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New Metrorail Line Really Coming

This time, it's for real. The Washington region can now plan on construction of a new Metrorail line through Tysons Corner and out to Reston. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood signed an agreement this morning that means all hurdles have been cleared for the crucial $900 million federal portion of the financing.

A quote that I could attribute to any number of Northern Virginia leaders who are at the U.S. Department of Transportation today: "This is a great day." The grand signing ceremony in the DOT atrium is more than just a crowded photo op for state and federal officials. It's a breakthrough for travelers in the Washington region. This will help organize Tysons Corner for the 21st Century. Four stations will be built there. And it will provide a transit line for at least a few more generations of Washington area commuters.

Virginia Gov. Timothy M Kaine said he had never worked on anything so complicated. In his remarks this morning, he noted that the project spanned federal administrations, and praised the work of former transportation secretary Mary Peters during the past year.

LaHood, who praised both Kaine and Peters, said this project is the most significant extension of Metro since the system was constructed. He called it a new reason for commuters to leave their cars at home.

Getting to this was hard. And few could have visualized today's celebration one year ago.

Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer recalled a far different scene early in 2008. At a breakfast meeting with business leaders to discuss the region's transportation needs, he was glancing nervously at his BlackBerry while awaiting word about the Federal Transit Administration's review of the rail project. Homer recalled seeing a one-word message: "Bad."

That may have been an understatement. The rail line, discussed and planned for four decades, was a dead man walking after the FTA said the specs didn't meet its standards. But a concerted effort by state and local leaders brought it back to life.

This year, Homer noted recently, the news from the federal government has been a lot better. And it's not simply a function of a new administration in Washington. Kaine and Peters, transportation secretary during the latter part of the Bush Administration, had worked to resolve FTA concerns about cost and management.

A publicly financed transit project ultimately costing $5.2 billion is not something Republicans generally warm up to. Peters deserves credit for listening to Virginia's anguished response over the project's imminent death. She engaged in discussions with Kaine, local leaders and the Northern Virginia congressional delegation.

The Department of Transportation approved the project in January, launching the 60-day comment period that ended this month.

Securing the new Metrorail line may turn out to be Kaine's major achievement in transportation, after several rocky years of trying to create a financing system that would support maintenance and construction.

This probably isn't the last struggle, however. Wiehle Avenue isn't Dulles Airport. You can't even see it from there. The project's supporters still must figure out how to pay for connecting the line to the airport during the next decade. But if the schedule holds, the line through Tysons to Wiehle will be done in 2013, with the connection to Dulles coming a couple of years later.

The Armed Forces Inaugural Committee holds a briefing Shaking hands after the signing are board chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority H.R. Crawford, left, and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Just behind them, left to right, are former senator John Warner (R-Va.), Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), and U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.). (Gerald Martineau/Post)
Metro Resources:  Riding the System  |  Trip Planner   |   Map  |  Post Coverage

By Robert Thomson  |  March 10, 2009; 10:14 AM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
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Comments

I think this is a great thing for Tysons and the suburbs of Virginia, but I am curious about how it will affect Arlington riders who currently rely on Metro to get into the city. With the "Orange Crush" already taxing the system (a 6 minute wait is unbearable during rush hour), is Metro planning on adding riders to the current system? Developing some sort of express line from before Ballston to Metro Center? If ridership continues to grow, especially in Arlington, I wonder how they plan on getting the extra people into the system.

Posted by: clarencelee | March 10, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

I still think it's short-sighted to not build the metro in a tunnel through Tysons.

And frankly, there should be in-fill (south Arlington, Annandale, not to mention the wide swaths of DC & MD without service) before the line extends out to Loudon.

And good point, clarencelee! How are all these people going to fit through the bottleneck of Rosslyn? Ideally they would build some express lanes along the orange line & through Rosslyn. But widening a tunnel isn't as sexy as extending it to Dulles, I guess, even though it's probably needed a lot more.

Posted by: blahblah6b | March 10, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

It's about time! Rail to through Tyson's Corner out to at least Dulles should have been included in the original layout.

Posted by: PTFogarty | March 10, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Sigh, Dulles is just to far to make sense for metro. You could argue metro to Tysons, but beyond that we just need a VRE-like commuter line that runs frequently during rush hour, and then gives airport shuttle service every hour or so. The expense of integrating a new metro line just doesn't make sense...

Posted by: humphris98 | March 10, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

I still think it's short-sighted to not build the metro in a tunnel through Tysons.

Posted by: blahblah6b | March 10, 2009 11:36 AM

=====

Unfortunately, the tunnel idea requires significantly more money. And unless Virginians want to pay up the extra money, it's not going to happen. The Feds have already put up enough money. The tunnel is a luxury that Virginians can't afford and the Feds won't pay for.

Overhead has worked fine for PG County and Montgomery County and it should be fine for Tysons, as well.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | March 10, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

More roads... More roads... More roads...

TEN lanes on each side of I-66, from DC to Haymarket and beyond.

Rail is nice, but it has its limitiations.

Posted by: Computer_Forensics_Expert_Computer_Expert_Witness | March 10, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Typical DC decision making that doesn't look at the whole life cycle cost, only at the short-term. Metro through Tysons is no different than the use of indoor escalators on Metro outdoors - it saves a few bucks and gets the job done, but it doesn't serve the constituents well and it ends up costing future users / taxpayers many times more in maintenance and downtime.

