Group Ends Suit to Block Planned Metro Line to Dulles

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 27, 2008

The group seeking competitive bidding for construction of the planned Metro extension to Dulles International Airport has withdrawn a federal lawsuit seeking to block the project., a coalition of McLean area businesses and residents, said yesterday that the urgency of court action has been lessened by the Federal Transit Administration's announcement in January that it could not fund the $5 billion, 23-mile extension unless the contractor and state officials make fundamental changes.

"It seems like FTA has made the case back to Virginia that there are a number of concerns that need to be addressed," said Scott Monett, the group's president. "And we believe many of our concerns are addressed in what was mentioned."

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and FTA Administrator James S. Simpson told Virginia officials Jan. 24 that they could not provide $900 million for construction without drastic changes in the management of the project. Their concerns included rapidly escalating cost, the ability of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to manage the construction, and Metro's capacity to integrate the extension into a transit system plagued by underfunding and a mounting backlog of critical repairs.

Dulles Transit Partners, a consortium led by Bechtel, bid several years ago on the design of the project under the auspices of Virginia's Public-Private Transportation Act. The law allowed the state to negotiate a construction contract with the consortium without competition, although a portion of the subcontracting jobs would be competitively bid.

Monett's group opposes the design for the project, which calls for the Tysons Corner segment to be an elevated track, not a tunnel. It sees the FTA's reluctance to fund the venture in its current form as an opening to rebid the project competitively, reviving the chances for a tunnel in Tysons.

There were, however, other considerations behind the withdrawal of the suit, filed Nov. 27 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. Most important, it had limited support from tunnel backers. The day after the suit was filed, the plaintiff, Ratner Cos., withdrew. WestGroup, a key Tysons Corner landowner that had contributed more than $3 million to, issued a statement disavowing any role in the litigation.

The firm, whose redevelopment plans for its Tysons holdings depend heavily on a tunnel, said it did not want to jeopardize the rail project in the interest of an underground segment through the business and retail hub. WestGroup's exit forced Monett to seek other funds for legal expenses.

"It was a decision based on a number of factors," Monett said of withdrawing the suit. "It seemed like FTA was doing the right thing anyway. Why spend the dollars at this point on a legal strategy when it may not be necessary?"

There also is increasing speculation that the matter might be put on hold until after the November elections.

State and federal officials are continuing to negotiate the future of the project. FTA spokesman Wes Irvin said yesterday that the airports authority and the Virginia Department of Transportation have submitted significant amounts of new information to the agency to salvage the $900 million grant.

"They're still working together to review all the information," said Irvin, who offered no timetable for a resolution.

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