Alliance Offers Plan To Fund Dulles Rail

By Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 25, 2005

A group of commercial property owners in the Reston-Herndon area has a plan for a special real estate tax to finance the second phase of Metrorail's planned extension to Dulles International Airport.

The Western Alliance for Rail to Dulles has proposed that commercial property owners pay the tax in three stages and that revenue from the tax be capped at $214 million.

The plan also builds in money-back safeguards for the property owners in the event the second phase of the project falls apart or is not funded by the federal government. Commercial property owners in the Tysons Corner area already have agreed to a tax to pay for the project's first phase, from West Falls Church to Tysons Corner. The second phase would go from Tysons to Reston, Herndon and the airport.

Members of the alliance said the plan, in the form of a petition, would be circulated among commercial property owners soon. The alliance needs 51 percent of the owners to sign the petition before it can go before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for consideration.

"There is no time frame for gathering the signatures," said Jeff Fairfield, the vice president of the alliance and a trustee for Launders Trust, a charitable trust with land holdings along the rail route. "I think we are all going into this with open eyes. This is not something you can accomplish in a week or two. This takes months."

The plan calls for an initial tax rate of five cents for each $100 of assessed value that would go into effect when the first phase of the project received federal funding and regulatory approval, according to a summary of the plan released by the alliance.

The second of three tax rates would be 22 cents for each $100 of assessed value and would kick in if the Federal Transit Administration recommended to Congress funding the plan for rail service from Tysons to Dulles. The third tax rate -- as much as 29 cents for each $100 of assessed value -- would begin if the second phase of the project received federal funding and regulatory approval.

"This is another piece of good news for rail to Dulles," said Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. "We are almost finished with preliminary engineering studies, we have one tax district in place already collecting revenue and, hopefully, we will get another in the western portion of the district approved."

Ken Reid, leader of a group that supports a dedicated busway, arguing it would be cheaper to build and just as efficient as rail, said: "I think the fact that they want to start at five cents per $100 and scale up shows that they are pretty much confident that the project is not going to be built in the second phase. And I don't blame them. There is a lot of consternation about the first phase."

The cost of extending Metro's Orange Line from West Falls Church through Tysons Corner and to Dulles has been estimated at as much as $2.4 billion, although last month project managers revised the plans to reduce the projected cost to $1.8 billion.

Planners of the 23-mile rail line have split the construction project into two phases out of cost concerns. Half of the money would come from the federal government, about one-fourth from tolls on the Dulles Toll Road and other state revenue, and one-fourth from commercial property owners along the route.

Property owners in the tax district along the route for the first phase of the project have agreed to pay an extra 22 cents for each $100 of assessed value this year and coming years to finance the county's portion of the bill.

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