“It’s Not Over Until It’s Under”

That’s the slogan of a group of Fairfax County die-hards who refuse to give up on the idea of running the Rail-to-Dulles extension of the Washington Metro in a tunnel underneath Tysons Corner. Alec MacGillis reports in the Washington Post that TysonsTunnel.org, an offshoot of the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce, is trying to raise $3 million from local businesses to pay for engineering designs that could prove a tunnel is feasible.

Clearly, the movement has widespread local support. As MacGillis writes:

More than 200 residents packed an auditorium in McLean on Wednesday to hear experts assembled by the group argue that building an elevated track for the four-mile Tysons portion of the 23-mile Metro extension from West Falls Church to Dulles International Airport would worsen traffic congestion during construction. A track also would deal a blow to Fairfax’s efforts to turn the area into a lively, walkable downtown similar to Arlington County’s Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, they said.

Tunnel supporters have strong arguments. If Rail to Dulles is built, it should run underneath Tysons Corner, not above. But they’re wasting their time. The die has been cast. As long as Rail to Dulles is dependent upon federal funding, it must meet the requirements of the Federal Transit Authority for cost-effectiveness. All evidence suggests that the project is marginal to begin with. Any delay, which would lead to inflation-driven cost increases, or any changes that would increase the cost of the project — regardless of who pays for them — will make the project even more tenuous.

The only option is to abandon the idea of federal funding and re-think the project from scratch. There would be several elements to such an approach: (1) Put up the design and construction of the project for competitive bids in the hope of bringing down the price; (2) Tap the stakeholders, those who would benefit the most from the project, to help pay for it by setting up Community Development Authorities to issue bonds to pay for construction. If the project financing can be worked out, that’s terrific. If not, then it represents a massive transfer of wealth from the general populace to a select group of landowners and doesn’t deserve to be built.

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25 responses to ““It’s Not Over Until It’s Under””

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here’s the top 20 Metros in the world (out of more than 130)

    some show underground percentages

    #1 London, England, United Kingdom : 408 km (181 km underground) – Lines: 12 (the most part with long branches)

    #2 New York, New York, United States : 368 km (80% underground) – Lines: 26 services (9 independent lines divided in several branches and 3 shuttle services)

    #3 Tokyo, Japan : 292.3 km (Tokyo Metro 183.2 km, TOEI Subway 109 km) – Lines: 13

    #4 Seoul, South Korea : 287.4 km – Lines: 9

    #6 Moscow, Russia : 278.3 km – Lines: 12

    #7 Madrid, Spain : 226.9 km – Lines: 13 (211 km underground)

    #8 Paris, France : 212.5 km – Lines: 16 (excluding CDGVAL and Orlyval)

    #9 Mexico City, Mexico : 201.7 km – Lines: 11

    #10 Washington, DC, United States : 169.5 km – Lines: 5

  2. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    Thank you for bringing this to every ones attention.

    What had been no brainer support for Bechtel Corporation best know for the Big Dig, has turned into a political football. One side has the FTA supporting Bush crony corporation Bechtel with constituent letters from Wolf, and Davis. The other side has Tysons Tunnel.org http://tysonstunnel.org/index.htm and the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce with Supervisor Dana Kauffman and the WestGroup.

    The engineering position was reported by Walter Mergelsberg a former Metro engineer and part of the Dr. Saur Group team now producing tunnel drawings noted that there was’t enough reason to rule out the tunnel. The main reason for ruling out the tunnel is the reduction in Bechtel’s share of the work.

    A democratic Congress may be take a different view on rewarding Bechtel.

    Your argument about rewarding land owners also applies to the reforming VDOT by concentrating on eliminating congestion instead of increasing mobility. Eliminating congestion supports individual drives. Increasing mobility increases the value of green field development, rewarding the developer at the expense of the homeowner who ends up with longer commutes.

  3. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    This is still the biggest boondoggle in NoVA’s history. We are spending billions without receiving any measurable traffic relief. West Group, on the other hand, could receive a huge windfall from rezoning. If anything, going forward with the Silver Line is a payoff from the Warner and Kaine administrations to a huge campaign contributor.

