- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2006

The transfer of leadership of the Metro extension in the Dulles corridor to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority in March should have signaled the go-ahead for the project. But the question of a tunnel under Tysons Corner has festered, holding up the project. A study of going underground through Tysons Corner will give proponents more fodder for their proposal. The study, conducted by the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) at the request of Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer and released last week, concluded that the tunnel would “promote better integrated development” and could help transform Tysons Corner from an “auto-dependent, pedestrian-hostile, business-and-retail-oriented edge city to an urban community.”

The elevated track, on the other hand, “could be completed more quickly and less expensively.” Controlling the costs — which, like nearly all large-scale public works projects, should be expected to run over budget — should be a primary focus at this point, trumping costly luxuries like a tunnel.

Tysons Corner residents want their Metro the way that it is in the District and Arlington: underground and out of sight. The further riders get from the center of the Metro network, however, the less efficient the network becomes. Expecting Metro to serve Tysons in the same way it serves downtown is overly optimistic. And the cost of building underground ranges from an additional $500 million to $800 million, according to an estimate from the current contractor, to $250 million, according to the ASCE study. Even if this expense can be covered by an increased property tax on landowners in Tysons whose property would be near the tracks — as one proposal suggests — there are still bigger funding questions to be answered. While the federal funding has been authorized, to start the flow of federal dollars to the project a full funding grant agreement needs to be filed with the Federal Transit Administration. Meeting the FTA standard of cost-effectiveness is already challenging in an area as developed and bustling as Tysons Corner.

At best, the incorporation of a tunnel into the project would delay the start of construction by about one year. At worst, the additional expense would push the overall cost of the project too high for the federal government’s strict standards, resulting in the loss of $900 million in federal support, which in turn would seriously jeopardize the entire project. Either way, elevated track is still a better option. The aesthetic argument for a tunnel, while not without merit, is not convincing enough to justify the resulting cost increase and substantial delay to a project that is, in fact, long overdue.

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