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LaHood commends MWAA’s progess on reform

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Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Wednesday praised leaders of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority for their efforts to restore public confidence after a series of damaging revelations about top MWAA officials.

Appearing at a meeting of the authority’s board of directors, he said MWAA officials are making meaningful reforms.

“There’s been a lot of progress here,” he said. “The changes that have been made here are important to ensure there is credibility here at MWAA.”

Just months ago, LaHood was among the MWAA’s toughest critics, blasting the board for secretive dealings and demanding that it sever no-bid contracts given to former colleagues. LaHood appointed an accountability officer to give him regular reports on the authority, which is responsible for managing the $5.6 billion Silver Line rail project as well as Dulles International and Reagan National airports.

LaHood’s endorsement is especially significant because it comes as the authority is hoping to secure billions in federal loans to fund the Silver Line, which will provide a Metrorail link to Dulles Airport.

The bulk of the project’s cost is expected to come from revenue from the Dulles Toll Road, which the MWAA also manages. But if the MWAA can secure federal loans, officials will be able to hold off on toll increases. Last year, the board voted to increase tolls on the road this year and in 2014, but it delayed a decision about 2015 in hopes that it would be able to get federal assistance. On Wednesday, LaHood hinted that the MWAA had a good chance of securing funding but would not say when a decision would be made or how much it might receive.

Construction on the first phase of the Silver Line, which will extend from East Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue in Reston, is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Northern Virginia leaders have long pushed for the rail project, viewing it as boost for economic development in the region.

LaHood’s appearance livened up an otherwise routine proceeding in which the board received updates on inauguration preparations and a status report on the Silver Line.

The board’s audit-legal committee also was briefed on audits of vendors who manage airport shuttle and parking concessions. An audit of the contractor responsible for tracking down toll violators raised questions about the number of violations that are dismissed without any payment.

MWAA officials said they would not release the name of the contractors or detail any financial information, citing confidentiality concerns.

In addition to praising the MWAA leadership, LaHood swore in two new federal appointees, Nina Mitchell Wells and William Shaw McDermott, to the board. The District’s new representative, Joslyn Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO, also took his seat on the 17-member board for the first time. He was appointed by D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D).

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