Roy Tinsley Dodge – Brigadier General, United States Army

From a contemporary press report: Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Roy Tinsley Dodge, 85, the retired Army Corps of Engineers Brigadier General who as the Washington Metro's first design and construction chief in the 1960s and 1970s helped in the birth of the capital area subway system, died of complications from lung cancer November 8, 2002, at The Fairfax retirement community at Fort Belvoir in Alexandria, Virginia. He had lived in Alexandria since 1967.

Recruited by his former military superior and Metro's first general manager, Jackson Graham, he won a reputation for honesty and transparency during the system's tenuous infancy. During his tenure, from 1967 until retiring in 1978, Gen. Dodge was credited by friends and critics of Metro with keeping what was then the nation's largest public works project free of the corruption and influence-peddling endemic to big-city, big-ticket ventures.

“He embodied a construction integrity when anything less would have sunk the system,” said Theodore C. Lutz, Graham's successor as Metro general manager in 1976 and currently The Washington Post's business manager. “There were enough people ready, trying to kill it.”

Critics intent on defunding the system were ready to point to the cost overruns and delays that did occur, however, and as a military man who stressed discipline, the affable and unassuming General Dodge cringed at these realities, occurring in a national period of inflation and budget woes.

Lutz recalled a reunion of Metro veterans, many of them also from the Corps of Engineers, at which Gen. Dodge introduced himself saying, “I'm in the 12th year of managing this 10-year construction project.”

He had some anxious moments after the 1969 groundbreaking when federal money was withheld for two years in an attempt to force the District to build more freeways.

In a 1999 interview with The Post, he recalled Graham's admonition to begin construction as quickly as possible, saying, “If we get a big enough hole in the ground, they can't stop us.”

And Gen. Dodge did get a hole in the ground, actually many of them, resulting in a construction and traffic tangle for Washington and its suburbs in the 1970s as subway tunnels were carved below.

Remarkably, there were few major construction glitches, though a big scare did occur in the twilight of his career, when in 1977 a construction accident caused a flood that closed the Blue Line.

His days were occupied with analyzing the details of contracts for the project, running into the billions of dollars and spread out among more than 40 firms; grant delays; environmental studies; and complaints about handicapped access and set-asides for minority contractors. Having been a combat engineer and a Corps of Engineers official who dealt with such massive issues as the water level of the Great Lakes, Gen. Dodge was unflappable, and often wryly funny, in the face of such challenges.

He was one of the few people considered close to Graham, and he looked to retire after Graham's own retirement in 1976.

General Dodge, a native of Gadsden, Alabama, was a mechanical engineering graduate of Auburn University.

He joined the Army in 1938. Among his first assignments, on the Texas-Mexico border, was finding water and fodder for the horse cavalry.

He served with the 83rd Infantry Division during World War II and commanded a combat engineer battalion that fought through five campaigns as part of General George S. Patton's Third Army.

Later in life, when construction schedules were tight, he could tell the story of working at night to establish a bridgehead over the Elbe River that allowed U.S. troops a clear shot at Berlin. “We did that in 24 hours in darkness,” he said in a 1999 interview with The Post. “We're now 32 years into building Metro.”

His later assignments included a teaching stint at the Army Engineer School, serving as an engineer for the Eighth Army in Korea and director of Army schools in the Continental Army Command.

In his last assignment before retiring in 1967, he was north-central division engineer, responsible for military construction and civil works in 13 states. He made headlines when he announced in 1966 that the corps would “shut down” the U.S. side of Niagara Falls to make repairs and remove rock.

Among his decorations was the Army Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit.

In his second retirement, he assisted in planning, construction and operations at The Fairfax.

Gen. Dodge was a fellow of the Society of American Military Engineers and an officer of the Mount Vernon chapter of the Retired Officers Association.

He also was a trustee at St. James Episcopal Church in Alexandria.

Survivors include his wife, the former Gwynne Irvin Barrett of Alexandria, whom he married in 1941; three children, Caroline Dodge Herrick of Annandale and Roy Richard and Elizabeth Dodge Menikos, both of Fort Worth; eight grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.


On Friday, November 8, 2002. Beloved husband of Gwynne B. Dodge; father of Caroline D. Herrick, R. Richard Dodge, and Elizabeth D. Menikos. Survived by eight grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. Memorial services will be held on Tuesday, November 19, 2002 in Saint James Epsicopal Church at 7:30 p.m. Military services will be held on Tuesday, December 17, 2002 at the Fort Myer Old Post Chapel at 11 a.m. Burial with full military honors will follow at Arlington Cemetery with a reception afterward in the Fairfax Retirement Center Living Room. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to a charity of one's choice or to Saint James' Church Campaign of Faith, P.O. Box 109, 5614 Mill Rd., Mount Vernon, VA 22121-0109.