    The average citizens best hope is that the FTA simply rejects the project for failing the cost-effectiveness test. Fairfax County needs traffic relief, not one more taxpayer giveaway.

  4. There is no reason Rail to Dulles has to go through Tyson’s. If we are going to buld Rail to dulles then Lets Build rail to dulles and wory about Tyson’s later.

    Otherwise what we will have is rail to Tyson’s and no guarantee that we will ever get what was sold, which is rail to Dulles.

    I still think Metro would be better off with a loop from King street to Landmark, to Annandale to Skyline to Ballston.

    I think Metro would be better off, and would relieve more congestion by simply extending to Centreville and Manassas.

    Not to mention any number of other options that make more sense than this.

    TMT is right – this is a boondoggle.

    Whether this makes sense has nothing to do with whether you put it above ground or not. Those idiots are fighting the wrong battle.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Wash METRO is (as posted) but one of over 130 similiar systems worldwide including most of the major cities in the USA.

    I have a hard time sorting out the posts here as to whether there is generalized opposition to ANY proposed METRO expansion or whether there is opposition to specific expansions.

    It’s hard to believe that 130 areas have chosen badly in terms of transportation options but I’ll admit that if we said 130 beltways.. that there might be folks who believed that those beltways were bad choices also.

    But would folks agree that if transit systems like METRO were a truly bad idea – that they’d be shut down and abandoned on a worldwide basis – over time – as the evidence accumulated?

    Again.. is the opposition to this particle METRO expansion based on a bad site or is the opposition against METRO in general?

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Again.. is the opposition to this (correction) PARTICULAR METRO expansion based on a bad site or is the opposition against METRO in general?

    TMT and others make the point that the project will not relieve congestion.

    Is that a claimed benefit?

    Would that be a legitimate claimed benefit for ANY transportation improvement road or rail in WashMetro?

    Is opposition – based on that or based on cost/benefit REALLY useful if we don’t get the actual FACTS on both the proposal and the alternatives?

    You know.. it occurs to me – that there is a continuum with regard to METRO, highways, power lines, etc.

    Opposition – because of real or imagined impacts.

    Suspicion with regard to justification.

    concerns that the proposed facility is really to benefit/enable those with a monetary interest and not primarily a benefit to the general public.

    Opposition can be group into two categories:

    1. – right solution – wrong place
    2. – wrong solution no matter where

    I’ve grown fond of Wikipedia as of late because first it allows input from anyone requiring that facts be verifiable and pro/con views provide their reasons and rationales.

    The problem that we have with current process ..whether it be METRO or EISes or whatever is the the sponsoring agency is in charge of the analysis documentation. This is a clear conflict especially if there is disagreement about the content of the documentation, the criteria for decision-making, and the decision-makers themselves.

    Having a pro-transit Agency in charge of the EIS for a transit proposal is no better, in my mind, than having VDOT in charge of EIS documentation for a proposed road project. Ditto for Dominion Power and power lines or power plants.

    Supposedly the remedy for this is that there has to be adequate public involvement (questionable sometimes especially with speedy/stealthy proposals) and that the sponsoring agency must “respond” to “substantive” comments.

    There are lots of problems with this approach because the playing field is tilted toward the sponsoring agency.

    The general public is usually unable to mount an effective response unless they band together and hire experts.

    The time-period for many of the EISes is so quick that it usually precludes an effective response.

    For instance, VDOT will take, sometimes years, to produce an EIS and it allows .. perhaps 30 days for comments.

    but I’ll not blather on except to say that this kind of process is perceived by the public as perfunctory paperwork rather than meaningful analyses.

  7. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    The problems with the proposed extension of Metrorail through Tysons and to Dulles are multiple. First of all, the project is not designed to address our traffic mess. (It probably could be, but it isn’t.) The Silver Line is the trigger for the Fairfax County BoS to permit the rezoning of Tysons Corner, which will, in turn, generate even more traffic and bring more residents and workers to the area without supporting infrastructure. That is stupid.

