MWAA Board Member Rips Secretary LaHood and Silver Line Funding

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.