Dreams of a Washington subway system had been kicking around at least since the end of World War II, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority – Metro's official name – was born in 1967 to carry them out. The regional coalition was built through substantially identical legislation from Capitol Hill, Richmond and Annapolis; the District was still governed by federally appointed commissioners.

The growing suburbs wanted quick trips into the city, where the jobs were. Mayor-Commissioner Washington wanted to find ways for transit-dependent residents to get to jobs downtown and in the suburbs.

The system that emerged was supposed to be 98 miles long, cost $2.5 billion and be completed within 10 years of groundbreaking. The feds were to kick in $1.6 billion; the local share was to come from bonds paid off with subway fares. Three high-powered consultant studies produced in the 1960s promised the sound economics of all this.

Maj. Gen. Jackson Graham, retired from the Army Corps of Engineers, was hired as Metro's first general manager. He brought a combination of charm, knowledge, arrogance, efficiency, energy and a passion for earth tones, which explains a lot of what you see on the subway today, from the background colors of the signs to the interior of the cars. “He never wore anything but a brown suit,” said Roy T. Dodge, another Corps of Engineers general whom Graham hired to supervise construction.

In special elections, more than 70 percent of the area's voters approved the sale of bonds to construct Metro. Then reality set in.

The consultant studies hadn't factored in the high rate of inflation. They hadn't figured on the power of the freeway lobby that saw rail transit as a competitor for federal dollars. (Congress withheld Metro's federal money for two years after the 1969 groundbreaking in an attempt to force the District to build more freeways and another bridge across the Potomac.) They hadn't considered the fights that would develop over routes, environmental issues, access for the disabled, set-asides for minority contractors and other realities of modern-day public works.

All of these resulted in delays and higher costs. Yet when called to testify at congressional hearings, Graham insisted time after time that the costs would stay the same.

When Metro actually started carrying paying passengers, the estimated cost had risen to $6 billion. When the last segment opens in 2001, the total spent will be about $10 billion.

But those first-day riders saw the genius of the system, which has now won worldwide acclaim: the high arching ceilings, the subdued indirect lighting, the low retaining fences that make the walls difficult to deface, the absence of hidden corners or public restrooms to invite trouble.

Graham had told Dodge to get as much of the system under construction as quickly as possible, saying that “if we get a big enough hole in the ground, they can't stop us,” Dodge recalls.

Dodge followed orders, but the construction made a mess of Washington. At one time or another, G Street, I Street, 12th Street and Connecticut Avenue were torn up and repaved with heavy timbers while the tunnels were carved out below. Cars were sometimes limited to one lane in each direction, and they crept by on the uneven wood boards. Lafayette Square was surrounded with construction fences. Small businesses were shut off from their customers, and some of them failed.

Subway builders blasted through hard rock, cut open streets, propped up huge buildings from below and worked around cables and pipes and other tunnels that permeate underground Washington. “NASA asked us to stop digging during one of the moon launches,” Dodge said, “because they were afraid we would cut a communications link they had to have.” Metro stopped digging.

There was one spectacular cave-in, at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and M Street NW, when the wooden planks slid into the hole below. It happened overnight, and nobody was hurt. But at least a dozen workers were killed during construction of the system.

Dodge, 82, a courtly Southerner living in retirement near Fort Belvoir, also remembers the stalling trains on opening day. So many people crammed into the cars that the frames bent and kept the doors from closing tightly enough to satisfy the safety systems.

“We knew how many people could get in a car, and we knew how much they would weigh,” he said. During tests, Metro had distributed lead weights throughout cars equaling the estimated poundage of a full load of real people. Everything worked fine. Problem is, real people “don't organize themselves the way engineers organize lead weights,” he said.

Graham spent his weekends on inspection tours, often gunning his motorcycle through the tunnels, sometimes with his diminutive wife, Mabel Lee, riding on the back. He loved to show his project to politicians, federal budget examiners and reporters, whom he took on walking tours under the Potomac River in the tunnel that now connects Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom.

But while the subway was being built, Congress complicated the process by forcing Metro in 1973 to take over the region's four failing privately owned local bus companies. The companies suddenly required public subsidies that became an unwelcome new line item in local government budgets and a political problem for Graham. He had been hired to build a magnificent subway, not run a bunch of stinky old buses.

