2 Top Republicans Try to Jump-Start Dulles Rail Plan, Raising Some Hopes

Eric Cantor, deputy House minority whip.
Eric Cantor, deputy House minority whip. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
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By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 16, 2008

Two Republican leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives have asked the Transportation Department to move forward with the "critically important" but struggling plan to extend Metrorail to Dulles International Airport.

Minority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) sent Transportation Secretary Mary Peters a letter this week, saying: "It is vitally important that this project move forward. Open dialogue between Virginia and the Department of Transportation will make certain that lawmakers are best able to alleviate the burden of increasing traffic congestion and transportation demands across the entire national capital region."

The request comes at a time when the project's fate is uncertain, and it creates hope among advocates that an announcement last month from Peters and the Federal Transit Administration that the project is unfit for federal funding might not be the last word.

Advocates were particularly heartened that two Republican leaders were weighing in amid concern that partisan politics might be playing a role in the Republican administration's rejection of the project.

Peters and FTA chief James S. Simpson said last month that their concerns centered on the project's rising cost and questions about whether the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority would be able to manage the $5 billion project and whether Metro is prepared to operate the 23-mile extension of the Orange Line.

But advocates of the project have wondered aloud whether the Bush administration's strong support of private investment in transportation projects also played a role. Some have also wondered whether a Republican administration might be reluctant to commit such a large share of the limited funding available for transit to a project that will benefit a region dominated by Democrats.

Virginia is counting on $900 million in federal money to help pay for the project's first phase, which would extend Metrorail from the East Falls Church station through Tysons Corner to Wiehle Avenue in Reston at a cost of $2.5 billion. The second phase would extend the line to the airport and beyond in Loudoun County.

The line is expected to reduce the growth in traffic along Route 7 and on the Dulles Toll Road. It is also viewed as an economic development tool in Tysons and along the Dulles corridor.

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