McCain Pledge Sought For Dulles Rail Project

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Virginia congressional leaders are lobbying Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to make a commitment, before next month's election, to support funding for extending Metrorail to Dulles International Airport, one of the Washington region's top transportation priorities.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va), both of whom are retiring, are appealing to their longtime colleague to publicly back the Metro expansion, which has a rocky history with Bush administration officials. This year, federal officials voiced concerns that nearly sank the project, the first phase of which would stretch through Tysons Corner. Federal officials have since given the project a series of approvals.

"It's the nation's subway," Davis said. "Hopefully, I can get the senator, when he comes back here, to commit."

McCain was also one of two dozen senators who voted last week against a bill that included Davis's proposal to authorize $1.5 billion in dedicated funding to Metro over 10 years. The provision was part of broader rail safety and Amtrak funding legislation.

Davis said that he was disappointed with McCain's vote but that he thinks McCain's opposition was directed more at Amtrak.

A statement from the McCain campaign, however, targeted the Metro funding as well as Amtrak. "Senator McCain strongly objects to earmarks in the bill such as a $1.5 billion earmark for the Washington . . . Metro system and questions if this money is warranted above the needs that may exist among other mass transit systems in our country," the statement says. "With the serious financial situation facing our nation, this [multibillion-dollar] commitment of taxpayers' dollars can [be] dedicated to addressing far more important national priorities." The Dulles rail issue was not addressed.

Yesterday, several Democratic officials from Northern Virginia, including Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille, a member of the Metro board, and Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette, stood before a partisan crowd at the Clarendon Metro station to slam McCain for his vote.

One person in the crowd held a sign that said, "McCain = More Traffic." (A drive-by heckler yelled: "Don't believe them! Politicians lie like everyone else!")

"He doesn't understand the reality of the people who live here," Fisette said. "I'll meet him at his home in Crystal City, and we can take the Blue Line together."

McCain and his wife, Cindy, have a condominium apartment in Arlington, which is also home to his campaign headquarters.

Arlington Democrats said they were using the Metro vote to help spur a lopsided turnout for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who voted for the funding. Democratic leaders are seeking an 80 percent turnout for Obama in the county to make up for areas downstate that observers predict will break solidly for McCain.

Jim Dinegar, president and chief executive of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, said he, too, was disappointed with McCain's vote on dedicated funding, which requires matching funds from the District, Maryland and Virginia.

The District has set aside a portion of its sales tax revenue for its share, and Maryland's portion is included in the state's capital transportation budget. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) has said Virginia will come up with its share, but officials have not indicated from where.

Dinegar said he was primarily focused on the rush of good news about Metro. "I was happy it passed, so I didn't follow up on the 'no' voters," he said.

He said he expects the new funding bill to replace years of "piecemeal" improvements to Metro with a more comprehensive approach. "Decisions can be made several years out. That's just good business," Dinegar said.

He also said both presidential candidates have a direct stake in Metro's future. "It is a transit system that moves more federal workers than any other transit system in the United States," Dinegar said. "Regardless of who wins, the majority of the next administration's workforce will be taking Metrobuses and Metrorail to work."

Fisette also blasted weekend comments by McCain's brother, Joe, who quipped Saturday that Arlington and Alexandria are "communist country." Fisette said he was disturbed by the remark.

"It's his brother, so it's not him. But it's offensive," he said, adding that, "too many times over the last eight years" Democrats have been called "unpatriotic" for opposing the Iraq war and taking other national security stands.

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