Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Virginia-11th District (Cong.) Update -- Democratic challenger Andrew Hurst has called on the Republican incumbent, Tom Davis to resign his post as chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. See the candidate's website:

Last week, the Washington Post ran a story exposing the extraordinary degree of favors and favoritism that Davis has shown a local government contracting consulting company. The company, ICG, is run by one of Mr. Davis' closest friends, and was established 2 months before Davis assumed the committee chairmanship. The Post article documented a close working relationship between the congressman's office and the consulting company, including the congressman's use of committee letterhead to write demanding, even threatening, letters to Pentagon contracting officers, on behalf of the company's clientele.

By far, the sexiest revelation of the Post article was the one regarding Davis' wife. The consulting company pays her a very generous salary ($78,000), for a part-time work schedule that involves nothing more than making some phone calls from home.

The scandal surrounding the Post's revelations regarding the cozy relationship between, Davis, his wife, and the consulting company should not be minimized. But from this blogger's perspective, there are suggestions of a questionable relationship between Rep. Davis and another company that may be far more injurious to the public trust -- and should be the greater scandal.

This blog has previously noted the ongoing debate regarding the construction of the proposed extension of the Metrorail (the D.C. area's subway/commuter mass transit) out to Dulles International Airport, located in suburban Virginia. The debate concerns the construction of up to four stations in the Tysons Corner commercial district. There is widespread agreement that Metro riders would make greater use of underground stations, and that underground stations would be far more valuable to the local retail businesses and real estate developers. Nevertheless, Rep. Davis has cautioned the Virginia Governor, Tim Kaine, that the state would risk losing the considerable federal funding of $900 millon, should the Governor authorize the state's Transportation authority to pursue the underground tunnel option.

There is little doubt that the tunnel option would delay the project, in part because it would involve tunneling and considerable underground construction, but also because there will be the need to produce an environmental impact statement for the underground proposal. On the other hand, it was disclosed that the projected cost overruns entailed in converting to the underground proposal would be offset by efficiencies in building underground. Apparently, the useful life of the tracks would be doubled by placing them underground.

The two greatest benefits of the tunnel would be the impact on the community and the impact on traffic, which are the primary reasons for building the stations in the Tysons area, in the first place. Tysons is drowning in traffic. During the morning rush hour, exit ramps from the Beltway into Tysons back up far onto the highway. Similar impacts are felt on local roads, morning and night. All this is because there is no other real option for traveling to the Tysons area. Tysons is a bizarre creation, a fabulously upscale retail and professional commercial district, perhaps the primary commercial district in the area, but there is hardly any residential development at all. No one lives in Tyson's Corner. Everyone, from developers to politicians, to environmentalists agree that needs to change.

The vision of creating a viable, downtown community in Tysons practically necessitates choosing an underground pathway instead of aboveground tracks and stations which would drive the kind of walls through neighborhoods that the Cross-Bronx Expressway did in New York. The collapse of the South Bronx in the 1970s is often attributed to the building of the Cross-Bronx expressway in the 1950s. All serious planners agree that an aboveground Metro would just carve up the neighborhood and make it impossible to realize the plans for a vibrant, downtown Tysons that could anchor a strong, prosperous residential community.

So, why does the Congressman continue to resist efforts to take the Metro underground through Tysons? Perhaps the answer lies in why the original proposal did not call for building the stations underground. The contract was awarded in a no-bid process to Bechtel -- the contractor that has been an unavoidable presence in American government since the Reagan years, when Ronald Reagan gave his two most powerful cabinet posts to Bechtel board members, George Schultz and Casper Weinberger.

Bechtel was to the 1980s and the 1990s what Halliburton has become in this decade: fabulously powerful, and the favorite boogeyman of liberal, corporate conspiracy theorists. Bechtel is now in serious hot water over the scandal regarding the disastrous, criminal negligence in the construction of Boston's Big Dig. In 2003, The Boston Globe published an insightful elaboration of the back-room dealing that preceded the award of the Big Dig contract, and made it possible for the Republican Governor of Massachusetts, William Weld, to direct the Big Dig contract to Bechtel. [Go to -- the article is at packages/bechtel/021103.shtml.]

Which brings us back to why Rep. Davis is being so hostile to the tunnel project: What is the possible explanation? Reports are that the Kaine administration "is now weighing a proposal by a group linked with WestGroup, a major Tysons landowner and tunnel supporter...Going with the rival proposal probably would mean a time-consuming process to end the existing partnership and to re-bid the project." The WestGroup proposal, which would contract the work to Clark Construction, estimates the tunnel project will cost far less then Bechtel's estimates. If the project is opened to public bidding, then Bechtel stands to lose this considerable, and high-prestige contract.

According to the Post, even the report to be issued today by the American Society of Civil Engineers is expected to contain recommendations for Virginia to modify the existing proposal to include the tunnel construction. But Rep. Davis appears to be staying firmly in Bechtel's corner -- or, is it 'pocket'...?

The ICG affair should be a real campaign issue, to be sure. For my money, though, it is Congressman Davis' position on the Metro tunnel proposal for Tysons that should truly scandalize the voters!

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