- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2001

The Metro board yesterday temporarily derailed plans for a rail line over the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge after an irate board member slammed a proposal calling for the line to run by Mount Vernon.
"These people now have not had any opportunity to ever know that they are going to be involved in anything. Talk about community relations," said Metro board alternate member Kate K. Hanley, a Democrat and chairman of the Fairfax County (Va.) Board of Supervisors.
Mrs. Hanley and other members on the board's planning and development committee said they were stunned by Metro's plan for a 7.5-mile rail extension from the Green Line's Branch Avenue station in Prince George's County, Md., to the Yellow Line's Huntington Station in Fairfax County.
The transit authority's original plan called for an extension between the Branch Avenue station and the Eisenhower Avenue station in Alexandria, Va.
"It's about being sure we don't surprise the community and that we get community involvement," said Mrs. Hanley. "We may have gotten a little ahead of ourselves by putting a line on a map."
The panel tabled the issue when it rejected General Manager Richard A. White's request to proceed with environmental and engineering studies of possible rail lines as the transit agency discusses the issue with localities.
John Undeland, a spokesman for the bridge project, said the 12-lane span was designed to "not preclude" a Metro line from being added and that there are dedicated areas on each side of the Potomac River for a rail system.
"What we are designing is something that can be retrofitted to handle heavy rail," he said.
Mr. Undeland said bridge designers will need to examine the plans more closely because engineers have been designing the bridge around a different route.
Engineers had planned for the rail line to come off the Wilson Bridge and stay mostly parallel with that part of the Beltway (Interstate 95) to connect above ground with the Eisenhower station in Alexandria.
But the new plan would have the rail line come off the Wilson Bridge into Virginia, take a left near U.S. Route 1 and go underneath a neighborhood near Mount Vernon to connect underground with the Huntington station, which Metro officials said already has some tunnels nearby.
Metro officials said extending the rail line across the bridge from Branch Avenue to Huntington would cost up to $1.5 billion.
The Woodrow Wilson Bridge is expected to be completed by 2006 and cost $2.2 billion. The federal government has contributed $1.5 billion and Virginia and Maryland each have pledged $200 million.
Panagiotis P. "Takis" Salpeas, assistant general manager for transit system development, said his group was only offering a concept for board members to consider to ensure that Metro is included in putting rail on the bridge.
In fact, Mr. Salpeas said, the new option would avoid many more inconveniences to traffic and make it easier to install the railway when the time comes.
Mr. Salpeas and other officials said it could cost up to $30 million to build structures and facilities at each end of the bridge so that Metro would have access to get its rail cars on and off the bridge.
"At some point, we won't be able to get Metrorail on the bridge without major traffic disruptions," said Royce Drake, an assistant director for planning and development.
But Mrs. Hanley, who said she does not necessarily oppose the plan, said Metro needs to do a better job of keeping the affected communities involved.
"Once you get lines on maps, whether or not you mean to do it, you effect the value of those homes ultimately," Mrs. Hanley said as she pounded her fist against a blown-up map showing the rail extension.
The change in plans caught off guard not only Mrs. Hanley, but also alternate board member and Alexandria City Council member William D. Euille.
"This map also shows and includes a station, a Metro station, in Old Town," said Mr. Euille, a Democrat. "That is certainly something we did not ask for."

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