    The Silver Line also places what might be fatal stress on the single Potomac River tunnel. Why isn’t that being addressed? What will a second tunnel under the Potomac River cost? Who will pay for it?

    The line should be redesigned to stay in the Dulles Toll Road median, with one or two stops near Tysons. Better yet, we could build BRT with some dedicated roadways/lanes in some areas. Either of these approaches would cost much less than the current boondoggle.

    We need a new cost estimate that is based on existing costs and forseeable trends. Any thinking business considers forward-looking costs for pricing, not historic, embedded ones. Except for the politics, why is this different?

    Legislation should be passed that prohibits any county government from recovering any of the capital costs for the Silver Line from countywide real estate taxes. Similarly, no (Virginia) broad-based tax should fund the Silver Line unless it applies statewide. NoVA alone should not pay for this taxpayer giveaway.

    Any transit-oriented development permitted near the Silver Line must include drastic limits on parking, through regulation, taxes or some type permit market. No $1.8 M condos with three or more parking spaces.

  8. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    Two comments this morning provoke thought. Your post ended with:

    “If the project financing can be worked out, that’s terrific. If not, then it represents a massive transfer of wealth from the general populace to a select group of landowners and doesn’t deserve to be built.”

    The first division of support and opposition is a general one. Is the project Pork or does it provide economic and quality of life benefits. The current funding formulas that treat transportation spending as Pork create suspicion of all projects by those who think that taxpayers dollars should provide economic and quality of life benefits. On the other hand current formula rules create an attitude at VDOT that the concerns of those who think that taxpayers dollars should provide economic and quality of life benefits are not legitimate and should be opposed by any method including ignoring and misinterpreting EIS comments.

    The second is the nature of economic and quality of life benefits. Are houses worth a million dollars in Arlington worth more to society then those worth a hundred thousand dollars in Grayson? Should taxpayer dollars go to expansion or to improving conditions for current activities? There are a host of additional questions of this type.

    My closing thought is that all projects represent “a transfer of wealth.” In addition to, “Does it deserve to be built?” I ask: Does it provide Pork? Does it provide economic and quality of life benefits?

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here’s some more provocative thoughts –

    1. – give VDOT a annual consumer price adjustment in the gasoline tax

    2. – take the current 1/2% sales tax that VDOT gets and give it to the Department of rail and transit

    3. – transfer ALL 600 series and 1000 series roads to localities give them the proceeds from the State gas tax in their locality. VDOT gets to keep the Fed Gas tax allocation to Virginia.

    4. – any transportation facility (any mode) has to have an EIS that REQUIRES – BOTH VDOT and DRT to be sponsors of the document AND it must have an intermodal component that connects to alternate modes.

    5. – Any discrepancies between VDOT or DRT sections have to be resolved i.e. you cannot have conflicting data.

    6. – If they cannot work together to get the EIS Done, then a new Department of Intermodal Transport will take over the document

    Call this law.. the Intermodal Surface Transport Act for Virginia – ISTEAV

  10. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Larry – Let’s modify number one slightly. An annual increase in the gas tax does not provide any incentive for VDOT to operate more efficiently. We need to move to something similar to “price cap” regulation that the FCC and many state PUCs use for telephone companies (some states use similar formulae for other utilities too).

    A typical formula permits the utility (VDOT) to increase its revenues by some measure of inflation less a productivity offset. The “regulated entity” must, therefore, strive towards productivity gains and not just increase its revenues. Under my modfication, VDOT would receive an incentive towards contiuous improvement and to fund programs/facilities that make economic sense. If contracting for maintenance makes economic sense, VDOT would likely do it and manage the vendors.

    Otherwise, it’s more of the same at a higher cost to citizens.

  11. Metro systems around the world provide a huge benefit to politicians that control the patronage and or support of the transit unions.

    They also provide a huge benefit to a few downtown businesses that could not survive as well with out the systems.

