The Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project will transform areas throughout Northern Virginia. Phase 1 of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project continues to move forward at a steady and timely pace, according to project officials. Construction officially began on March 12, 2009, and is targeted for completion in 2013. The project is owned and managed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
Dulles Transit Partners LLC is the design/build contractor for Phase 1.
The ultimate outcome of the entire project will create a 23-mile extension of the Metrorail system. The first phase will tie in to the Metrorail’s existing Orange Line in Falls Church, Va., run through one of Virginia’s busiest shopping and business districts, and end in Reston, Va. Phase 1 also includes construction of five Metro stations and the infrastructure to support it all. Phase 2 of the project, now in preliminary engineering, will pick up at Reston and continue another 11.5 miles through Washington Dulles International Airport and end in Loudoun County, Va.
A Long Time Coming
The rail to Dulles Airport has been in the plans since the airport was built in the 1960s. In the 40 years since, its operators, first the Federal Aviation Administration and now the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), have steadfastly preserved the median of the airport’s dedicated access highway in anticipation of a commuter rail line.
Still, there were a number of moving parts that needed to fall into place before any construction could begin. “All these things need to be performed in series or in parallel,” Project Executive Director George Morschauser says. Public support needed to be garnered, funding lined up, and agreements needed to be made with local roadway and government authorities. Strong public support and a $900 million Full Funding Grant Agreement obligation from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) helped push the development forward. Morschauser says local residents and business leaders who will benefit from the increased public transportation options took out ads in local newspapers and wrote public officials in favor of the project.
“This project could not have begun without the groundswell of public support,” Morschauser said.Even though the Metrorail extension had been part of the plans from the beginning, it took years to get the project moving. After a competitive bid process, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) awarded a $1.6 billion design/build contract to Dulles Transit Partners LLC (DTP) to construct the first phase of the 11.6-mile project. DTP is a joint venture between Bechtel Infrastructure Inc. and Washington Group International (now URS). Although Dulles Transit Partners won the contract in June 2004, it did not receive the go-ahead to begin construction until the beginning of 2009.
MWAA oversees the project, and Dulles Transit Partners manages the construction on its behalf, but Morschauser says the project is really about the cooperative efforts of a number of third parties. Because of the initial support and continuing efforts of the Federal Transit Administration, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro), Virginia’s Department of General Services and others, the project would not be where it is today. This project will do more than extend a rail line, according to Morschauser. He also expects it to change the local landscape. “This will be the impetus of change for the whole area of Tysons Corner,” he says.
A Changing Landscape
It is already a “vibrant business community,” but Morschauser says it is heavily affected by the need to get thousands of people in and out of a relatively small area by car. The Fairfax County government and businesses are taking a fresh look at Tysons Corner and the Reston areas that will surround the five new stations. Plans are in place for a number of residential and commercial development projects around or near the new rail extension.
Through it all, sustainability has played a major role in the project. Dulles Transit Partners is working to reuse materials to the maximum extent possible, cut down on erosion and design the new stations with green initiatives. According to Morschauser, the U.S. Department of Conservation has taken note of its efforts and now holds up the project’s success at reducing erosion as a model for other projects.
The 11.6-mile track requires a number of different construction techniques. While the line runs at-grade and above ground in most places, it also includes a 2,400-foot tunnel through Tysons Corner, one of the more complex portions of the project. “Despite the challenges, we have been very successful with our tunneling process,” Morschauser said. It is particularly critical to avoid extensive settlement that could disrupt the roadway above. So far, with more than 50 percent of the tunnel excavated, “the areas have settled well within predicted values.”
Dulles Transit Partners’ tunneling specialists are utilizing the New Austrian Tunneling Method (NATM) for this exacting work. NATM is a tunneling method that excavates and constructs the tunnel in short, sequential portions.
Morschauser says that while the project is technically challenging, the biggest concern is protecting the hundreds of workers who are completing construction work along active roadways and the thousands of folks who drive or walk near the construction every day and night. Most of the work areas along the alignment are in very narrow, tight quarters. For Dulles Transit Partners, safety is the first priority.
“We are constructing in the middle of very active and heavily congested roads and highways,” Morschauser says. “We have to be on the constant lookout to ensure that our workers and the traveling public all arrive at their destinations safe and sound.”
Mother Nature has tried to throw the construction schedule some additional curveballs. The project lost 34 working days due to the extreme weather conditions the area experienced last winter, which included the wettest November on record and the record snowfalls that blanketed the area in December and the beginning of February. According to Morschauser, the snow delayed some utility relocations that are critical for widening the roadways. However, DTP is on par to make up for the lost time.
Dulles Paves the Way
The Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project is one of the most extensive transportation projects currently underway in the United States, but Morschauser says there has been a lot of interest lately in developing new mass transit. Cities are scrambling to find a solution to the traffic congestion that grows yearly. Houston, Denver, and San Francisco are working on ambitious plans to further public transportation rail alternatives. New York and Boston also are studying their transportation systems to identify areas for improvement. “There is great opportunity and great interest in many of the country’s major metropolitan areas,” Morschauser says.
Footing the Bill
The biggest obstacle, as always, is securing funding. It is a long and complex process, even with public support. Phase 1 of the Dulles project, Morschauser says, was fortunate to have the full support of the Commonwealth of Virginia and to secure the $900 million grant from the USDOT. Additional funding is coming from the revenue generated by the Dulles Toll Road, which is run by MWAA, and a special tax district formed by Fairfax County businesses along the Dulles Corridor. This overwhelming support is making it possible to expand mass transit between Washington, D.C., and Fairfax County. When Phase 2 is complete, Metrorail will include Washington Dulles International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the nation, and Loudoun County, one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation.
Preliminary engineering (PE) continues for Phase 2, which is scheduled to open in 2017. When PE is completed in spring of 2011, the Airports Authority will seek bids for a design/build contract for Phase 2. Phase 2 will include an additional six stations along 11.6 more miles of rail line that, for the most part, will run down the median of the Dulles International Airport Access Highway (DIAAH) through Washington Dulles International Airport and continue to Ashburn, Va., via the median of the Dulles Greenway. DTP looks forward to competing for the second phase of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project.
Founded in 1898, Bechtel is one of the oldest and largest family-owned and operated corporations in the United States.
Launched originally as a railroad-grading operation in the Oklahoma Territory, the company says it has since grown into a multinational company with hundreds of projects around the world. Four generations of the Bechtel family have guided the company through 23,000 projects in 140 countries on seven continents. These include high-profile, complex projects like the Hoover Dam, the Channel Tunnel and the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit system, according to Bechtel.
The company’s portfolio includes energy, transportation, communications, mining, oil and gas, and government services. Bechtel boasts record revenues over the last five years, and Engineering News-Record has named the company the top U.S. construction contractor for 11 straight years, the company says.
“We currently have projects in dozens of locations worldwide, from Alaska to Australia,” Bechtel says. “No matter how challenging a project or how remote its location, chances are Bechtel can handle it. That’s because we bring an unmatched combination of knowledge, skill, experience and customer commitment to every job.”
Bechtel’s capabilities include:
- Airports and seaports;
- Communications networks;
- Defense and aerospace facilities;
- Environmental cleanup projects;
- Fossil and nuclear power plants;
- Mines and smelters;
- Oil and gas field development;
- Roads and rail systems; and
- Refineries and petrochemical facilities.
Bechtel has headquarters in San Francisco and offices throughout the world. It employs 49,000 people and had revenues of $30.8 billion in 2009, it says.