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Fairfax Calls for Competitive Bidding

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By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Fairfax Board of Supervisors asked the state yesterday to seriously consider competitive bidding for construction of a Metrorail expansion through Tysons Corner to Dulles International Airport, charging that the current contractors have stripped crucial features from the project but retained excessive profit margins.

Virginia hired Dulles Transit Partners, a consortium of Bechtel Corp. and Washington Group International Inc., to build the 23-mile, $4 billion line. Construction on the first half of the project, from West Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue in Reston, is scheduled to start late next year, with the full extension to Dulles scheduled for completion by 2015.

State officials said they chose to build the project under a law that allows such public-private partnerships because the process is faster and more cost-efficient than the traditional competitive bid model.

But the board, which has expressed unhappiness in the past about Dulles Transit Partners, said in a resolution yesterday that the project's estimated costs "are clearly driven by excessively high rates of profit, indirect costs and overhead" approaching 40 percent of the total price tag.

At the same time, supervisors said, crucial pedestrian features, including elevators, escalators and walking bridges, have been eliminated. The board asked state officials to exercise what it described as the commonwealth's option to open the project to competitive bidding.

"It goes to the issue of how this contract has been managed from the start," said Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), a leading critic of Dulles Transit Partners and one of the resolution's sponsors.

In a statement yesterday, Dulles Transit Partners Executive Director Roger Picard disputed the accuracy of some board assertions. He said that Bechtel and Washington Group International were selected through a competitive process and that pedestrian bridges, escalators and elevators remain in the designs for all of the Tysons stations.

At the last minute, the board changed the original wording of its motion, which called on Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) to impose competitive bidding on the Dulles project. Supervisors removed Kaine's name after Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) asked that the board avoid "a confrontational posture" with the governor.

Yesterday's move by supervisors is the latest clash between the board and Dulles Transit Partners. Also this month, Kaine rejected a plan to build the four-mile Tysons segment of the line below ground, rather than on an elevated track running down Chain Bridge Road and Leesburg Pike. Supporters of the underground plan, including Fairfax officials, Tysons landowners and business leaders, regarded the tunnel as more conducive to the creation of a walkable urban environment.

Tunnel supporters said Bechtel, which stood to lose at least part of the job had the tunnel option been approved, lobbied aggressively to block the plan. A company spokesman has denied the contention.

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