So the energy he invested in his new franchise, dubbed Metrobus, was minimal. The early Metrobus provided wretched service, especially in the District, where it served a black majority population. Since Metro was an almost all-white, all-male construction company, Graham's inattention to the buses did not escape local politicians or their constituents.

And his continued insistence before Congress that $2.5 billion would complete the subway had become a political liability, both on Capitol Hill and with local governments, which could see they were going to have pick up more costs.

Late in 1975, Tucker, the D.C. Council chairman, was about to rotate into the chairmanship of the Metro board. He and Graham had clashed on a number of issues, including the sensitive one of minority contracting.

Graham resigned without warning. Barnett set out to reverse the resignation, but said “I found less support [on the board] than I thought I would find” and abandoned the project.

Graham retired to Palm Springs, Calif., but he had accomplished more than many understood at the time: Five stations had been completed, test trains were running on the Red Line, and 45 miles of subway were under construction.

The first section of Metro to open carried the Senate and its staffers and members of the Supreme Court to the restaurants on Connecticut Avenue. The second section – the Blue Line from National Airport to Stadium-Armory – opened a year later in July and connected the House and its staffers to the Redskins games and the airport, traffic free.

Meanwhile, the most transit-dependent sections of the Washington region – to be served primarily by the Green Line – were placed far down the schedule.

In an interview in Palm Springs in 1978, Graham derided local politicians as “little people,” saying the only guidance he got from them was, “For God's sakes, get the buses running.”

Had he distorted or concealed from Congress the true costs of Metro as inflation and other factors drove up the price?

“I don't think I did anything dishonest,” he said. “You can't change estimates every day.” Then he arched his right eyebrow and grinned. “We only re-did estimates once a year – after the congressional appropriations hearings, not before.”

Bicentennial Debacle

Despite the opening day enthusiasm, Metro was not out of the woods. The cost estimates were obviously wrong; a federal guarantee had been placed on the bonds, but because the system opened late and wasn't making money, there wasn't any way to pay them off.  Jimmy Carter was new in town and sent a letter to his secretary of transportation, Brock Adams, saying, “I suspect that many of the rapid transit systems are grossly overdesigned.” Federal commitments to Metro were effectively reduced from a pledge to finance the entire planned system to one that promised to pay only for “operable segments.”

The feds ordered the region to revisit its unbuilt subway routes, with the clear implication that cuts were expected.

As July 4, 1976, approached, Metro assured the public that its bus system could handle the Bicentennial blowout on the Mall. Yet the night was a transportation disaster; people were stranded for hours after the fireworks ended. At this point, Metro's existing management, which had tried so hard to build the subway and ignore the buses, was politically bankrupt.

“It was one of the worst PR days we ever had,” Barnett said. “I said, ‘Look, folks, just don't defend it. Move on.'”

An inside candidate to replace Graham was abandoned. Tucker and the board set out to persuade a 30-year-old financial whiz kid to take the job. Theodore C. Lutz had managed the D.C. budget account in the Office of Management and Budget, then had moved to the Transportation Department to deal with its budget.

He was respected both in the District Building and on Capitol Hill. All he knew about building subways was what he learned on one or two of Graham's weekend tours, “and I had never managed more than five people at one time,” he said in an interview.

He exhausted himself in his 2½ years at Metro, but in the process reorganized the bus department, negotiated financial settlements with the feds on the troublesome bonds, provided a reliable set of numbers on Capitol Hill, stroked local governments, and hired Carmen Turner to a highly visible management position, the first for a black person at Metro. Now deceased, she become Metro's fourth general manager. Lutz is now a vice president and business manager of The Washington Post.

In 1977, the region's political leaders ratified the existing Metro plans and vowed to fight for the money to complete them, a fight they won. They were given the backbone to do so by a public that said in a week-long series of hearings across the region that it wanted Metro.

Last Train Back

Jackson Graham didn't see his subway system in operation until December 1978, when he and Mabel Lee joined some friends and boarded at National Airport. “We stopped at every station,” Graham said in a 1980 interview. “I was very happy. I talked to people. They liked it . . . We rode the last train back from New Carrollton.”

Graham died at 69 in 1985.


  • VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 07/30/1938 – 09/30/1967
  • DATE OF BIRTH: 07/30/1917
  • DATE OF DEATH: 11/08/2002
  • DATE OF INTERMENT: 12/17/2002

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