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LaHood asks for more talks on Metrorail at Dulles plan

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 1, 2011

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Wednesday directed airport officials and elected leaders to spend a month trying to reach a compromise in an ongoing dispute over a planned Metrorail station at Washington Dulles International Airport.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority in April voted to build an underground station closer to the airport terminal rather than an above-ground station farther away that would cost $330 million less. Backed by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Loudoun and Fairfax officials said the counties couldn't afford the extra cost and have threatened to withhold their contribution to the project.

Mr. LaHood asked the parties to meet over a 30-day period to discuss concerns about the scope, cost and payment methods for the massive project, which will extend a new Metro Silver Line from the East Falls Church station through Tysons Corner and on to Dulles by 2017.

"I would hope the chairman and the rest of the MWAA board will again reconsider this decision and go aerial," Loudoun County Chairman Scott York said after the meeting. "We gotta get this project done."

Fairfax County Chairwoman Sharon Bulova agreed.

"That is not something we believe we should have to participate in funding if there is an alternative that is more cost-effective," she said. "We would strongly feel it is a betterment Fairfax County will not have to fund."

Reps. Gerald E. Connolly, Virginia Democrat, and Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican - both of whom oppose the underground station - also attended the meeting.

Ms. Bulova said she came away with the impression that everyone agrees costs need to be reduced for the $6 billion project. Costs are projected to exceed the original estimate by $1 billion, although officials say that estimate was only a rough one, done without any preliminary engineering.

Under the current funding agreement, Fairfax would contribute 16 percent of the costs for the second phase of the project that extends the rail line from Wiehle Avenue in Reston to Dulles. Loudoun would contribute 5 percent and the airports authority would pay 4 percent. The rest would be funded with revenue from the Dulles Toll Road.

Ms. Bulova and Mr. York also say toll hikes projected by MWAA financial advisers are too high. If the authority doesn't obtain any federal loans for the project, fares could reach $10.75 by 2020. Ms. Bulova said she doesn't want officials to turn to toll increases in the absence of funding from the counties.

She said MWAA should instead consider other ways to cut costs, like reducing the size of the yard used to store trains, changing station design and partnering with private developers.

"What we don't want to happen is for the toll road revenue to be used to make up the difference," she said. "We don't want to see fees that are exorbitant to make up for an underground station that is only to the benefit of the airport."

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