Opinions

Virginia’s commitment to Dulles rail

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.

Earlier in the session, Senate Democrats opposed my proposal to shift hundreds of millions of additional dollars annually to transportation. As a result, the commonwealth could not even contemplate an additional $300 million for Dulles rail or any other project this year without raiding other essential projects in Northern Virginia and throughout the state.

I want to make clear that, despite the Senate’s recent maneuverings, my administration is firmly committed to the timely completion and competent management of Phase 2 of the Dulles rail project. My administration has pledged $150 million to mitigate the projected toll increases over the next two years. We remain concerned about the finances of the project and want to ensure that all taxpayer dollars are used wisely. We intend to work with the funding partners on ways to reduce costs and refine financing plans to mitigate toll increases.

Finally, I want to address the idea that Northern Virginia is not receiving its “fair share” of transportation funding. Northern Virginia receives 75 percent of the state’s transit operating funds and 96 percent of transit capital funds. In other words, Northern Virginia will receive $272 million, or 87 percent, out of the $314 million available for transit over the next six years across the entire commonwealth. Additionally, Virginia has contributed or will contribute: $275 million to Phase 1 of Dulles rail; $150 million to Phase 2; $400 million for the Beltway express lanes project; $100 million for the Interstate 95 express lanes project; and hundreds of millions more for other Northern Virginia transportation projects. The commonwealth does invest in Northern Virginia, although we all know more must be done.

The $150 million the commonwealth has committed to Phase 2 is not required to be paid until 2013. Over the next year, we will work to get the politics out of this project and implement recent changes to federal and state law, as well as to improve accountability, management and value engineering. Only after we accomplish these goals and restore accountability can we approach the General Assembly for additional funds for Dulles rail.

The writer, a Republican, is governor of Virginia.

 
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