia Biased) AND let's fund all and ONLY road building projects in the outer jurisdictions. And, then lets see in 20 years who has a better quality of life.

Posted by: dinopello | January 17, 2008 10:59 AM | Report abuse

The Silver Line is a reasonable proposal considering the growth of the Dulles coridor and the transportation nightmare that will ensue if no public transit is put in place. That said, there are other transit projects in the Washington area that need funding, and a large percentage of taxpayers will balk at the large price tags. What they need to understand is that the initial costs of construction will pay dividends in the future as they lower the overall costs of transportation and allow long-term, sustainable growth. Simply expanding roads is a short-term solution that ends up costing much more in the long run.

Posted by: Mark | January 17, 2008 11:09 AM | Report abuse

"But abandoning the project would be a disaster for Northern Virginia and the Washington region."

Why?

I don't see how Metro to Dulles would benefit Northern Virginia in any way. At best, people would be shuttled between DC/MD and Dulles. How are people living in Fairfax, Springfield, Great Falls, and Bailey's going to use the proposed rail line to get to Tysons?

Fairfax County and Virginia would be much better off investing that same money in light rail or tram lines to transport people to different areas within the county.

Posted by: Dulles_Rail | January 17, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Where is Congressman Wolf on this?

Posted by: Ed | January 17, 2008 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Why was all the talk and planning from the beginning focused on a Metro line, when Dulles is a good 25-30 miles outside of DC?

Why not a VRE line that could go from DC out to Dulles, as well as to Reston, Sterling, and Winchester?

No subway system in the world goes 25 miles out from the city center. Not NYC, not London, not Paris, not Rome... name ONE subway system that does what Metro would do. London, Paris, and Rome use express rail (commuter rail-type trains) to get people to and from Gatwick, Charles de Gaulle, and Fiuminico.

Heathrow is half the distance away from Central London that Dulles is, and the area is much more built up than the Dulles corridor.

Posted by: NoVA Dem | January 17, 2008 11:22 AM | Report abuse

I wish they would run a tram line down 123 from CIA to GMU

Posted by: SK | January 17, 2008 11:39 AM | Report abuse

They need tram lines all over the place. Up and down 123. Up and down 7. Up and down 50 and Lee Highway.

Imagine getting on a tram in Merrifield and taking a short ride to Tysons or Fairfax or Annandale.

Posted by: JP | January 17, 2008 11:44 AM | Report abuse

As for Tysons Corner, why not a spur off the Orange line that terminates at Tysons Corner?

And why not split out the Blue and Orange lines, as washcycle wrote? Have the new tunnel start at Stadium-Armory, make its way to connecting to existing Union Station, the convention center, Farragut North and maybe another station or two so that Metro riders can transfer to other lines at the major hubs, build a new station at the edge of Georgetown, and have them connect back up again at Rosslyn.

Dulles is another 13 miles away from Tysons Corner. Again, it should be a new VRE line that serves Reston, Dulles, Sterling, and Winchester, NOT a Metro extension.

Two VRE lines in VA is not nearly enough, given that the DC area is now 4.5 million (or 5.5 million) people. It's time for more COMMUTER rail -- and as much as the people in charge of Metro try to convince us, Metro is NOT a commuter rail system. It's a SUBWAY system.

Once they acknowledge that and base their future projects accordingly, Metro will be better and we'll have some more VRE and MARC lines, which we desperately need.

Posted by: NoVA Dem | January 17, 2008 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Tram lines (aka light rail)! Another good idea!

But to do them right, they'll need to widen the streets and give the tram lines (light rail) their own dedicated tracks and not sharing the street with automobile traffic.

The T's E line Green line trolley that runs on the street after Brigham Circle in Boston is a boondoggle. To see how trolleys, trams, light rail (whatever you want to call it) works well, check out the B and C lines that run on Commonwealth Ave. and Beacon St.

Posted by: NoVA Dem | January 17, 2008 11:53 AM | Report abuse

The parochial interests of a few Tysons landowners have turned needed transit into a entitlement program to enhance their land positions. Their greed, exemplified by their continued resurrection of the tunnel option, threatens the entire project. Build the rail down the Access Road as it was planned years ago. If rail to Dulles is what we want then let's do it right. Everytime you pass through any Toll Booth on the Access Road you are paying the price for the subversion of a transit project into a Tysons landowner amenity program which will benefit a few, while the majority of us will only get ever rising tolls.

