LaHood to try to whip Dulles rail actors into agreement

Colleen Kelleher,

WASHINGTON – The head of the U.S. Transportation Department is confident a Wednesday meeting with the major players in the Dulles Rail Project will offset recent resistance against extending what he calls “America’s system” to Dulles International Airport.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will bring together the biggest groups involved in the Metro project — the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the government of Virginia, and Loudoun and Fairfax counties — to discuss the plan for the Dulles Rail project.

Issues have arisen since these parties signed an agreement on the project that could threaten its completion.

Major issues holding up the second phase of rail to Dulles:

  • Political bickering
  • State financing
  • Loudoun County’s financial contribution
  • Use of union labor
  • Investigation into airports authority

“This is a project that will go forward,” LaHood tells WTOP. “This is a project that is absolutely essential to delivering people around the region.

“I have every confidence we will be able to find a path forward to make the Silver Line a complete line to Dulles airport and into Loudoun County.”

LaHood calls the Metro network “America’s system,” citing the 2 million people who rode it to get to the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009. For that reason, the federal government is contributing $1 billion to the extension.

The first phase, which extends from Falls Church through Tysons Corner and into Reston, is already well under construction and scheduled to open next year.

However, the second phase of the huge Silver Line subway project, which would go from Reston to the airport and continue into Loudoun County, is encountering significant political resistance.

Here are some of the issues currently holding up the project:

  • Virginia lawmakers don’t want to contribute $150 million because the airports authority decided to give an incentive to bidders who use union labor.
  • After the election of new supervisors last year in Loudoun County, the new board has talked of pulling out of the project to save money. If Loudoun pulls out, financing deals would need to be renegotiated.
  • Loudoun County’s new board also sees the use of union labor as a deal-breaker.
  • A U.S. Transportation Department investigation into the airports authority’s management practices, transparency and governance is making it difficult for the authority to get political support.
  • The Washington Post reports that Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton says the state is evaluating taking over the project, a move the airports authority says would lead to a legal mess.
  • Key players, namely LaHood and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, are leaving their posts and won’t be around when the project would be completed, at least five years from now. LaHood retires at the end of the year, and McDonnell’s term is up in 2014.

LaHood says he has “no doubt” today’s meeting will resolve these disputes without contradicting these organizations’ regulations or state laws.

“We have an agreement with all parties that we hammered out over time by listening to one another,” he says. “We’re going to do that again today.”

“What I expect to hear are questions and issues that need to be resolved,” says LaHood. “I have no doubt we can resolve them.”

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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