The D.C. Council on Tuesday approved an expansion of the board of the regional transportation authority overseeing the construction of a $5.6 billion Silver Line rail extension.
Under the measure, the board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority will grow to 17 members from 13, with the District and Maryland each receiving an additional seat and Virginia getting two.
The council also voted to approve Barbara Lang, the president and chief executive of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, to fill the District’s new seat on the board.
The bill represents a compromise among regional leaders. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), who sponsored the legislation in Congress, originally sought to give all four seats — and thus majority control of the board — to Virginia. But leaders in the District and Maryland opposed that effort.
Elected officials in Virginia — particularly Wolf and Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) — have aggressively pushed for the state to have more influence on the regional board. They argue that Reagan National Airport, Dulles International Airport and the Dulles Toll Road, which the MWAA oversees, are located in Virginia and so the state should have a bigger say. But District officials maintain that the rail extension, the airports, the toll road and the planned Silver Line are regional assets used by residents across the metropolitan area.
“The airports are without a doubt regional facilities,” said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. “I am concerned about how the District has been treated in the comments made by some representatives of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Congress and the Virginia General Assembly have passed bills to increase the size of the board, which is made up of appointees from the District, Maryland, Virginia and the federal government. But additional board members could not be seated until the District approved its legislation. Maryland officials do not have a vote on the change because the state was not part of the compact that created the MWAA.
Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who along with members Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) and Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) voted against the expansion, said he was concerned that the District would lose influence.
But Mendelson and other council members said they hope that the bill’s passage will put to rest Virginia’s demands for more representation.
That hope could be short-lived. This summer, Wolf introduced legislation that would reduce the size of the board to nine members and give Virginia six of the seats.
However, what is clear is that change is coming to the panel. When it meets this month, the District’s new representative, Lang, 68, will join three newcomers from Virginia: Caren Merrick, 52, of McLean; Lynn Chapman, 51, of Ashburn; and Elaine McConnell, 85, of Springfield. Maryland officials have not yet named a new board member.
Merrick, a businesswoman, is replacing Dennis Martire, a labor leader, who announced last month that he would step down. His resignation is part of a confidential agreement to settle a lawsuit he filed against McDonnell after the governor tried to oust him from the board in June.
MWAA leaders hope the new faces will help the board put the troubles of the past few months behind it. Board Chairman Michael Curto, one of two Maryland representatives on the panel, has noted that several members whose expenses were cited as questionable in a critical interim report by a federal inspector general are no longer on the board or will step down soon.