Quick-fix airport authority bill fails to pass Va. House

An emergency bill to overhaul the makeup of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which oversees the Washington region’s two airports and the Dulles Metrorail project, failed Thursday to garner the four-fifths vote necessary to clear the Virginia House.

Delegate Joe T. May, Loudoun Republican and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, introduced the bill, which attempts to align Virginia law with a measure shepherded through Congress by Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican.

The bill would add two Virginia members to the MWAA’s board of directors, bar members from serving beyond their terms and stipulate that they can be removed from their post for cause.

“Without the emergency clause, this is a very good bill,” said House Minority Leader David J. Toscano, Charlottesville Democrat. “A lot of people…believe that the Dulles project is an essential project that needs to move forward, as it has been doing.”

Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax Republican, though, said that with the millions of dollars on the line, it was imperative to change the law right away.

“The biggest transportation project in the entire 400-plus year history of Virginia is being operated by this group,” he said. “People who are decigind what Virginians are going to get … don’t even answer to us.”

“Let me tell you something, I wish it was done yesterday,” he continued, receiving a brief round of applause after speaking.

The airports authority has come under fire for its management of the second leg of the so-called Silver Line, which is to run from Wiehle Avenue in Reston through Dulles Airport into Loudoun County. One member of the board floated the idea this week of abandoning the Metro stop near the airport terminal and using a people mover to shuttle passengers from the Route 28 station to the airport, saving about $70 million.

The authority, the state of Virginia, the federal government, Metro and Fairfax and Loudoun counties have all conditionally approved a plan to trim the $3.8 billion price tag of Phase 2 to $2.8 billion. The 23-mile first leg of the project is scheduled to be completed in 2013, and Phase 2 is supposed to open by 2016.

Delegate Vivian E. Watts, Fairfax Democrat, however, said that the measure did not fully conform to provisions in federal code — which could leave the state open to lawsuits in the future. She also pointed out that without providing for staggered terms, eight members of the 17-member board could be replaced at the same time, potentially creating more headaches for the project.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, appointed Todd Stottlemyer, chief executive of the technology firm Acentia, which recently announced it was moving its headquarters from Silver Spring to Fairfax, and McLean businesswoman Caren Merrick, who lost a bid for state Senate last year, to the board last month after Mr. Wolf’s legislation made it through Congress and was signed by President Obama.

They have not been seated yet. MWAA maintains that Virginia and the District have to take their own legislative action before the federal law can take effect.

The law would expand the board of directors from 13 to 17 seats. Maryland and the District would each be able to add one more member. Virginia had five representatives on the board, the District and Maryland had three members apiece, and the federal government had two members.

An emergency clause that would allow the legislation to take effect immediately after it is passed and signed by the governor had been stripped out of the measure, but was put back in on Wednesday. Emergency legislation needs a four-fifths supermajority vote to be passed.

The House voted 71-29 in favor of the bill, so it would seemingly have no trouble clearing the full body without the emergency clause. In that case, it would take effect in July.

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