- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2007

Metro’s board of directors unanimously voted yesterday to investigate whether changing a Metrorail extension through Tysons Corner from an aboveground track to a tunnel could result in the loss of more than $900 million in federal funding.

The debate over a tunnel has intensified as Tysons Tunnel Inc. — a coalition of the McLean Chamber of Commerce, community and business leaders — pushes to scrap plans for an elevated line through Tysons Corner in favor of the underground route. Virginia lawmakers have the final say over the project.

After hearing presentations from several witnesses, board members moved quickly to get answers.

They wanted to know whether putting the route underground would endanger the $900 million and whether preliminary studies would need to be revamped if the tunnel option is approved.

“We’ve gotten conflicting information as to the extent of the environmental studies that would need to be done,” said Dana Kauffman, the Metro board member representing Fairfax County.

“The commonwealth has made its decision” for an elevated track, said Matthew Tucker, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. “The people proposing a tunnel are really talking about more delays, more uncertainty and more planning. Every month we are delayed costs another $4 million.”

Ken Mead, former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation, said Metro’s board is “doing exactly the right thing.”

“I’ve never seen a transportation project with such a lack of transparency,” he said.

Scott Monett, Tysons Tunnel Inc. president, said 80 percent of residents support the tunnel option, which would cost $5 million less each year to maintain and could last twice as long as an elevated track.

Politicians were less certain about the feasibility of a tunnel project.

“Transportation relief has been our goal since Day One,” said Dan Scandling, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican. “Everyone wants a tunnel. The question is, is it worth the risk?”

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, said the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors “missed the boat on this when they originally approved an elevated track.”

The federal money could be lost with the underground rail because of delays and the Federal Transit Administration’s finding that it would not be cost-efficient, Mr. Davis said.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, inherited the Tysons Corner rail project after Fairfax County endorsed an aboveground option. He has expressed his support for the tunnel plan.

“I don’t fault the governor. He has been dealt a terrible hand here,” Mr. Davis said.

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