A Virginia legislative committee took the first step today in an ambitious plan to create a regional authority with Maryland and the District to operate National and Dulles International airports.
"It can be done. I'm not asking you for a step in futility," said former Virginia governor Linwood Holton, chairman of a federal study commission that recommended in December that Congress give control of the airports to the new authority.
Holton, who is scheduled to appear before a state Senate committee Tuesday, is pressing for quick approval by Virginia and the District to offset criticism from Maryland officials, who are complaining that their state has been given too little say in the proposed authority.
Holton also told the House Privileges and Elections Committee that "Congress is in no position" to spend millions of dollars on the airports because of the country's rising deficits. "The momentum is building" for passage of enabling legislation to establish the regional authority, he said.
"I don't think there are any holes in this concept," he said moments before the committee voted 17 to 0 for enabling legislation.
Holton's commission, appointed by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Hanford Dole last summer, recommended a Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, consisting of five members from Virginia, three from the District, two from Maryland and one chosen by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
If approved by Congress and the local governments, the authority expects to issue about $200 million in bonds to help pay for improvements at Dulles, including a new terminal, and to improve access to the traffic-clogged roads and terminals at National.
The proposal faces an uncertain future because of Maryland's complaints and the longtime personal interest that members of Congress and the Supreme Court have taken in National because of the easy access and preferential treatment they get there.
Now, "any member of Congress almost by himself can block any development at either place," Holton said.
Del. V. Earl Dickenson (D-Louisa) raised one of the few critical questions today, recalling that for a long time, Dulles -- built in the early 1960s -- was seen as a "white elephant" and that only revenues from National kept it going.
"I think Dulles is no longer a white elephant," Holton said, "but has the potential to be a tremendous moneymaker."
The house bill is being sponsored by minority leader Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax). The nearly identical Senate measure was introduced by Sen. Clive L. DuVal II (D-Fairfax), chairman of the Northern Virginia caucus.
The measure approved today is only one of several Dulles bills introduced in this session of the legislature.
Gov. Charles S. Robb, a fiscal conservative, has proposed spending $4 million to help complete architectural and development plans for a new midfield terminal at Dulles, although it is still a federal facility. Another measure seeks about $200,000 in additional state funds for advertising the airport, which is locked in a promotional fight with Maryland's BWI.