Back From the Dead?

Of­fi­cials should get crack­ing to re­vive Dulles rail.

The Washington Post - - Letters To The Editor -

FED­ERAL trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials who all but de­liv­ered the coup de grace to the planned Metro­rail ex­ten­sion to Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port have come un­der tough crit­i­cism from some mem­bers of Congress, and not just those with con­stituents in North­ern Vir­ginia. Ap­par­ently shaken, they seem will­ing to hold off on a fi­nal de­ci­sion to bury the project. Of­fi­cials should seize on this pause to re­vive a project crit­i­cal to the Wash­ing­ton area and one of the na­tion’s key air­ports.

It’s clear from the de­tails that have trick­led out that there’s plenty of blame for last week’s de­ba­cle — be­tween the feds who had been ex­pected to pro­vide $900 mil­lion and lo­cal en­ti­ties in­volved in get­ting the $5 bil­lion, 23-mile rail ex­ten­sion built. There’s no ques­tion that fed­eral of­fi­cials gave con­flict­ing sig­nals, lead­ing Metro, the air­ports author­ity and Vir­ginia state of­fi­cials to think the project would be ap­proved. But lo­cal of­fi­cials were not with­out fault. As re­cently as Jan. 16, a Metro of­fi­cial wrote a let­ter warn­ing that the tran­sit agency would not take fi­nal con­trol of the new rail from the air­ports author­ity (which was to over­see con­struc­tion) un­less a num­ber of prob­lems were re­solved. Need­less to say, that gave the Fed­eral Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion rea­son to ques­tion the sound­ness of the man­age- ment struc­ture for such a mas­sive project and the wis­dom of fund­ing it.

All of that is wa­ter un­der the bridge. What’s im­por­tant is that ex­tend­ing Metro to the air­port serves the in­ter­ests of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment as well as North­ern Vir­ginia. Not only do fed­eral work­ers and con­trac­tors need easy ac­cess to the air­port, the gov­ern­ment’s se­cu­rity de­pends upon hav­ing a mul­ti­tude of op­tions for evac­u­a­tion in case of ter­ror­ist at­tack. Hope­fully cooler heads will pre­vail in the com­ing days, and of­fi­cials can go back to the draw­ing board.

Al­ready, some breath­ing room has been pro­vided by the con­trac­tors, who agreed to a month’s post­pone­ment on a con­tract set to go into ef­fect to­mor­row. Of­fi­cials should now fo­cus on re­solv­ing tasks such as en­sur­ing longterm cap­i­tal fund­ing for Metro (im­per­iled partly by a sin­gle sen­a­tor, Repub­li­can Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who doesn’t mind sac­ri­fic­ing the re­gion’s tran­sit in­fra­struc­ture on the al­tar of ide­ol­ogy); pro­vid­ing Metro with more in­put on de­sign and con­struc­tion; and re­vis­it­ing the de­sign and fi­nanc­ing ar­range­ments.

The rail ex­ten­sion’s obituaries were writ­ten last week, in­clud­ing one by us. But if there re­mains even a whisker of a chance of res­ur­rect­ing the project, of­fi­cials should seize it.

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