13 April 2011

Burying Expensive Dulles Metro Decisions

The Washington DC Metro System has long lacked an important element, the connection to an International Airport.   There has been a decade long process to construct a 23.1 mile extension of the Metro to connect with the rapidly growing Dulles corridor as well as Dulles International Airport.  Phase I of the project which goes from East Falls Church to Reston grew from $5.25 Billion to $6.8 Billion, funded by a $0.50 increase in Dulles Access Toll fees and should be complete by 2013.  The new Silver Line is scheduled to complete the phase II extension to IAD in mid-2017 phase II $4.1 billion (originally estimated $3.44 B).

Last week, the Washington Metropolitan Airport Authority unilaterally determined that an above ground station at Dulles was unacceptable.  The MWAA contended that it would be burdensome for passengers to be shuttled 1,150 feet to the planned above ground station next to the North Garage.  Instead, the MWAA wants to make the Dulles station user friendly as it insists that an underground station be built that is 550 feet from the terminal.  This would have the serendipity of preserving the aesthetic of the renowned Eero Saarinen designed terminal.   This modest proposal merely adds an extra $330 Million and extends construction for over a year.

In response to the Airport Authority whim, the Virginia Department of Transportation determined that tolls would necessary have to increase due to the decision and that was intolerable. So much so that Commonwealth Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton has said: "This project is moving in a direction that is going to be financially unsustainable.”  Leaders in Fairfax and Loudoun County discerned that the decision to tunnel to Dulles may be deemed a “betterment” which would mean that the costs would be fully borne by the MWAA.

Fairfax and Loudoun County officials used prior studies of the Dulles expansion to dismiss the sob stories about the burdens of a distant Dulles station on international travelers.  They note that the bulk of ridership will be airport employees who will not be burdened by a tunnel.

The MWAA insists that modification made to a tunnel station, such as revising the design, using a different method of excavation and reducing the length and depth and other infrastructure optimizations will make the costs less than the original 2005 underground station proposal. Besides the underground station is only an additional 5% to the cost of the total project. Sure. And Obamacare will save money.

The financial burdens on Phase II of the Dulles Expansion will not be mitigated by the Federal Government.  Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA 10th) called the insistence on the underground Dulles station a bad decision.  Wolf lamented: “I am disappointed and share the concerns of state and the local partners. Everything possible needs to be done to keep costs down on this project.”  Fairfax County Supervisors are rightly concerned as they will face the voters this year.

It is dangerous to have unaccountable appointed officials so grandiosely burying expensive decisions on taxpayers.    Unfortunately, the decision making process is Byzantine as state and local governments have the responsibility to help finance the project but the Airport Authority has the final say on the project.

Via: TBD.com
Vial Washington Post

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