Some current and former board members are urging the authority to shelve the project considering the storm of public debate over the authority’s management of the second phase of the Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport. County and state officials and members of Congress have hammered the board over the project’s rising cost.
“It’s a terrible signal,” said former Northern Virginia congressman Tom Davis, who officially joined the board after the vote to set aside budget funds for the expansion. “We’re fast becoming an authority that appears to be more about the business of the board than about the business of running the airports. We have more important things to worry about than having a boardroom that’s more comfortable.”
The three-story, 5,800-square-foot expansion of One Aviation Circle at National Airport would include more space for the board and several rooms labeled as executive offices that have no designated purpose. Quince T. Brinkley, the board’s secretary, said it would be up to the authority’s new chief executive, John E. “Jack” Potter, to decide how to use the space. Potter, who took over last week, declined to comment, a spokesman said, because he is still being briefed on the authority’s projects.
Board members who have pressed for the expansion say the current space is cramped and awkward. Members sit around a conference table with their backs to the audience, making it difficult for others in the room to follow the discussion.
“I think the public is entitled to see and hear what’s going on,” said board member Robert Clarke Brown, who is treasurer of Case Western Reserve University. “What we want to get to is more of a room that is like a city council room or a congressional hearing room.”
Standing room only
For two decades, there was a limited audience for the work of the airports authority, which oversees the publicly owned Dulles and Reagan airports. That changed in 2008 when the authority took control of the Dulles Toll Road and one of the nation’s largest mass transit projects to build a 23-mile rail line through Tysons Corner to Dulles and into Loudoun County.
To accommodate the burgeoning interest in its work, Brinkley said, the board signed off in December on $7.2 million in its 2011 budget for the expansion. Brinkley said plans were drawn up in response to concerns from board members and the authority’s fire chief about standing-room-only crowds at twice-monthly meetings.
Board member William W. Cobey Jr., a former North Carolina congressman, also said the current setup is not ideal for the audience or board members.