Cost estimate for Dulles Rail Project on target

A photo of Phase 1 in Tysons Corner. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

Adam Tuss,

WASHINGTON — A big step forward for the Dulles Rail Project Tuesday, as Metro riders could be on a train to the Airport in just a few years.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) has put a definitive cost estimate on the second phase … and the cost estimate is right on target.

There have been many questions about the overall price tag for Phase 2 — the 11.4 mile section that will run from Reston to Dulles International Airport and continue into Loudoun County. The head of the project said Tuesday the official estimate is about $2.7/$2.8 billion, which is the price estimate project leaders were hoping for.

It wasn’t long ago that Phase 2 was carrying a $3.8 billion price tag. But decisions to eliminate a more expensive underground Metro station at Dulles Airport, as well as cost-cutting agreements from the federal government, Loudoun and Fairfax counties, MWAA and the Commonwealth of Virginia, brought the anticipated cost estimate down to $2.8 billion.

If all parties agree to move forward, MWAA says the contract could be awarded in January of 2013, and Phase 2 could be built and open to riders in 2018.

“We’re very pleased,” said Pat Nowakowski, head of the project. “The numbers are consistent with the numbers that we have talked about through the process.”

The $2.7/$2.8 billion number comes from what’s known as a “preliminary engineering” analysis from a design team.

MWAA also hired an independent consultant to scrub the project and come up with a “second opinion” on the ultimate cost estimate. The design team provided the $2.7 billion number, the independent consultant provided the $2.8 billion number. The reason for the difference in price has nothing to do with any physical part of the project, rather the adjusted cost for inflation over the length of the project.

So why does this $2.7/$2.8 billion figure matter?

For the first time, all the invested parties in the project can take a look at the cost estimate and decide whether they are in or out. If the number had come in any higher than $2.8 billion, there could have been further complications that could have put the project in jeopardy.

Loudoun and Fairfax counties both have 90 days to review the figures, and decide if they want to move forward with the project.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova has told WTOP that the project absolutely is moving forward. Loudoun County has explored the possibility of dropping out of the project altogether.

MWAA says there are already about 10 firms in the running to win the contract to design and build Phase 2. Those companies will eventually be trimmed to five, and an ultra-competitive process to win the contract for the project is expected. That means there is great incentive to build the project for a lower cost than $2.8 billion.

“We always hope that we get better bids than what we have budgeted,” Nowakowski said.

All parties involved are trying to keep the overall cost of the second phase down because higher costs could lead to much higher tolls on the Dulles Toll Road. Seventy-five percent of the financing for Phase 2 is coming from tolls.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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