- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The debate over how to build the Metro extension through Tysons Corner should have been settled in September, when Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, an erstwhile tunnel supporter, championed instead the above-ground, elevated track. The decision was pragmatic; Mr. Kaine still thought that “a tunnel alignment would be the best option,” but pursuing it, Mr. Kaine realized, would jeopardize $900 million in federal funding, which would imperil the entire project. The decision to reject the tunnel was supported by Reps. Tom Davis and Frank Wolf, both of whom deserve credit for their efforts to advance the two-phase Metro extension to Dulles airport.

Despite this seemingly round dismissal of building underground, proponents of tunneling under Tysons Corner are still fighting against elevated track. Grass-roots movements have rushed to join the debate — a debate that, as we noted, has effectively been concluded — and are calling for a reconsideration of the tunnel. One group, TysonsTunnel.org, which was founded by the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce, claims a not insignificant 12,000 signatures in favor of the below-ground route. The group also spent $3.5 million on engineering studies that argue a tunnel is only slightly more expensive than the proposed above-ground option. Previous engineering studies have said otherwise.

Remaining is a problem that Messrs. Kaine, Davis and Wolf have all noted: It is already difficult for the project to meet the standards of cost effectiveness set down by the Federal Transit Administration. So, even if tunneling under Tysons Corner were to increase the project cost only modestly, that increase could still be enough to violate the FTA’s cost-effectiveness standard — and threaten the $900 million federal contribution that is necessary for the Metro project.

Proponents of the tunnel argue that an elevated track is aesthetically unappealing and impedes the development of a more pedestrian-friendly, urban-like Tysons Corner. Above ground or below, however, bringing Metro to Tysons Corner helps the area move toward these goals. One option may be marginally better than the other, but the difference is insufficient to warrant risking the whole project. In the context of all the barriers to making Tysons Corner into a walkable downtown, an elevated Metro ranks relatively low. Not having Metro at all ranks near the top.

Mr. Kaine’s decision to scrap the tunnel is no less well-reasoned today than it was when he made it in September, and he should continue to resist pressure from the tunnel proponents.

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