Second phase of Silver Line project sees costs soar

Drivers near the intersection of Chain Bridge Road and the Capital Beltway will have good views of the Dulles rail project construction.
Drivers near the intersection of Chain Bridge Road and the Capital Beltway will have good views of the Dulles rail project construction. (Sarah L. Voisin/the Washington Post)
Buy Photo
By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 16, 2010

The second part of Metrorail's extension from Falls Church to Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County could cost

as much as $1.3 billion more than original estimates, which may mean higher rates for people who use the Dulles Toll Road.

The new estimate was provided Wednesday to members of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is overseeing construction. The first phase is costing $2.75 billion, the authority said. Early estimates had placed costs of the second phase in the same range. The new price range increases the cost by at least $690 million and potentially twice as much.

The biggest question mark is the placement of the Metrorail stop at Dulles -- beneath the airport's main terminal as planned or aboveground and farther from the main gates. The move would save $640 million, engineers said. Consultants are now evaluating where an outdoor station could be located.

If the underground station, with its two miles of tunneling, is not scrapped, the cost of the 23-mile extension, which is being constructed in two phases, could balloon to nearly $6.6 billion. Although the higher cost estimate was anticipated, members of the airports authority's board took a "deep breath" upon hearing of the higher numbers, said Mame Reiley, chairman of the board's Dulles Metrorail finance committee.

"Everybody is hoping the numbers will get better," said Pat Nowakowski, executive director for the Dulles rail project. "We're going to look at ways to save money in the design of it, and we think we'll get very competitive bids for this project. This is an estimate. The real project budget will come when we have firm building numbers in hand."

Staff members for Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) plan to meet with airports authority officials within the next week to review the estimate and "see what can be done to make sure this critical project becomes a reality," said Stacey Johnson, McDonnell's spokeswoman.

Covering the increased costs of the second phase would likely require additional increases to fares on the Dulles Toll Road. "The new estimates could definitely affect what toll increases will be down the road," said Tara Hamilton, an airports authority spokeswoman.

In January, the toll road's rates increased by 25 cents, to $1, at the main plaza and to 75 cents at ramps. It was the first in a series of rate increases that will double costs by 2012.

Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York (I) said that he would push for the aboveground Dulles Metro stop and that bidding would be a "whole lot more competitive" on the second phase than on the first phase. But York said he was "very concerned about putting any extra burden on the folks who travel on the toll road. They're already paying an arm and a leg."

The plan to extend Metro's rail service deep into Northern Virginia was first developed in 2002 by state and airports officials. The airports authority, which independently manages Reagan National and Dulles airports, took over the project in 2007 and began moving forward with plans for the first stretch of rail from Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue in Reston.

About $900 million in federal funding came through in March 2009 for the first five stations, extending service to the growing Tysons Corner corridor and Reston. Construction on those stations is about 20 percent complete and is scheduled to be finished in 2013, officials said. The rail line is projected to carry as many as 60,000 riders a day, providing relief for many of the traffic-jammed drivers who commute from the outer suburbs to Tysons and the District.

The second phase of the project, covering 11 1/2 miles and six stations, does not have federal funding. It is expected to be completed by December 2016. Toll road funds are expected to cover nearly 53 percent of the entire project's costs. Other funding sources include a special landowners' tax district along the Dulles corridor in Fairfax County, a business licenses tax in Loudoun County and a one-time, $275 million contribution from Virginia.

The new cost estimate was prepared by a team of consultants performing the preliminary engineering for the Silver Line's last six stations, a group headed by Parsons Brinkerhoff Inc. and AECOM. Their work on the second phase of the Dulles Metro extension is expected to be completed by March.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company