    But if the riders had to pay their own full costs, most of them would shut down. They are only workable because of the massive transfer of wealth they provide a vehicle for.

    The costs and the benefits are all thrown in a big pot ans stirred around untill we all benefit some and we all pay some. No one really knows where the balance is, who pay s what or who benefits the most.

    Metro systems are fine wor what they are, but they are not aned never will be a subsitute for individual vehicles. All we can do is hope that the money we spend on Metro will be well spent, among the available options, of which I listed a few.

    Instead, we have agenda driven politics making what should be economic decisions. When special interests are willing to spend $3 million to prove their idea is better, that’s all the evidence I need to hear to know that it is not.

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re:” Instead, we have agenda driven politics making what should be economic decisions.”

    This is true at each and every one of the 138 METROs worldwide?

    is it a massive worldwide conspiracy?

  13. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Larry, It’s a question of sunk costs. What has been built, has been built. It would be foolish not to keep transit operating, absent strong reasons to the contrary. Moreover, some of these lines are likely essential to commuting.

    But, why expand something at the costs of billions when the project’s own sponsor, the Commonwealth of Virginia, readily admits will not improve traffic?

  14. Jim Bacon Avatar

    TMT, Can you point me to the study that says Rail to Dulles will not improve traffic?

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Commonwealth of Virginia, readily admits will not improve traffic?”

    most EISs have sections.

    One is Purpose and Need

    and the other one is cost/benefits

    Let’s see if we can get a short version of each in this blog and/or URLs to those sections.

    My point about transit in general is that I find it hard to believe that it FAILS the cost/benefit test .. across the world.. in more than 130 facilities.

    There MUST be some common valid reason why they build them in JAPAN, CHINA, IRAN, SPAIN, etc… dozens of countries despite the fact that they do not recover their costs via farebox…

    I’m not saying that these justifications are necessarily valid – but what I am asking is WHAT ARE THEY… so that the discussion can be on whether or not THOSE rationales justify public subsidies (schools apparently pass that test – right?).

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Further thoughts –

    I doubt seriously that ANY proposed transportation facility in the WashMetro area could legitimately claim that it will “relieve traffic congestion”.

    Isn’t it more about building more to reduce the degradation of levels of service?

    Further – can it be said that there are those advocates who believe that is is the way we currently “grow” with respect to land-use and transportation that is part and parcel of the problem?

    If that is indeed the emphasis – then the purpose is not to improve existing levels of service but rather to create new development that is “balanced” such that it is possible to have development that does not cause deterioration of levels of service?

    Now.. I would AGREE that … THAT is an ISSUE .. as TMT has pointed out… there is serious concern that collateral impacts could well result from METRO expansions tied to TOD development.

    I’d posit – at the least – that advocates of this – especially the Smart Growth folks DO have an opportunity to weigh in with information. They don’t have to certainly but I’d point out that TMT is not alone.. and does represent a public view that indicates doubt about the concept.

    Pragmatically though – if Kaine, Connoly, NoVa Transportation Alliance, MWCOG, Smart Growth folks etc believe the public at large is supportive – despite the cost issues – in other words – the public thinks transit is needed – then the burden is clearly on those opposed to make a case against it – not to their own liking – but designed to be compelling enough to resonate with the public at large.

    MOST folks think like our do I believe. They see transit in most major cities – around the world – and they believe by virtue of the fact that is exists on such a widespread basis that it is needed and necessary even if it does not operate on a break-even basis.

    I just don’t see New York or Chicago folks up in arms about “costly” METROs and throwing folks out of office and shutting down those facilities.

    Those who argue on the cost-effectiveness issues – are essentially saying … “reality is wrong”. are they not?

  17. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Jim, I posted the traffic impact table on my blog in September 2006. Here is the link. http://toomanytaxes.blogspot.com/2006_09_01_toomanytaxes_archive.html

    Larry: I suspect that most people in Fairfax County who have not studied the issue assume that building the Silver Line AS PROPOSED will reduce traffic congestion. But the Commonwealth of Virginia says that it won’t. Likewise, the Fairfax BoS is planning to approve major increases in density without restricting automobiles access or, better, automobile parking in the Tysons area, which will ensure that there is no traffic reduction.

