Phase 2 of the Dulles rail project is a critical transportation project, and I fully support its timely completion. The congestion relief and transportation options that will be brought about by this project, as well as the economic development opportunities, are vital to the future prosperity of my old home of Northern Virginia.
Unfortunately, the project has been marked by many controversies, ranging from escalated costs, the prospect of soaring tolls on the Dulles Toll Road, legal and labor issues, and the overall accountability, membership and transparency of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA). Through the combined efforts of the project’s funding partners — Fairfax County, Loudoun County, MWAA, the U.S. Transportation Department and the commonwealth — we have made tremendous strides in resolving many of these issues.
Consequently, in December, the funding partners, led by the U.S. and Virginia transportation secretaries, executed a memorandum of agreement for Phase 2. This agreement addressed many of the cost and design issues, and led to more than $1 billion in savings below preliminary estimates. This returns the project close to its original estimate of $2.7 billion.
While the agreement was a major accomplishment, obstacles remain.
First, my predecessor’s administration turned the Dulles rail project over to MWAA to manage. Of great concern to Virginia is that a majority of MWAA’s governing board are from the District, Maryland and outside the region, yet the overwhelming majority of the funds needed for Dulles rail come from Virginia taxpayers and Dulles Toll Road users. Late last year, President Obama signed into law changes to the governance structure of MWAA that were proposed by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.). Virginia gained two new board members, and increased accountability was brought to MWAA’s budget and bond issuances. I recently signed legislation conforming Virginia law to these federal changes. We are still trying to bring MWAA into compliance with these statutory changes.
Another challenge is MWAA’s declared intent to include a bonus or preference for bids from union contractors with a project labor agreement (PLA) during Phase 2 procurement. Virginia is a right-to-work state, and the General Assembly has passed legislation prohibiting the required use of such agreements, or discriminating in favor of union-preference procurements, on projects funded wholly or in part by the commonwealth. The commonwealth will not be able to provide any funds to Phase 2 if MWAA includes a project labor agreement preference.
Third, Phase 2 funding also became a political football in the final days of the 2012 General Assembly session as part of a partisan strategy to obstruct passage of the state budget. Senate Democrats voted an unprecedented three times against the budget, using a variety of pretexts, of which one was funding for Dulles rail. Phase 2 was approved by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) years ago with no state funding except for the revenue from the Dulles Toll Road. Until last month, Senate Democrats made no complaints about toll rates or requested additional Dulles rail funding.