Airport Authority Vote Clears Way for Dulles Rail Project to Move Forward

Wednesday, June 06, 2012 - 12:28 PM

Protest Over Dulles Rail Dispute (photo by Martin Di Caro/WAMU)

(Washington, DC -- WAMU) The next phase of the Dulles Rail project will not give preference to construction contractors who promise to hire union workers. The 11-1 vote by the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority means that the imperiled project will go forward, and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell will release $150 million for the project's next phase.

"Today's vote is a major turning point for the Dulles rail project," said Airports Authority Chairman Michael A. Curto in a statement. "This project is vital to the economic growth of this region and the Board is determined to do whatever is necessary to finish the project as quickly and cost effectively as possible."

Although the MWAA Board previously included a project labor agreement (PLA) as part of the construction plan, board members voted this morning to remove the PLA from the project in order to ensure continued state funding for the rail line. Only one board member, Robert Brown, voted to keep the agreement.

State funding is instrumental to determining whether Phase 2 of the Dulles rail project will be delayed. Today's vote came amid threats of the Commonwealth of Virginia and Loudoun County pulling hundreds of millions of dollars in funding out of the project. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and Republicans in the General Assembly have said the project labor agreement (PLA) violates the state's right-to-work law by giving a preference to contractors who would choose union labor.

Most Virginia construction workers are non-union. MWAA officials have publicly defended the PLA, saying that if Virginia withdraws its money, tolls on the Dulles Toll Road could double, and the project could be delayed. Also key for the project's future will be tonight's Loudoun County Board meeting. Board members heard from residents both for and against continuing funding for the project Monday night, and the board is expected to discuss the $270 million that represents Loudoun's share for Phase 2.

Loudoun has until July 4 to make a decision.


Comments [1]

Tax Pig

Randal O’Toole and Gabriel Roth

Advocates of spending $2.8 billion extending Metrorail beyond Dulles Airport argue that the project will improve travel in the Loudoun County area and that this increased mobility will stimulate economic development and raise land values. Neither of these is likely to be true.
Rail transit is slow, partly because every train must stop at every station. For far less money, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA or Metro) could provide express bus services that are much faster. For example, the train from Wiehle Avenue to the Pentagon is expected to take 57 minutes, while an express bus could do the trip in less than 30 minutes.
Much of the cost of the extension would be paid by tripling tolls on the Dulles Toll Road. This will reduce travel on the Dulles Toll Road by 25 million trips a year, some five million of them by Loudoun residents. That’s more than the number of trips the rail line is expected to produce out of the county, so the line will actually reduce Loudoun County mobility.
Extending Metrorail into Loudoun County would also force the county to join the interstate compact that requires all counties served by Metrorail to share in its annual losses. This obligation will impose a substantial burden on county taxpayers.
The claim that the rail extension will boost the county’s economic development and property values is also dubious. This claim is based on the visible changes that can often take place next to rail stations. What is less visible is why those changes take place and what they would mean for the county as a whole.
Even to the extent that rail transit does have an effect on economic development, this effect is, at best, a zero-sum game. In other words, rail transit will not lead the county to grow faster; it will just shuffle that growth around. An analysis of the effect of rail transit on urban growth prepared by planners Robert Cervero, of the University of California, and Samuel Seskin, of Parsons Brinckerhoff, concluded that “urban rail transit investments rarely ‘create’ new growth.” Instead, they merely “redistribute growth that would have taken place without the investment.”
The biggest beneficiaries of that reshuffling of growth, Cervero and Seskin added, were downtown areas. Rather than lead to growth in Loudoun County, it is possible that the rail line will actually draw growth away from Loudoun County to Tysons Corner or downtown Washington.
In sum, extending Metrorail to Loudoun County could be disastrous for both mobility and economic growth. At the very least, Loudoun County should not support the rail line unless two conditions are met. First, no financing for the rail line should come from increased tolls on the Dulles Toll Road and second, the county’s liability to support WMATA’s financial losses should be limited.

Jun. 13 2012 07:08 AM

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