Posted by: rtcfar | January 17, 2008 12:20 PM | Report abuse

One money saving device would be to take advantage of the existing extremely low grade, high embankments, and limited access along Route 123 between the Toll Rd. and Route 7 - the metro line could be run AT GRADE for this stretch, with the airspace over each metro station sold for private developers to build 2 platforms for their own T.O.D. This would only require building 3 interchanges with existing route 123.

The results: 1. the eventual appearance of these two stations being underground. 2. cost savings due to eliminating almost 2 miles of elevated steel and concrete. 3. a limited access highway for the area to lessen traffic.

Posted by: stevek_ffx | January 17, 2008 12:28 PM | Report abuse

...and cost savings due to selling the platform airspace at the proposed Tysons "Mall" and Tysons "East" stations.

Posted by: stevek_ffx | January 17, 2008 12:34 PM | Report abuse

...finally, the (3) Route 123 interchanges would be applied for under FAA Highway construction criteria, for which the grant guidelines are MUCH less restrictive (and easier to get) - in other words, the right of way for this stretch of the rail line would be paid for by highway federal funding.

Posted by: stevek_ffx | January 17, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

if they can't build a tunnel through tysons, they certainly aren't going to build another tunnel for the blue line

if you think making transfers is bad now, just wait

Posted by: Anonymous | January 17, 2008 12:59 PM | Report abuse

how did Dulles ever develop without a Silver Line? Was there one there before that got filled in?

Posted by: just wondering | January 17, 2008 1:03 PM | Report abuse

VRE is the clear way to go. And the right of way already exists.

Posted by: VRE | January 17, 2008 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Common Sense Please, I wish that TPTB had given bus rapid transit serious consideration.

Posted by: scooter | January 17, 2008 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Silver to Dulles might help, but it is a drop in the bucket. Consider this:

1. Another Orange line station past Vienna, perhaps where Fairfax County Parkway crosses I-66. A large station with plenty of parking. Would pick up commuters further out and avoid some congestion on I-66
2. Add trains to the Orange line, 2 trains every 5 minutes. More seats more comfort mor timeliness more ridership.
3. Abandon the Arlington Cemetery station on the Blue line. Blue and Yellow share track from Pentagon to l'Enfant Plaza where the Blue joins Orange toward the Maryland suburbs as per current. Bus service from Rosslyn and/or Pentagon City could cover Arlington Cemetery. Better use of equipment, saves riders't considerable time.
4. "Silver" line splits from Orange near West Falls Church as planned, follows Tollroad out to where the W&OD right-of-way crosses the Tollroad, then uses the W&OD line out to Loudon County with a dip to cover Dulles Airport. (the W&OD is part of the "rails to trails" program which mandates the right of way can be reclaimed any time it is needed for rail service - sounds like now is the time!) Significant reduction in cost.
5. Push light rail out to at least Gainesville using existing right of way. Again, reduction in congestion on I-66.

Disclosure: I commute to DC via Vienna Metro Orange line and probably would switch to another station if added further out.
I am not as familiar with the problems in the I-95 corridor or mid-county, but would suspect similar solutions should be placed there as well.

Posted by: Charley Brown | January 17, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse

If you abandon Arlington, you'll send all the blue-orange and orange-blue commuters in Virginia into the District. Can L'Enfant and the six other stops in between handle that many more people?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 17, 2008 1:52 PM | Report abuse

I would add a stipulation that if the W&OD right of way is used for a rail line that the finished product also has a bike trail alongside the tracks. Otherwise I think Charley Brown has some decent ideas, although I don't necesarily know that the I-66 corridor is as supportive of mass transit as the Dulles corridor is (in terms of having high densities of office space and housing that people can get to the transit stations from).

Posted by: Anonymous | January 17, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse

"...abandoning the project would be a disaster for Northern Virginia and the Washington region."

I don't see how Montgomery and PG counties get hurt if USDOT nixes the silver line.

Posted by: DrBubbles | January 17, 2008 2:50 PM | Report abuse

I agree with BRT to Dulles. If free or cheap buses ran on the toll road every 5 minutes - including express buses and local buses, that would solve the transit to the airport problem and along the corridor. Connecting that system or metro to Tyson's Corner would then be easy.

"Washington, in all respect, is not the economic center anymore of this region "

What are you talking about? If it isn't, how come there are all those cars going into DC in the morning and leaving in the evening? How come all the Metro passengers are the same way?

Besides decoupling the blue and orange makes the silver possible (otherwise you're folding three lines - blue, orange and silver - into one in DC).

Posted by: washcycle | January 17, 2008 2:52 PM | Report abuse

If they abandon this thing, are they going to refund all the toll money I spent since they raised the rates over 2 years ago?? Doubt it, but it worries me that they still finish this part of the project off already.

