- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2008

McLEAN (AP) — The federal government has given tentative approval to a planned Metrorail extension in Northern Virginia that, if completed as envisioned, would extend the region’s popular subway system to Dulles International Airport.

The approval announced today is a critical step toward obtaining the needed $900 million in federal funding for the $5 billion plan to extend the Metrorail system through Tysons Corner and on to Washington Dulles International Airport in Loudoun County.

The project’s future had been in doubt since January, when the Federal Transit Administration unexpectedly announced that it did not meet federal cost-efficiency standards. Virginia has been scrambling for months to bring the project into compliance.

Federal Transit Administrator James Simpson said today that the proposal has improved since January and that his agency will commit $159 million toward completing final design and engineering. But he said more work is needed before the feds will commit any construction funds.

The 23-mile proposed extension would be built in two phases. The first would run from Falls Church through Tysons Corner to Reston, and it is this segment that is dependent on federal funding. The second phase, which would run from Reston to Dulles and Loudoun County, would be built without federal funding under the current plan. Instead, it would be funded largely by tolls collected on the Dulles Toll Road.

Proponents say the project would ease congestion in traffic-choked Northern Virginia and allow for a transit-oriented redevelopment of Tysons Corner, a major business and technology hub. In addition, tourists and other travelers arriving at Dulles would have immediate access to the region’s subway system.

Opponents say the project is too expensive and that other options, like bus rapid transit, should be considered.

Opponents also say the project’s design cut too many corners to bring the price tag to an acceptable level, particularly by eschewing an underground tunnel through Tysons Corner for cheaper, elevated tracks that could prove more disruptive both during construction and after the project is completed.

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