Auditor is expected on Dulles rail project

By Derek Kravitz
Wednesday, December 8, 2010

An independent auditor will probably be appointed to oversee Metrorail's extension to Loudoun County as the costs of the 23-mile line to Dulles International Airport and beyond continue to climb , according to U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.).

Wolf, a 16-term congressman whose district encompasses much of the so-called Silver Line route, wrote Tuesday to Charles D. Snelling, board chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, urging him to appoint a group of auditors to conduct independent investigations and report to the board on a quarterly basis.

He pointed to cost overruns involving other transportation projects, including Boston's $22 billion "Big Dig" and the scrapped Hudson River train tunnel between New Jersey and New York City.

"I do not want the Dulles rail project to become Virginia's version of the 'Big Dig,' " he wrote.

Airports officials, who are tasked with building the rail extension by December 2016, say they expect costs to plummet when portions of the second phase of the line - from Reston to Loudoun - are competitively bid next year. But in a short statement, Snelling said he shared Wolf's "interest in cost controls and has long intended to include independent audit oversight in the implementation of phase two of the rail project."

"We look forward to meeting with Mr. Wolf to pursue our common objectives in this regard," Snelling said. The informal agreement between the two parties would likely result "in some form of an auditor being used," Wolf said Tuesday night.

The use of an outside auditor on the second phase of the Northern Virginia construction project is the first significant action taken since a consultant's report released in September found that the entire line could cost $1.3 billion more than original estimates.

The first phase is costing $2.75 billion, the authority said. Early estimates had placed costs of the 11.5-mile second phase in the same range. The latest calculations increase the cost by at least $690 million and potentially twice as much.

Those overruns could mean higher rates on the Dulles Toll Road, a source of funding for the project. Tolls are scheduled to increase by 25 cents at the main toll plaza Jan. 1 and again in 2012.

Also complicating matters is the placement of the Metro stop at Dulles, which is tentatively slated to include two miles of tunnels and an underground station. Moving the station aboveground and away from the terminal would save at least $640 million, engineers say. A consultant working on the project has argued the station could be built underground without the extra costs. A decision is expected by January.

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