Streams

MWAA Board Member Rips Secretary LaHood and Silver Line Funding

Thursday, October 04, 2012 - 10:57 AM

Work on the first phase of the Silver Line rail to Dulles Airport is ongoing, but officials are still fighting over funding for Phase 2.  (Photo by Sean Marshall via flickr)

An outgoing member of the agency running the Silver Line rail project is accusing U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood of “coercive” and “heavy-handed” oversight that has created a distraction from finding funding for the second phase of the rail link to Dulles Airport.

In a letter sent to LaHood’s office on Tuesday, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) board member Robert Brown, whose tenure on the board of directors is expected to end this month, says the transportation secretary has taken unprecedented steps of questionable legality to monitor the airports authority following reports of profligate spending and unethical practices.

In August, Secretary LaHood sent MWAA a letter of his own, signed by the governors of Virginia and Maryland and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, expressing “outrage” at “ongoing reports describing questionable dealings including the award of numerous lucrative no-bid contracts to former Board members.”

“I haven’t disputed that there have been some questionable governance practices at the airports authority. I think those by and large have been addressed and corrections put in place,” said Brown in an interview with Transportation Nation.

In defending MWAA’s record, Brown is attempting to draw attention to projected toll rate increases on the Dulles Toll Road that would pay for 75 percent of Phase 2’s costs. More federal and Virginia state funding would lower the projections, he said.

“There is no other transportation project of this scale anywhere in the country where the local community bears such an inordinate share of the total project cost,” he said.

There is currently no federal funding for Phase 2 of the Silver Line, which has an estimated cost of roughly $3 billion. The state of Virginia has provided $150 million, a sum Brown describes as “paltry.”

“That is not the kind of contribution Virginia is making to any of the other transportation projects in the state. It is funding 20 to 25 percent of project costs on three other megaprojects in Virginia and it is funding 6 percent of the cost of this project,” Brown said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation said the agency received Brown’s letter but had not had time to review it.

MWAA had come under intense scrutiny for months leading up to LaHood’s critical letter. The overseas travel expenses incurred by some MWAA board members, especially Dennis Martire, led to charges of profligacy. Martire recently settled a legal battle with the administration of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who tried to remove him from the board of directors.  Martire agreed to resign his post this month.

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Comments [1]

Bob Bruhns

MWAA and our local leaders approved both phases of this Dulles Rail project, KNOWING that there would not be more than the $900 million of federal funding that we got in Phase I. And they just approved Phase II, KNOWING that they would only get this $150 million from Virginia. So why is this retiring MWAA Board member complaining? Heck, he lives in Ohio!

This rail project should have been a Bus Rural Transit system that established a mass transit corridor and future rail right of way, at affordable costs. But no. Instead, MWAA and our local politicians decided to push for a premature rail system that the FTA initially rejected, and that even the DC area Metro system didn't want. Then they went to the Bush administration and got high level support. Of course, the Bush administration isn't here any more to answer for their bad decision - but we can always pay for the rail. And we will. We will.

This Metrorail extension has been a pack of lies since it went political about 2002. It benefits a small number of landowners and businesses, and these guys made sure their contribution was capped before the real prices were released. And now, ten years later, the partners all approved this disaster - and the real prices are still only being revealed one by one. The plan was to fund some of it by toll road tolls, and some of it from business tax districts, and some of it from taxpayer money. But the business tax was capped to a dollar amount based on a percentage of the original bogus lowball cost estimate, so the following cost escalations have been pushed onto the toll road tolls, and pushed into the future. The local residents have no clue, and their political leaders and their news media just whistled and looked the other way.

Now the tolls are about to start their skyrocket ride, and we expect tens of thousands of drivers to abandon the toll road in the next few years, to avoid the ridiculous tolls. This will result in more congestion on our side roads than we have ever seen - and this is ironic, since this rail line was sold to us on the basis that it would REDUCE congestion.

But lies are typical of this project. The truth is that we are looking at a near-double priced system, with a bogus finance plan that will cause chaos here, until the tolls are eventually paid down with taxpayer money - causing more taxes for generations.

On top of that, there is a $13.5 Billion maintenance and capital expense hole in the Metro budget here - no doubt that, too, will be added to our taxes, for generations.

Other areas should learn from this disaster. This area still hasn't - but it will. It will.

Oct. 04 2012 07:14 PM

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