Dennis Martire and the agency he worked for would be paid little attention – if not for the responsibility running one of the largest public transportation projects in the country: the Silver Line Metro rail to Dulles International Airport.
Wednesday morning Martire officially resigned from his position as a member of the board of directors of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) after months of criticism directed from high places at both his professional behavior and the conduct of the airports authority itself.
In his first interview since settling a costly legal dispute with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's administration and agreeing to resign, Martire -- a high-ranking official with the labor union LiUNA -- defended the agency’s record and denied any wrongdoing.
‘We have a policy that allows us to go to airport conferences. It’s not like we pull out a globe, spin it, and say 'we’re going here today,'” Martire said.
A Washington Post editorial in May accused Martire of spending more than “$38,000 attending five conferences in 2010 and 2011,” including a nine-day trip to attend a 36-hour conference in Sardinia.
“It was a three-day trip [the editorial board] made into a nine-day trip. The conference was only three days. I flew from there to somewhere else on my dime, not on MWAA’s dime,” he said.
In August, the federal Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood sent MWAA a letter expressing outrage at “ongoing reports describing questionable dealings including the award of numerous lucrative no-bid contracts to former Board members.” MWAA (pronounced "em-wah") has publicized reforms of its spending, travel, and contracting practices, but Martire believes the board of directors and the agency’s leadership allowed their opponents to turn such issues into a distraction from MWAA’s stewardship of the Silver Line.
“The airports authority has handled this project remarkably well,” said Martire, who said a project labor agreement (PLA) -- a pro-union provision voluntarily undertaken by the prime contractor in the Silver Line’s Phase 1 construction -- kept the project on-time, on-budget, and with a strong record of worker safety.
“Compared to other major infrastructure projects in northern Virginia like the Springfield interchange or the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, it’s a model project. Those projects were all hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. The taxpayer is the one who has to eat that money,” he said.
Martire said “it’s a disgrace” that the state of Virginia has provided only $150 million dollars for Phase 2 of the Silver Line, which has an estimated price tag of $3 billion, and he urged the federal government to provide additional funding to bring down the projected toll increases on the Dulles Toll Road. Under the current financing arrangement, those tolls will cover 75 percent of Phase 2’s costs. A full, round-trip toll would rise to $9 in 2015 under current MWAA projections.
“You’re going to have rail to Dulles and beyond, but the tolls are still my major concern. This could be a boondoggle if it’s built out there with $10 tolls,” Martire said.
Martire also shrugged off criticism for supporting the use of a non-voluntary PLA in planning process for Phase 2, accusing its critics of opposing organized labor.
“I do work for a labor union,” Martire said. “There’s no doubt that the governor of Virginia and Congressman [Frank] Wolf, both Republicans, do not like labor. They don’t like what labor stands for.”