    Would the average resident of Fairfax County support Metro’s extension if they were told that one project alone, Tysons I, would add more parking (read automobiles) than is located at the Pentagon? Would they support it if they were told that there are more than 20 other Comprehensive Plan amendments on top of Tysons I? Would they support it if they were told that expansion of Metrorail will also trigger the ability of the Lerner Group to build even more parking? Etc. Etc.

    If this were a sale of securities, we’d have criminal prosecutions for fraud.

    I’m not arguing against transit or even against building the Silver Line, if modified or with appropriate land use restrictions. It’s the entire package of proposals that are bad for all, but a few landowners, their agents & contractors, and the politicians.

  18. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Fairfax BoS is planning to approve major increases in density without restricting automobiles access or, better, automobile parking in the Tysons area, which will ensure that there is no traffic reduction.”

    how about if this were a road proposal instead?

    same answer?

    It appears to me that there is a built-in presumption that the area will grow – and from that grows how to do it – land-use wise and transportation wise.

    If you didn’t do METRO and you grew anyhow… then what?

    ..or should Fairfax just say “NO”… and let other localities absorb the growth even if in the process.. like in Loudoun.. roads in Fairfax get maxed from Loudoun Commuters?

    I’m not unsympathetic here.. I’m asking hard questions… that I suspect are along the lines of those in government who favor this approach … over other alternatives … as they say.. the best of the bad options…

    agree.. disagree? Is this essentially an issue about whether Fairfax should “grow” or “not”?

  19. is it a massive worldwide conspiracy?


    There is not one of them that isn’t supported by massive subsidies paid by people who don’t use them.

  20. Schools apparently pass the test, right?

    Wrong. We should subsidize the students, and let the schools compete for the dollars the students have. There isn’t any government operation more ripe for privatization that schools. I recognized that while I was still in high school. Much of it is a collossal waste, and that would not be the case if students were spending thier “own” money where they thought it would do them the most good.

  21. Metro’s have not relieved congestion in any city, worldwide.

    What they do is allow more people to travel in highly congested places where they would otherwise not be able to go. I question whether or not that is really a benefit to anyone, other than those that own real estate in those highly congested areas.

    It might be that is enough reason and enough benefit, but I find it hard to believe.

  22. It appears to me that there is a built-in presumption that the area will grow

    Why is that? We seem to have a built in presumption that places like mine should not grow, too.

    Does one presumption feed the other?

    Maybe, if we can’t grow without traffic and parking restrictions, or without spending massive amounts of capital on Metro systems that will require even more massive operating subsidies, then it is time to say, “Enough, stop digging.”, rather than engineering still more solutions to the problem of digging ourselves a bigger, more expensive, less friendly, and higher taxed hole.

  23. Metro to Tyson’s is a boondoggle.

    Blow it off and move on. Spend the money someplace where it might do some good.

  24. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    If transit is a relic from a time/place where may have made sense originally but no longer then it would seem that it would be abandoned and certainly would not have new construction.

    That’s not the case – and sorry.. I just don’t believe in world-wide conspiracies… in general… unless a LOT of proof is supplied.. and certainly not on assertions and conjecture.

    Name a place that has abandoned their METRO… Surely there is one place that agreed with the arguments put forth by those opposed to transit – that it costs too much and provides too little value and that cheaper alternative methods exist…

    We have on one side those who say that transit is unjustified on a cost basis while on the other hand those who favor transit claim that roads actually have worse numbers on a comparative basis.

    What are the facts?

    We DO KNOW some facts:

    We know that a huge portion of the road budget is maintenance which is 70% of the 4.5 billion a year for WashMetro.
    (from MWCOG/TPB website)

    Why not treat this as the road version of the farebox recovery issue, i.e. the operational costs of roads.

