By Michael D. Shear and Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, March 27, 2006
The region's airports authority has reached a deal with Virginia officials to take control of the Dulles Toll Road and use the revenue to move quickly to build a Metrorail line to Dulles International Airport, sources familiar with the agreement said last night.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and the state's congressional delegation plan to announce the deal this morning in Richmond, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the papers were not signed.
The deal would remove much of the uncertainty surrounding the nearly $4 billion project to build a rail line through Tysons Corner, Reston, the airport and Loudoun County because the airports authority would assume responsibility for the state and federal portion of the cost. If the memorandum of understanding is signed today, it would give the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority the ability to guarantee that the train line would extend to Dulles -- a part of the project that is not fully funded.
"It's terrific," said one official very familiar with the negotiations.
But the deal carries broad implications for Northern Virginia commuters.
The agreement would salvage the Dulles rail project, which has struggled with costs and uncertainty under state control. The airports authority has said it can complete construction of the line by 2015. At the same time, the deal probably will mean higher tolls for drivers.
That prospect has angered Fairfax County officials.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said the agreement, which was described to him yesterday, "has promise." But he said the state has ignored the interests of commuters on the toll road.
"I've got constituents who will be paying tolls in perpetuity," Connolly said. "That's a long time. My constituents want some assurances that there is going to be some cap on the tolls they will be paying."
Connolly said he and other Fairfax officials had pushed for a way to raise concerns about tolls, but he said state officials ignored that request.
"Lost in the haste to accept a proposal are the interests of the commuters," Connolly said.
Aides to Kaine did not return calls last night. But his spokesman, Kevin Hall, said in a statement that "Governor Timothy M. Kaine and members of the Northern Virginia Congressional delegation will announce a significant step forward in the effort to extend Metrorail to Tysons Corner, Dulles International Airport, and Loudoun County."
Airports authority officials said in December that they would also put $360 million in improvements to the toll road. The authority already handles maintenance for the free Dulles Access Road. The deal would add the toll road to those responsibilities.
When the federal government decided to build Dulles Airport in the 1950s, it also acquired a 17-mile highway corridor to provide access to the airport. Today, the corridor includes the Dulles Toll Road and the Dulles Access Road. Virginia operates the toll road, which opened in 1984, under an agreement with the authority that runs until 2082.
The deal that state officials plan to announce today would cancel that agreement, and the toll road would come under control of the airports authority. Authority officials have said they would fund the state and federal share of the rail line by regularly raising tolls on drivers, but they have not provided any specifics about how often and how much they would raise prices.
Tolls rose in May to 75 cents at the main plaza and 50 cents at other ramps. The highway runs 12 miles between McLean and Loudoun County and generates $65 million annually.
Cost estimates for the rail project, essentially an extension of the Orange Line, have varied over time. A recent estimate for the total cost of the 23-mile line is $3.84 billion. The first phase, from West Falls Church through Tysons Corner to Wiehle Avenue in Reston, is expected to cost $1.8 billion. The second phase, which would stretch from Wiehle Avenue to the airport before ending at Route 772 in Loudoun, is estimated to cost $2 billion.
The funding plan for the project calls for the federal government to pay 50 percent, and for state and local communities to each pay 25 percent. The airports authority would cover the state and federal share; landowners along the first phase of the route have agreed to a special tax district to cover the local share.
By assuming both the state and federal share of the second phase, the authority would free the project from a lengthy federal approval process.
The airports authority, created in 1987 by the federal government to manage Dulles and Reagan National airports, proposed taking over construction of the project late last year after several private companies sought to take over operation of the toll road. Authority officials, concerned that the rail link to the airport would never be built, made their own offer.