They should only have put a train (high speed) down the median of the Access Road from WFC to IAD. Would have cost many times less to construct. Could have even used the ROW for the W&OD all the way into the District and built a trail on top of it and it would still be cheaper (and much more effective) than this boondoggle. Or extended it into the outer reaches of Loudoun County easily past Dulles (all those developments along 50, like South Riding).

Posted by: ssolomo | March 10, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

We need a downtown line much much more. Three lines in down town and one tunnel for the Blue and Orange line. (can you say foolish) I do support the TC link.

For the outer suburbs Rapid Bus is by far the best option. Will carry more people for less cost. Example there are 6 million bus riders in London alone. That is more than NY subway system.

Heavy rail is for 10,000 people per sq mile and higher. After that it becomes a drain on the rest of the system. (ask LA) Our burbs are 2,000 people per sq mile.

Posted by: mul123 | March 10, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Some of the comments about wanting a tunnel are laughable.

Where is the money going to come from? We were fortunate to get the $900 million from the Feds. The rest of the funding will come from special tax districts by commercial landowners. Try telling them you want to double the assessment for a tunnel and see how many would agree to it? Or, maybe we could double tolls on the Dulles Toll Road to pay for it? Neither is a viable alternative.

Moreover, Northern Virginians had an opportunity to add a 1/2 cent to the sales tax in '02 for transportation and it was soundly defeated. Do you think downstate legislators are going to send billions of supplemental funding for metro? We can't get a transportation bill passed in the General Assembly, now!

The comment suggesting the line should be placed downtown is so off base. Last time I checked, Fairfax County is the largest jurisdiction in the metro, and Loudoun is the fastest growing. The job growth is in the Dulles corridor. I don't see CSC, Hilton Hotels, Volkswagon, etc. announcing to relocate headquarters into the District. If anything, the metro needs to be expanded with east-west routes in Fairfax to align with growing commuting patterns.

Posted by: Mikeysurf | March 10, 2009 6:32 PM | Report abuse

The tunnel option for Tysons has been, and continues to be, totally feasible. It could be done quicker (no surface delays) and less expensive (no surface delays, fewer utility relocations) than elevated.

The ONLY reason this is not being done in a tunnel is because Bechtel does not do LBT (large bore tunneling) using TBMs (tunnel boring machines). They stand to make more money doing it elevated with a time and materials contract (they get paid more the longer it takes under this type of contract - the more utilities that they have to relocate; the more companies they have to deal with, the greater the chance for time delays - see the BIG DIG project in Boston - this is the same type of contract and how they made the most of their money off delays).

Bechtel has spent many millions of dollars to ensure that they have this contract in the bag. They have been lobbying anyone who has anything to do with transportation or anyone who is friends with anyone who does. They have given tons of money to every major politician - and even minor ones like local Delegates and Fairfax Board of Supervisors.

Furthermore, almost every major law firm in DC and Virginia (Tysons and Richmond) is retained by Bechtel or its representative on this project. FYI: because of PR, Bechtel calls itself Dulles Transit Partners on this project.

The more you dig, the more you will uncover. Politicians were bought, journalists were threatened with not having future access to those politicians if they wrote unfavorable pieces, and even landowners and developers at Tysons were threatened by politicos.

The stuff that happened on this project will come out in due time - but there's just so much behind the scenes that the media fails to ever tell you.

Posted by: MakeItHappen | March 10, 2009 8:08 PM | Report abuse

So, "MakeitHappen" we should blame Bechtel? That's even more laughable! Yes, Bechtel had a vested interest. But you fail to deal with the reality that money for a tunnel was NOT there. The coalition of landowner support for being assessed at a higher tax level was certainly not there. Was Bechtel lobbying them to? Initially, the request for Federal support was in the $1.5 billion range. We ended up with less than $1 billion for a project that will likely cost just under $4 billion. Therefore, the special tax district of assessing landowners and tolls will finance this project. Do you think anyone would have agreed to $1.5 billion more for a tunnel? The pro-tunnel forces nearly killed this project.

Posted by: Mikeysurf | March 11, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Hey Mikesurf, Bechtel is THE reason the tunnel option was not given a full vetting. Yes, politicians were complicit for sure. But tunneling contractors submitted firm, fixed-price bids for the tunnel that were LESS EXPENSIVE than the elevated option. And, they were firm pricing - no contingencies, no add-ons. Those proposals were ignored by the Commonwealth (Kaine and the Sec. of Transportation Pierce Homer) and Fairfax County (then Chairman Connolly et al.) The tunnel option was going to cost less because the technology has far exceeded where it was the last time anyone truly took a look at it. Google it for yourself and see what the cost has been for the Alps tunnels and others. There's even large bore tunneling going on here in the United States right now. The ONLY reason that this technology is not being used for the Dulles Rail Project is because it threatens the existence of the very contractor in place to do the project now - because they don't have the will to innovate with this technology. And they certainly didn't want to subcontract the Tysons portion out to another company - that would mean a loss of income for Bechtel. It's really shameful how this all worked out. Mikeysurf, you are either uninformed or are on the payroll of Bechtel, one of its legion law/lobby firms, or work for a corrupt politician. Or, you could also be one of the landowners who is just looking to make a buck and skate on out of the area without ever having to live and work here.

Posted by: FunnyStuff1 | March 11, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Now that the elevated system is going to be built, what is the plan for minimizing disruptions to the constantly high volumes of commuter traffic in and around the construction areas, e.g. Routes 123 and 7?

Posted by: flat40-041 | March 13, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

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