    That means about 3 billion a year for maintenance (out of a 4.5 billion budget for 2006).

    Take the 3 billion and divide it by .. say 3 million licensed drivers and you get $1000 annually.

    Take an average driver…(say 15K a year in a 20mpg car) and we know that he buys 750 gallons of gas a year and that the fed and state gas tax of about 37 cents a gallon – he pays about $300 a year.

    So where does the other $700 come from?

    Well.. for one thing… 1/2% of the sales tax that everyone pays helps make up the difference.

    Isn’t that a subsidy?

    And let’s stop right here and not claim that it benefits “everyone” and so is justified unless you want to use the same argument with regard to METRO. Let’s keep separate the concept of subsidy from rationale for the subsidy.

    So.. now.. is the argument that:

    1. Metro is subsidized and roads are not? …… or is the argument that
    2. Subsidies for roads are justifiable while subsidies for METRO are not.
    3. Metro to Tyson’s a boondoggle specifically or ANY Metro expansion is a boondoggle?

    okay.. I worked hard to keep this post lean… some would appreciate an on-target response… thanks. 🙂

  25. Heh. I was actually in the auditorium in McLean. Not that I was *that* interested, but my girlfriend lives in Tysons and she was interested.

    Clearly all of the people speaking there were in favor of the tunnel, so none of the counter-arguments were really presented. They were sort of mentioned tangentially. And I should add that it was clear that anyone in the Tysons/McLean area has an obvious self-interest in this going forward. I can sum up the arguments presented as falling into several categories.

    The best argument in favor of a tunnel is that it would have the potential for doing to Tysons what bringing Metro to Wilson Blvd did to Arlington. If you go into Arlington, you can see how it is supposed to work – higher density housing right along the corridor, making it possible for people to walk to Metro, fewer cars overall, and pedestrian friendly.

    When Metro was first built, Wilson Blvd wasn’t particularly appealing. There wasn’t much there – lots of empty lots and struggling businesses. It took 20-30 years for the area to be redeveloped into it’s current form.

    One could describe Tysons in many ways right now, but pedestrian friendly isn’t one of them. Frankly to me, Tysons isn’t at all appealing – if my girlfriend didn’t live there, I wouldn’t go near the place. The traffic is one aspect, but along Rt 7, it is just strip malls, big box stores, and car dealerships.

    The argument is that an elevated Metro would be an eyesore and an earsore as the steel wheels screech when the trains go around corners, it is far less likely that you would end up with a Wilson Blvd type of area.

    The thinking is that if you had a tunnel, that gradually the big box stores and strip malls would be gradually replaced with higher density mixed use development of one sort or another, and that ultimately the corridor would become more pedestrian friendly.

    A second argument in favor of a tunnel is that there would be more economic disruption caused by construction of overhead tracks and stations as compared to underground stations and a tunnel. A lot of it due to people avoiding the area due to increased traffic, I suppose. It is easy to see that there could be some qualitative truth to this, but it is hard to quantify the actual dollar amount of the economic disruption.

    The argument was made that the Tysons area is the 12th largest business area in the country (don’t remember exactly how they phrased it – sorry if I misremember the actual way they described it). Thus it is in the county’s interest to keep the area healthy, and increased property values would ultimately lead to increased tax revenues.

    A third argument in favor of the tunnel was that there really isn’t any new tunnelling technology being proposed for this – the machines have been used in Europe in a number of projects. Apparently this was raised as an issue at one point or another along the way.

    The argument was made that a tunnel would ultimately be less expensive to maintain. Clearly each approach has it’s own maintenance costs, and some of these things can be predicted ahead of time. The claim was that the increased cost of the tunnel would be ultimately completely offset by lower maintenance costs.

    They made the argument that both the tunnel and the overhead approach should go out for bids. Somehow the two would need to be reconcoled so that one of the two would be selected, and I imagine that cost would not be the sole determining factor.

    That’s as much as I remember right now. I am not as well versed in the arguments made by those that want the overhead approach.

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