Local Commentary

A Penny For Your Thoughts: The News of Greater Falls Church

Rail to Dulles moved one step closer to reality Monday when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, by a vote of 8 to 2, approved the Local Funding Agreement and a Cooperative Agreement with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) for construction of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project. There has been much written and said about the negotiations between MWAA, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the Dulles Transit Partners, in pursuit of a $900 million Full Funding Grant Agreement from the Federal Transit Administration.

Through all the verbiage and voices, I tried to keep in mind the overarching goal – getting Rail to Dulles. Whether it’s over or under, the goal is Rail to Dulles. I supported the locally preferred alternative of an aerial alignment when it came before the Board for decision in 2002. Later, in 2006, when the possibility of a tunnel along a three-mile segment through Tysons was raised, the Board also endorsed the tunnel option. I like the tunnel option; I wish there was a way to build the tunnel. However, wishes are not reality, and reality is what we had before us on Monday.

I heard from many people who suggested that the Board should reject the agreement. One woman told me that “Chairman Connolly and Governor Kaine are influential men and they just need to tell the federal government we need the tunnel.” I am sure Chairman Connolly would like to have that kind of power, but that’s not reality.

Others advocated that the Board should scrap the agreement and start over. They said the federal funding wouldn’t really go away, and that if the current project got through the environmental hurdles under the old rules, it should make it through the new, more stringent process. But that’s not reality.

Chairman Connolly asked Pierce Homer, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, what would happen if Fairfax County failed to approve its $400 million financial commitment to the project. The Secretary’s response was simple: the project would stop, with little or no prospect of revival. That’s reality.

Rail to Dulles has been on the table since Dulles was planned decades ago. In 1989 – 18 years ago – the Board established rail in the Dulles Corridor as its highest transportation priority. Thirteen years later, the locally preferred alternative was adopted. Now, five years after that, the agreement was presented for decision. Secretary Homer’s response also referenced “for the foreseeable future.” I imagine that, in 1989, the fore-seeable future wasn’t 18 years, but the reality is – it’s 18 years later.

In the early 1970s, a Metrorail line was planned for run to Skyline and beyond in Mason District. Political opposition in Arlington County killed rail to Skyline, a decision that proved to be short-sighted. Nearly 40 years later, we still don’t have rail to Baileys and Skyline. The wrong decision can have decades-long implications. That’s what happened in Mason District, and that’s reality.

Different points of view make for a healthy discussion of the issues but, in the end, a decision must be made. There are risks to any decision. No doubt about that. It will be an expensive project. No doubt about that either. The reality is that Rail to Dulles must move forward, and the Board’s decision on Monday maintains the viability of the price and the project.