Tolls Still a Sticking Point in Dulles Rail Project
Friday, May 04, 2012 - 05:26 PM
A Virginia citizens group says the most critical issue surrounding the construction of Phase 2 of Metro's Silver Line to Dulles Airport is tolls.
A pro-union provision proposed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) received most of the attention this week when federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood held a closed-door meeting with the Silver Line stakeholders to try to resolve disputes over the $2.7 billion dollar project. The Reston Citizens Association, which represents 58,000 residents in Fairfax County, says the controversy over whether bidding contractors should receive a preference for choosing union labor is not as important as toll projections on the Dulles Toll Road. Those tolls are supposed to pay off the project’s debt over the next forty years under the current funding structure.
In a letter sent Friday to Secretary LaHood, Terry Maynard, who sits on the association’s board of directors, said this week’s efforts to resolve the dispute over union labor “barely touch on the most critical issue of the construction of Phase 2 of the Silver Line: three-quarters of the cost of Phase 2 of the rail line’s construction will be borne by the 100,000 or so users of the Dulles Toll Road, many of them Reston residents. The result will be that toll road users will end up paying more than half of the nearly six billion dollar total cost of the Silver Line.”
In an interview with WAMU, Maynard said projected high tolls are one of many outstanding issues surrounding Phase 2 of the largest mass transit project in the country at the moment.
“It is not being addressed. That’s specifically the reason why I wrote this letter on behalf of our committee to Secretary LaHood,” said Maynard, who said motorists' tolls would pay for three-quarters of the project's cost unless the funding structure is changed.
“We’ve always called for toll road users to pay a quarter of the cost. This goes back to the 2004 federal environmental impact statement that had that percentage in it,” he said.
In his letter, Maynard said “a regular commuter who now pays less than $1,000 per year in tolls will see that cost rise to more than $8,000 per year in 2048 or more than $3,000 per year by 2028 in today’s dollars.”
Virginia Delegate Barbara Comstock (R), who sponsored legislation to withdraw her state’s funding commitment over the pro-union provision, said Phase 2 will not happen if MWAA maintains a PLA, or project labor agreement, which would give contractors a ten percent bonus on their technical evaluation scores if they opt for a union workforce.
“The law requires that they have to have a level playing field to compete. It is not something that negotiable,” she said. “The governor has said from the outset that they would have to have a level playing field.”
An MWAA spokeswoman said CEO Jack Potter was not available for comment today, but she did release a statement.
“We’re working with our partners on the PLA issue and no decisions have been made regarding tolls at this time,” said MWAA spokeswoman Kimberly Gibbs.
Comstock said no major decisions should be made about Phase 2’s fate until a midterm audit by an inspector general is released May 15.
“It will be a critical time to stop and take a look at what this audit is telling us about [MWAA’s] management practices so we can make improvements, do the best for the taxpayers to keep tolls down, and keep the costs of the project down,” she said.