Koelemay's Kosmos

Doug Koelemay


Getting From Point T to Point D


In a testament to a rare bipartisan effort, Virginia has finally started moving on the Tysons-to-Dulles Metro rail project.


The mid-June reception at the gleaming blue glass headquarters of Gannett Company, Inc. and USA Today in Tysons Corner featured new energy and a big crowd. Gannett hosted, as a founder and partner, the Dulles Corridor Rail Association, the chief private sector group advocating the extension of Metrorail through Tysons Corner to Dulles Airport.


America Online, ATU Local 689, Capital One, CSC, Dominion Resources, Lafarge, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Northrup Grumman and co-chairs Delegates Kenneth R. Plum, D-Reston, and Vincent F. Callahan, Jr. R-McLean, give the association board very strong roots in Northern Virginia and not an insignificant amount of clout at various levels of government.


Karen Rae, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, was looking forward to a rare moment of transportation triumph at Gannett. But there she was, stuck on a plane hundreds of miles away with summer storms in between her and the team that finally was making the Dulles corridor rail project come alive. Where, she had to ask, was the justice that the Old Testament’s Amos says should “roll down like waters?”


For six years or more, the realities of extending Metrorail to Dulles Airport had been battered by storms, legal, financial and political, not unlike those Rae was stuck trying to avoid. As she would point out in a July letter to The Washington Post, studies of the Dulles corridor date back 40 years. More than 200 meetings had been held on issues. A full examination of all alternatives, including bus rapid transit and doing nothing, were done before any decisions on Metrorail as the preferred alternative.


Meanwhile, a lot of people had joined her in asking how many more hurdles before the powers that be conclusively would accept Metrorail as the most effective means of providing better access, mobility, capacity and connectivity for the region? What was The Washington Post, a bastion of support for mass transit, doing editorializing that the project should “Proceed with Caution?” Is this what Job felt like?


The federal government had agreed in principle to finance 50 percent of the project, but budget funds were short, particularly for the start of new transit projects. Fairfax County had approved plans for a special taxing district for commercial landowners in the Dulles corridor to provide 25 percent of costs for Phase I, but the western part of the corridor had to come to its own decision on Phase II. And the Commonwealth already had designated increased tolls on vehicles using the Dulles Toll Road as its 25 percent share.


Still, these were just plans, “faith unaccompanied by works,” as U.S. Representative Frank R. Wolf, R-10th, later would comment from his perspective as a ranking member of the Appropriations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. A legacy of suspicion and distrust had built up around all transportation projects, including Rail to Dulles, fueled by years of carping and criticism and the surprising ability of public boards, councils, legislatures and executive agencies to make contradictory and confounding decisions. The frustrations seemed to lend themselves to Biblical references – wandering in the wilderness, lean years, fat years, lions in the budget den, the parting of the red ink.


By June 10th, however, the Federal Transit Administration suddenly steadied itself and announced the approval of Director Rae’s request to begin preliminary engineering from Metrorail’s West Falls Church Station through Tysons Corner to Wiehle Avenue in Reston. On June 11th Rae led Virginia officials in signing a contract with Dulles Transit Partners under Virginia’s 1995 Public Private partnership Transportation Act to conduct the preliminary engineering. Now June 15th arrived, the first public moment of triumph was underway and Rae couldn’t get there.


Fast-forward to July 22nd, a hot summer morning that made the tent on the upper parking level of the Tysons Galleria shopping center even more welcome. Virginia Secretary of Transportation Whittington Clement introduced Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald Connolly, D-At Large, then Representative Thomas M. Davis, R-11th, James P. Moran (D-8th) and Wolf. Gov. Mark R. Warner spoke for the entire crowd when he noted with relief and joy that “we’re moving out of the gate on this long-awaited and much-needed congestion relief for the region’s commuters.”


The occasion was the official signing of the $58.9 million grant agreement between the Federal Transit Authority and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to fund preliminary engineering as the first stage in the design of the Metrorail extension 11 miles from West Falls Church to Reston. The word was given, well, cash.


Federal Transit Authority Administrator Jennifer Dorn called Karen Rae forward to join her at the podium. Together they signed the agreement and handed it to Gov. Warner. That Karen Rae’s day in the sun occurred more comfortably in the shade was just fine. At least for a morning, connecting Point T – Tysons Corner, Northern Virginia’s downtown – and Point D – Dulles Airport and Loudoun County – proved more important than Rs and Ds in an increasingly charged period of national politics.


The grant also funds the final environmental impact statement for the entire 23-mile extension to Dulles Airport and onto Loudoun County. Funding for the grant comes from over $160 million provided by the U.S. Congress for the project thus far, a fact that brought high praise for Congressman Wolf, in particular, from every speaker.


For the record, at the end of the 15-month preliminary engineering stage, Director Rae is looking forward to negotiating an agreement for final design and construction with Dulles Transit Partners, a partnership of Bechtel Infrastructure and Washington Group International, and making that celebratory reception. October-November 2005 will be a time of increasingly charged Virginia politics, of courses, the time of election of a new governor of the Commonwealth. Ts and Ds again will have to be more important than Rs and Ds if Northern Virginia and Karen Rae are to get to the promised land.


-- July 26, 2004













































More about Doug Koelemay


Contact info


J. Douglas Koelemay

Managing Director

Qorvis Communications

8484 Westpark Drive

Suite 800

McLean, Virginia 22102

Phone: (703) 744-7800

Fax:    (703) 744-7994

Email:   dkoelemay@qorvis.com