Posted by: CMc62480 | January 17, 2008 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Too late,

You're touching upon something that I feel was also neglected in the design process -- it'll take a really damn long time to ride Metro from Dulles all the way to common destinations such as Rosslyn, Springfield, and Metro Center. After sitting on an airplane for hours and enduring the soul-crushing BS of airports and security, who wants to spend another hour crammed in a Metro car just to get to Rosslyn?

I really think the planners should have taken a cue from London's Underground or Paris' Metro (or even China's Shanghai rail system) and build an express track from Dulles straight to downtown, with a single stop in Reston, a single stop in Tysons, and a single stop in Rosslyn before terminating at Metro Center. Then use the cash saved from not building a thousand intermediate stations and create a rapid bus lane down Rte 7, 50, or I-66 to take care of local transport. This way we get the high-speed convenience of the Heathrow Express with the equally efficient local service of the London bus system.

Posted by: iammrben | January 17, 2008 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Looks like Nova Dem beat me to the punch. :)

Glad I'm not the only one thinking along these lines.

Posted by: iammrben | January 17, 2008 3:12 PM | Report abuse

If you abandon Arlington, you'll send all the blue-orange and orange-blue commuters in Virginia into the District. Can L'Enfant and the six other stops in between handle that many more people?

plus it adds 15-45 minutes to all of those commutes

Posted by: too many bottlenecks | January 17, 2008 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Tysons should only have one stop, they can have their own train looping through the area if they want, underground, above ground, on roller skates, it doesn't matter as long as they pay for it and it doesn't slow everyone else down

Posted by: loop | January 17, 2008 3:15 PM | Report abuse

"Over the last 20 years, the center of the regional economy has shifted from Washington to Tysons, and as Reston continues to grow it is shifting that way too. Washington, in all respect, is not the economic center anymore of this region and does not deserve more financial resources than other areas"

Tysons really isn't that big when put in perspective compared to DC; it's actually pretty similar in size to Rosslyn + Crystal City or Reston + Herndon. DC employs around 6-7 times what Tysons does and has much more infrastructure available for growth; and that doesn't include the huge student influx. Even if Tysons doubles in size which is the highest planned growth, and probably unrealistic, it still won't be that significant sizewise in comparison to the big economic center in DC, particularly with their planned office growth.

It doesn't mean that we don't need to look at transit solutions for Tysons, but lets not pretend it's something it's not. Tysons just happens to get the most press since it's the biggest mess in the area.

Posted by: Z | January 17, 2008 4:30 PM | Report abuse

After working in tysons for 9 years, and enduring the worse and worse congestion, I finally escaped. The so-called silver line is no silver bullet to fixing tysons. In fact, plans are already in place to add another 30,000 workers in tysons. The current 13 lanes of exits (4 on 123 towards McLean and 2 towards Vienna, 2 on either end of Route 7, 1 for Spring Hill and 2 for Gallows) cannot handle exiting the 110,000 people who work in tysons. Why does any sane person think that metro, with 15,000 person/hour capacity TOTAL (origin and destination) will help when Fairfax allows another 80,000 people to office in tysons? Don't forget, there are NO plans to increase the exits from tysons (unless you count the couple of HOT lanes south - if you could even get to them).

Dr. G, the cost of not doing anything is pretty darn high but the cost of the plan, as it is now, is even higher. MWAA isn't doing anything for the constituents of the Toll Road already (they have no interest to help the users) - the back ups at the toll booths are ridiculous and no effort is made to encourage EZ Pass, which would greatly increase efficiency of toll collection and reduce cost with fewer toll takers. Why should we think that MWAA would manage this project (that they have zero experience or knowledge or expertise how to do) to the benefit of the primary intended users?

Posted by: Steven | January 17, 2008 4:35 PM | Report abuse

how did dulles and tysons ever develop without rail?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 17, 2008 4:39 PM | Report abuse

I agree with NoVA Dem. If the project is truly about connecting IAD with downtown Washington, DC, I don't think light rail is the answer. Cities in foreign countries have actual trains that run from the airport to downtown. Not light rail that stops every 1 to 2 miles. The ride from IAD to Metro Center will take over an hour.

