- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 10, 2009

UPDATED:

The decades-long effort to bring Metrorail service to Washington Dulles International Airport reached a major milestone Tuesday when Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and Transportation Department officials finalized a deal for $900 million in federal funding.

“This is the end of that trail,” said Gordon Hickey, a spokesman for Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat who was joined at the signing ceremony by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and other officials. “It’s a great economic driver for Northern Virginia and the whole region - the whole state, even.”

The deal with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is managing the project, assures that work will proceed on the first phase of the $5.2 billion rail extension - 23 miles of track known as the Silver Line.

Proponents of Dulles rail were dealt a near-crippling blow in January 2008, when federal transportation officials said the project was not fit for their funding. Officials cited concerns over whether the airports authority could provide adequate management of the project and whether it would be cost-efficient.

Federal officials reversed that stance in April after changes were made to the project that included cutting $210 million from the original cost estimate of $2.6 billion for its first phase.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) gave its approval to the plan in December, and the Bush administration in January signed off as well, sending the extension to Congress for a 60-day review.

Workers already have been moving utilities along Routes 7 and 123 in preparation for the line. Construction on the project is expected to begin this month.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority approved the Dulles rail extension in 2002, but the project dates back to 1962 - the same year operations began at Dulles Airport and when a D.C. Transit study proposed a monorail in the nearby corridor that would end in Georgetown.

After years of studies, debates and attempts to finalize funding, the project’s initial milestone now appears imminent.

The funding agreement makes the Dulles corridor rail project immediately eligible for the money under the FTA’s New Starts program, which is the federal government’s primary funding source for local transit “guideway” capital projects.

The first phase of the project is scheduled for completion by 2013 and will run from Metro’s East Falls Church station to Wiehle Avenue in Reston.

Along with funding from the federal government and the airports authority, it will be financed with state revenues from the Dulles Toll Road and Fairfax County revenues stemming from a special commercial tax district.

A construction date has not been set for the project’s second phase, which will run from Wiehle Avenue to Ashburn and will serve the airport. Fairfax and Loudoun counties, the state and the airports authority will finance the second part of the project.

“We don’t want to overuse words like ‘monumental,’ ‘historic’ and those kinds of adjectives, but that is appropriate for describing this day,” said Bill Lecos, president and chief executive officer of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Kaine’s office put out word that the money was about to be approved. FTA officials declined to comment Monday on the grant approval or on Tuesday’s event.

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