- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2008

Prospects for a Metro extension to Washington Dulles International Airport dimmed considerably yesterday when U.S. transportation officials expressed doubts that the $5 billion project would receive federal funding.

The federal government is hesitating to contribute to the project, saying the proposal is too costly and lacks an adequate management structure. The Federal Transit Administration also cited Metro’s large backlog of needed maintenance and the airport authority’s limited experience in running a transit system.

“We fund projects that are an A, B or C,” FTA Administrator James S. Simpson said yesterday. “This project is a D or an F.”

Virginia has devised ways to fund only about half the project, Mr. Simpson said. The state’s proposal also failed to meet the FTA’s standards for cost effectiveness.

Virginia is seeking $900 million in federal funds to begin the first $2.5 billion phase of the project. It also has asked for a $580.4 million government loan.

A delegation led by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, met with U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters yesterday to make its case for the light rail line to Dulles. The group plans to submit a proposal Monday to salvage the plan.

State officials say the passenger rail line cannot be built without federal assistance.

“As of today, as of right now, if we had to make a decision, the project does not meet the requirements to grant this,” Mr. Simpson said during a telephone conference call with reporters.

He said he hoped the state could resolve the FTA’s concerns soon, but “we’re almost at the end of the line in making a decision on the entire Dulles Metro rail project.”

During the meeting yesterday at a Senate office building, Mr. Kaine and his delegation asked for more time to revise their plans.

They did not say what changes were likely.

“We’re still working on that,” said Gordon Hickey, the governor’s spokesman. “We’ve met every requirement FTA has had throughout the whole process. Every time we’ve met the FTA requirements, they moved the goal posts, they came up with something new.”

The state has eliminated some portions of its original plan, such as a $50 million parking garage.

Mr. Hickey could offer no assurances that the rail line would be built.

“Confident might be the wrong word,” he said. “We’re hoping the Dulles rail project gets built.”

Business leaders say the rail line would give the region an important economic boost.

“It’s a critical project” for access to the airport, jobs and reducing traffic congestion, said Jim Dinegar, chief executive officer of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. “It is very troubling that at the eleventh hour the FTA is turning the green light into red.”

The FTA explained its concerns with the state’s proposal in a four-page letter to Mr. Kaine.

Three primary objections mentioned in the letter were: “(1) the management arrangements under which the project would be implemented; (2) MWAA’s limited experience with transit projects and with exceptionally large design-build contracts; and (3) the uncertainties of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s ability to finance its ongoing capital needs systemwide in order to maintain service levels and a state of good repair.”

The letter also said the state underestimated its costs and overestimated the toll revenue it could collect to pay for the rail project, which make the risks “extremely likely to result in further cost escalation and schedule delays.”

In addition to the FTA and Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and Metro are partners in the venture.

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