Posted by: dckwanzaa | January 17, 2008 5:22 PM | Report abuse

I don't mean to belabor a point, but has anyone else flown into O'Hare and taken the **subway** into downtown Chicago? There are about 15 stops before you get near downtown... check out the system map at http://www.transitchicago.com/maps/systemmaps.html

Posted by: scott | January 17, 2008 8:25 PM | Report abuse

I hope the FTA finally puts this white elephant out of its misery. Then we can get about the business of doing what's REALLY needed:

1. Road expansion
2. Rail lines that truly meet the stated purpose of publicy-funded and subsidized mass transit (instead of boondoggles for developers and yuppies)
3. Building the ONLY useful rail to Dulles - an express line supplemented by local BRT.

At least this boondoggle is getting the same scrutiny every road project planned for this region receives. Let's hope it meets the same fate of most of the highways planned in this region - CANCELED.

Posted by: ceefer66 | January 18, 2008 12:40 AM | Report abuse

"I don't mean to belabor a point, but has anyone else flown into O'Hare and taken the **subway** into downtown Chicago? There are about 15 stops before you get near downtown."

I've done once. Outbound from the Loop on a Friday afternoon - prime time for business travelers. Hardly anyone besides myself rode all the way to O'Hare.

The trip took nearly an hour from State Street.

The Silver Line will be the same. Anyone who thinks people will line up in droves to ride this thing all the way to IAD from MD and DC - after changing trains - is delusional.

Heck, even people living in Reston and Herndon won't bother. I lived in Reston for 13 years. Dulles was a $15.00 (reimbursable on business trips), 10-minute cab ride away. Plus, I could drive, park, and arrive at the terminal in 30 minutes. Why on earth would I drive to a Metro station at, say, Weihle Ave., park, drag my luggage upstairs, wait for a train, then drag my luggage to the terminal?

Initally, there will be lots of people riding out of curiosity - that's human nature. But eventually, the Silver Line will prove to be what we all know it will be - a white elephant used by a relative handful, many of whom will live in the expensive "transit-oriented development" (the same kind that's called "sprawl" when it goes up along a new road) that people who REALLY need transit can't afford to live in. Traffic will get worse and there will be no money to improve local roads. Meanwhile the Toll Road tolls will increase.

And of course, our grandchildren's children will be taxed to provide operating subsidies.

PT Barnum was right.

Posted by: ceefer66 | January 18, 2008 8:32 AM | Report abuse

I rode Chicago's Blue Line from O'Hare to the Loop one time during the height of the morning rush hour. I'd do it again because even with all those stops, it only took 40 minutes, whereas my colleagues who took cabs took an hour and a half (and spent $35 each of our firm's money). The difference in this respect between O'Hare and Dulles is that O'Hare doesn't have a dedicated access road that leads directly to (or from) a road restricted to HOV traffic. Mass transit from Dulles will be less attractive given all those stops compared to two roads (Dulles Access Road and I-66) that will not be congested inbound during the morning rush or outbound during the evening rush.

Posted by: Rich | January 18, 2008 2:34 PM | Report abuse

"Abandon the Arlington Cemetery station on the Blue line. Blue and Yellow share track from Pentagon to l'Enfant Plaza where the Blue joins Orange toward the Maryland suburbs as per current. Bus service from Rosslyn and/or Pentagon City could cover Arlington Cemetery. Better use of equipment, saves riders't considerable time."

They can't do this, at least not with the system as presently constructed. There is no track connecting the Yellow/Green tracks and the Orange/Blue tracks at L'Enfant Plaza. The Yellow/Green tracks connect to the Red Line via a single-track connector just east of Fort Totten (the Green Line Shortcut used to use it) and the Red Line tracks connect to the Orange/Blue Line via a single-track connector between McPherson Square and Farragut North. Those are the only connections between the different routes.

Posted by: Rich | January 18, 2008 2:40 PM | Report abuse

it shouldn't be too hard to build a few track connections (maybe a few trillion dollars or so, the way things work around here), but that still wouldn't mean that it would make sense to route thousands more passengers through areas that are already overcrowded

Posted by: Anonymous | January 18, 2008 3:12 PM | Report abuse

how does routing all the Viginia-to-Virginia passengers through DC "saves riders't considerable time"?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 18, 2008 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Nice article...make no mistake that building the tunnel would be the most Boston like way to proceed...also note that there is no controversy here...93% of the citizens agree that Mass Transit to DUlles is critical to the health of Northern Virginia....it is time for the FTA to get this project approved and funded!!

Posted by: Jon | January 19, 2008 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Northern Virginia doesn't need health, Northern Virginia doesn't need development, Northern Virginia needs people to leave so that I can pretend that inside the beltway is a suburb.

Posted by: Arlington | January 23, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse

93% of the citizens agree that Mass Transit to DUlles is critical? how about having them pay for it instead of expecting the rest of the country to bail out your boondoggle?

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