Va. transportation chief Sean Connaughton lays out position on Silver Line

Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton, speaking Wednesday morning about the future of Metro’s Silver Line, said that eliminating pro-labor incentives from the next construction contract is critical to ensuring the state’s promised $150 million contribution to the project.

Connaughton and about 75 local politicians and business leaders attended the “State of Rail to Loudoun” breakfast, sponsored by the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce at the Washington Dulles Airport Marriott hotel.

The first part of the 23-mile Silver Line, which will run through Tysons Corner to Wiehle Avenue, is under construction and is expected to be completed in August 2013. Construction of the second part of the project is expected to start next spring and will run from Reston to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County.

But already there have been delays in starting the process to get bids on the second part of the project.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), which is overseeing construction of the $6 billion Silver Line, appears unwilling to change an incentive that it put into a labor agreement for the second phase.

That has stalled Virginia from giving its share of money for the construction because of a bill that passed the General Assembly preventing Virginia from giving money for the Silver Line if there were labor incentives in place. Some officials believe the MWAA’s labor agreement violates the state’s right-to-work policy.

The MWAA board is expected to discuss the issue at its Wednesday meeting.

There are also concerns among Loudoun supervisors over the labor agreement and the project’s cost. Officials in Loudoun have until July 4 to decide whether they are in or out on helping to pay for the project.

“We’ve always said we’re going to give $150 million,” Connaughton said Wednesday, just before the breakfast started. “The issue is, we can’t give them that money or provide any other money if there is a labor agreement or preference given in the procurement.”

He said the $150 million is not due to the project until 2013.

“Virginia is committed to this project,” he said. “We are going to provide these funds as long as it doesn’t violate any of our laws.”

The Silver Line is being paid for with funds from the federal and state governments, Fairfax and Loudoun counties and revenue from the Dulles Toll Road.

“Virginia is a right-to-work state,” Connaughton said. “This is not a federal project. This is a state project with state funds and taxpayer and toll payer funds. Therefore, we want our laws to be respected.”

At the Wednesday event, Stephen Fuller, an economist at George Mason University, said Loudoun County would lose $72.2 billion in economic benefit if the Silver Line doesn’t run to Loudoun.

With the rail service, Fuller said that 40,000 professional and business service jobs would come to Loudoun. Without it, the area would remain more of a bedroom community, he said.

Fuller said he did not charge his normal consulting fees for doing the study, but a $15,000 donation was given to the George Mason University Foundation by the Claude Moore Foundation, which owns a large parcel of land near the Silver Line that it is beginning to sell to developers.

Connaughton also told the audience that he wants to work to “keep these toll rates down.”

“It is no good to us if people divert off the toll road,” he said. “I’ll have to put greater investment in Fairfax County Parkway and Route 7. It also ends up undermining the financial wherewithal of the toll road to support rail.”

Ken Reid, a Loudoun supervisor from Leesburg, said he isn’t sure how the Loudoun board will vote on whether to support helping to pay for the second phase of the Silver Line.

He said the new rail line doesn’t relieve traffic congestion in the area because it is expected that there will be more people driving in the future.

“It is a costly alternative,” he said of the Silver Line. “Loudoun County will be tethered to the Metro board. We’re not going to get a seat on their board, and we’d have to pay for their mismanagement of Metro’s capital improvements.”

Dana Hedgpeth is a Post reporter, working the early morning, reporting on traffic, crime and other local issues.
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