The time has come for Northern Virginia’s politicians to push aside partisan politics and get behind a real solution for the Metrorail to Dulles.
We must all stand behind state Sen. Janet Howell’s efforts to get state funding for the project. However, an effective solution requires more than just demanding money from Gov. Robert F. McDonnell.
For years, Northern Virginia taxpayers have watched as our tax dollars have subsidized transportation projects across the Commonwealth. Last year, in my race, I warned voters in Northern Virginia that tolls would reach $17 round trip.
Unfortunately, I was correct. Now Phase 2 construction of the Dulles Rail project is expected to cost $1 billion more than initial projections. Local taxpayers and commuters are being forced to foot more of the bill while the federal government and Richmond are missing in action.
There is plenty of blame to go around, and everyone has egg on their face. Dulles Rail cost overruns are the result of a flawed planning process. Dulles Rail is being built by Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority — an unelected entity with virtually no transparency or accountability mechanisms in place, no public bidding and no independent outside project oversight.
While I agree with Howell that the governor should allocate funds for this project, in order to reduce the burden on Fairfax residents and commuters, we also must demand massive changes to MWAA and its funding formula.
Under the current plan, Dulles Toll Road users will pay for 75 percent of Phase 2 costs. This is unacceptable. The formula will negatively affect our local economy and further congest our side streets as commuters avoid the toll road’s sky high rates.
Now that the election is over, we must all unite as Northern Virginians and demand answers from MWAA on why costs for Phase 2 have skyrocketed.
First, I urge McDonnell to allocate the requested funding and hold the monies in escrow until MWAA takes the necessary actions to control costs and place a smaller percentage of the overall project costs on Northern Virginia’s residents and commuters.
Second, Northern Virginia’s elected leaders must demand MWAA keep toll increases in line with initial projections. It can do this by changing the percentage of project monies taken from local taxpayers, allowing public oversight and full transparency of all MWAA activities, including the Executive Sessions, and tossing out the union-friendly Project Labor Agreement, which discriminates against Virginia businesses and its workers.
The mandated Phase 2 PLA reflects a lack of respect by MWAA for the law, contractors and workers of Virginia. Whether our elected officials like it or not, 96 percent of Virginia’s private construction workforce does not belong to a union. We don’t need to bus out-of-state union workers in to build Dulles Rail when Virginian construction workers are ready, willing and able to build Phase 2. Three of the five proposed consortiums already have dropped out of the bidding process of Phase 2 because of the imposition of a mandatory labor agreement. It is wrong for MWAA to turn its back on hard working, skilled workers in Virginia just because they don’t carry a union card — and then ask them to pay the bill as taxpayers and toll road users.
Finally, our Northern Virginia members of Congress must become further involved in fighting for funding for Dulles Rail. U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf already has been leading the charge, but he is only one congressman. He, along with the other Northern Virginia representatives such as U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly must coalition — across party lines — and demand direct financial support from the federal government as a condition of MWAA constraining project costs.
Many Virginians do not realize that no other mega-transit project in the U.S. is completely funded locally. The federal government, consistent with its role in funding most of the initial 103 miles of the Metrorail system, must provide grants rather than loans for Phase 2. The original Dulles Rail funding formula called for 50 percent federal grants and 25 percent state grants. This funding mix again will be possible once our state officials do their due diligence and drive down MWAA’s project costs.
Only then will President Barack Obama and the Department of Transportation be in a better position to provide financial assistance for this important transportation project.
Now it is time to put progress before politics, and for Howell, Connolly and our other elected members to begin real collaboration to lower project costs and get MWAA’s house in order.
As a resident of Northern Virginia, I sincerely hope our elected officials stop the political posturing and do the trench work needed to get the job done.
Patrick Forrest of Reston was the Republican nominee for Virginia State Senate in District 32, which includes almost the entire Dulles corridor.