- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 1, 2012

A $6 billion public-works project 40 years in the making with economic development implications for two states and the District is now in the hands of nine local legislators - only two of whom have been on the job for more than seven months.

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to opt out of Phase 2 of the 23-mile project to extend Metrorail service past Washington Dulles International Airport.

Some members of the all-Republican board have been critical of the project’s costs and skeptical of its benefits.

The county’s share of the project is expected to be $270 million, with $10 million in annual operating costs.

The vote comes after seven new Republican members replaced a previously Democratic majority on the board in last year’s elections.

Should Loudoun opt out, the rail would terminate at the airport, planned Metrorail stations at Route 606 and Route 772 in Loudoun would not be built, and the Route 28 station in Fairfax County likely would have to accommodate an overflow of commuter parking. The county also would be sacrificing millions in economic development, proponents say.

“If they stay in, they got a project that’ll do them a lot of good,” said J. Kenneth Klinge, former chairman of the Dulles Corridor Steering Committee. “It can’t just be roads, or rail, or any one thing - it has to be an amalgamation of things. They have to work with each other.”

The other funding partners for Phase 2 include the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the state of Virginia and Fairfax County.

One possible way for Loudoun to fund the project would be to draw a special tax district for commercial properties around the two Metrorail stations to be built in Ashburn. Fairfax County has two such districts - one for each phase of the project - that levy taxes on commercial and industrial properties within their boundaries.

But the influential conservative group Americans for Prosperity, which advocates for lower taxes, launched a robocall campaign asking residents to urge county officials to vote against the rail project.

Loudoun cannot afford this bailout to rail-station developers,” reads the script. “If the Loudoun County board opts out, the rail will still be built to Dulles Airport, and commuters will still be within five miles of Metro.”

Members of the Loudoun board also had expressed concern about the airports authority’s board vote to favor contractors bidding on Phase 2 who employ union-friendly labor agreements. In response to pressure - much of it from the administration of Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican - the airports authority board nixed that provision June 6. Still, at a June 18 work session, Geary M. Higgins of Catoctin, Vice Chairman Janet S. Clarke of Blue Ridge and Kenneth D. Reid of Leesburg presented a signed 21-item list of “opt-in” considerations, including installing a permanent airports authority inspector general, and extending the deadline for a decision to December.

But Jack Potter, the authority’s president and CEO, said the July 4 deadline for Loudoun officials to decide on whether to remain a partner in the project would stand after already being pushed back 30 days.

Chairman Scott K. York has been a consistent advocate for Loudoun’s participation in the project. Others who have voiced support - or at least have expressed publicly that they were leaning toward voting for it - include Matthew F. Letourneau of Dulles, Ralph M. Buona of Ashburn and Shawn M. Williams of Broad Run.

Eugene A. Delgaudio of Sterling is a certain “no” vote, leaving three or four members still in flux.

Leo Schefer, president of the Washington Airports Task Force, said he was “optimistic” about Tuesday’s vote and predicted a 7-2 vote to remain a project partner, adding that the alternative could be disastrous both for the county and for the entire project.

“If the rail isn’t built into Loudoun, then Loudoun will basically continue to be a dormitory suburb,” said Mr. Schefer, who heads the nonprofit that works on issues related to Dulles and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports. “I think we will increasingly see the higher-value jobs and higher-value commercial property being within walking distance of Metro stations.”

Phase 1 of the project, which is to run from East Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue in Reston, is scheduled to be completed next year, and Phase 2 could be open to the public in 2018 - if the current schedule is kept, that is.

Loudoun’s built its land-use plan and development prospects around the certainty of rail,” Mr. Schefer said. “It would not surprise me if Loudoun pulled out if we didn’t see Phase 2 collapse, period.”