Dulles Metro could bog down state bud­get plan

Project fund­ing emerges as key stick­ing point

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI

RICH­MOND | Virginia’s two-year, $85 bil­lion spend­ing plan is fi­nally in a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee, but fund­ing for the Dulles Metro­rail is emerg­ing as a key stick­ing point that could drag out the al­ready-ex­tended ses­sion even fur­ther.

As ex­pected, the Virginia House of Del­e­gates on Tues­day re­jected amend­ments the Se­nate ap­proved Mon­day, which in­clude $300 mil­lion in bonds to help con­trol the ris­ing costs of tolls on the Dulles Toll Road that are be­ing used to pay for the sec­ond phase of the 23-mile ex­ten­sion of Metro­rail to Washington Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

That puts the bill into a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee of six mem­bers from each cham­ber. One of the 12 is Sen. Janet D. How­ell, Fair­fax Demo­crat, who said that in her fifth year as a con­feree, this is the clos­est she has seen the two cham­bers on the bud­get.

“I am hopeful that we can re­solve these is­sues ex­pe­di­tiously,” she said. “But there are some we’re not pre­pared to com­pro­mise very much on. Some not at all.”

One is­sue that could defy com­pro­mise is the money for the toll roads, for which Ms. How­ell and Sen. Mark R. Her­ring, Loudoun Demo­crat, fought to se­cure.

“I am quite de­ter­mined that we must have this money,” she said. “We’ll see in con­fer­ence what hap­pens, but I know that those of us in­volved are de­ter­mined to have fund­ing for Phase 2.”

Tolls are cur­rently $1.25 at the main toll plaza and 75 cents at the on/off ramps. Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent es­ti­mates from the con­sult­ing firm CDM Smith, tolls for a full trip would reach $6.75 by 2020 and $10.75 by 2030.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fair­fax Demo­crat, said that even though North­ern Virginia sup­plies about a third of the state’s sales tax and gas tax rev­enue, just 7 per­cent of the money for the more than 900 trans­porta­tion projects ad­vanced by Gov. Bob Mcdon­nell’s $3 bil­lion trans­porta­tion plan last year went to projects in the North­ern Virginia Trans­porta­tion Dis­trict.

“I’ve been here 37 years,” he said. “I have never

once ever heard any­body say, ‘Let’s vote for this bill be­cause it’ll help poor Fair­fax out,’ OK? Never once. I mean, ev­ery­body’s got a hard­luck story, but we’re the ones with the traf­fic jam and we’re the ones pay­ing for the state. To me, quite frankly, this is a drop in the bucket com­pared to what we send here.”

But in ad­di­tion to the $150 mil­lion the state has al­ready pledged for Phase 2 of the rail-to-dulles project, House Speaker Wil­liam J. How­ell said Virginia has al­ready given the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Washington Airports Au­thor­ity an un­told amount of money in the way of toll rev­enue on the Dulles Toll Road.

In 2006, then-gov. Tim Kaine, with the sup­port of a bi­par­ti­san group of state law­mak­ers that in­cluded then-sen. Ge­orge Allen, au­tho­rized a trans­fer of con­trol of the toll road and man­age­ment of the Rail-to-dulles project to the airports au­thor­ity.

The rea­son­ing, at the time, was that the au­thor­ity would pro­vide for a bet­ter-man­aged, more cost­ef­fec­tive project. But since then, it has un­der­gone a se­ries of stops, starts and cost over­runs, at sev­eral points tee­ter­ing on the edge of col­lapse. The au­thor­ity also drew ire last year when it voted to build a more-ex­pen­sive un­der­ground sta­tion at Dulles be­fore re­vers­ing it­self amid out­cry from state, lo­cal and elected of­fi­cials. The move would have added an ex­tra $300 mil­lion onto Phase 2 of the project, now es­ti­mated to cost be­tween $2.7 bil­lion and $2.8 bil­lion.

But Mr. How­ell, Stafford Re­pub­li­can, said the state had four valid, un­so­licited of­fers to trans­fer the au­thor­ity of the road to other bod­ies through the state’s Pub­licPri­vate Trans­porta­tion Act. Two of the of­fers would have pro­vided more than $1 bil­lion in cash for im­prove­ments on the Cap­i­tal Belt­way and In­ter­state 66.

“We have given them a ton of money,” he said of the airports au­thor­ity. “I think the gov­er­nor’s com­mit­ted to $150 mil­lion.”

The airports au­thor­ity re­leased its pre­lim­i­nary en­gi­neer­ing cost of $2.7 bil­lion for Phase 2 on March 6, trig­ger­ing a 90-day re­view pe­riod in which Fair­fax and Loudoun coun­ties must de­cide whether they want to con­tinue as part­ners in the project. Loudoun County has been granted a 30-day ex­ten­sion to re­main a fund­ing part­ner, which would come with it a price tag of about $260 mil­lion.

The cur­rent fund­ing for­mula for the 11.4-mile stretch of rail from Wiehle Av­enue in Fair­fax County through the air­port into Loudoun has toll road rev­enue pay­ing for 75 per­cent of Phase 2, with Fair­fax pay­ing 16.1 per­cent, Loudoun 4.8 per­cent, and the airports au­thor­ity 4.1 per­cent.

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Phase 2 of the Dulles Metro­rail project be­gins at the Wiehle Av­enue sta­tion in Fair­fax County. Fund­ing for the project is emerg­ing as a stick­ing point in Virginia’s two-year, $85 bil­lion spend­ing plan.

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