- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2006

A planned extension of the Washington area’s Metrorail system is slated to run on elevated tracks through Northern Virginia’s congested Tysons Corner region, after Gov. Timothy M. Kaine announced yesterday that he will not support a more expensive plan for an underground tunnel.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, yesterday said that he would prefer a tunnel, which would minimize construction disruptions and allow for more efficient redevelopment in Tysons Corner.

But he was concerned that the increased costs would jeopardize federal funding and throw the entire project into limbo.

The line to Tysons Corner would be the first phase of an eventual route to Washington Dulles International Airport.

“Too many unanswered questions remain about cost and timing. These uncertainties cannot be allowed to jeopardize this critical project,” Mr. Kaine said.

A panel of civil engineers commissioned by Virginia recently found that digging a tunnel would increase construction costs by only 10 percent, from $2.25 billion to $2.5 billion.

The panel concluded that a tunnel was a reasonable and cost-effective option, especially given the lower maintenance costs of underground tracks.

Other estimates said a tunnel could cost up to $1 billion more and delay the project by more than a year.

U.S. Reps. Frank R. Wolf and Thomas M. Davis III, both Virginia Republicans, had warned against a tunnel.

They said that the Metrorail extension just barely met federal requirements for cost-efficiency, and any increases in construction cost could jeopardize the federal funding, which accounts for nearly half the project.

Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said that Mr. Kaine “had a tough business decision to make.”

“While we both favored a tunnel through Tysons Corner, the threat of further delays and increased cost put the federal matching funds at too great a risk,” Mr. Moran said.

Even though Virginia has rejected what had come to be known as “the tunnel option,” plans still call for a short tunnel of less than half a mile under the intersection of Routes 7 and 123.

However, that is far shorter than the four-mile tunnel that had been under consideration.

Mr. Kaine’s decision came after a meeting yesterday with federal officials, who warned that a tunnel could jeopardize the entire project under federal guidelines.

The governor’s office estimated that the first phase of the project — an 11-mile extension from the West Falls Church station to Wiehle Avenue in Reston — can be completed by 2012. Previous estimates called for completion of the first phase by 2011.

The second phase, which would carry the rail line to Dulles, could be completed by 2015.

Most of the money for the second phase would come from tolls on the Dulles Toll Road, which runs from the airport to the Capital Beltway.

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