- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine yesterday signed an agreement allowing the group running the region’s two airports to take over the Dulles Toll Road and use revenue from tolls to pay for Metrorail’s extension to Washington Dulles International Airport.

Giving the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) control of a massive $4 billion project to extend Metrorail into Loudoun County is likely to speed up completion of the project and could reduce costs, supporters of the governor’s decision said.

But it also gives the airports authority, which operates Dulles and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports, the ability to increase tolls along the toll road, which winds through a surging technology corridor and ever-growing suburbs from Reston to Sterling.

James E. Bennett, president and chief executive officer of the airports authority, said extending rail service to Dulles Airport and beyond is significant to the airport’s growth. There are plans for a Metro stop at the airport beneath the hourly parking lot in front of the main terminal.

“This gives us the long-envisioned multimodal access to the airport so in the future people have options to access Dulles,” Mr. Bennett said after returning from Richmond to sign an agreement with Mr. Kaine.

Dulles is a fast-growing airport, and the airports authority is in the midst of a $4 billion project to help accommodate an increase in passengers from a record 27 million in 2005 and to an estimated 30 million by 2010. The key element of that plan is a $1.2 billion underground train that will encircle the airport when it is finished in 2009.

The airports authority in December proposed taking control of the toll road and spearheading construction of the 23-mile Metrorail extension.

Four private groups had proposed paying the Virginia Department of Transportation about $1 billion to operate, maintain and collect tolls on the Dulles Toll Road for 50 years.

“We had four other proposals, and I don’t think the administration even considered them. The governor’s decision leaves a lot of money on the table,” said William J. Howell, Stafford Republican and Virginia House speaker.

Support for the airports authority’s proposal stemmed from its plan to use tolls to help fund the project’s second phase of construction and to try to avoid using federal money.

The first phase of the project calls for construction of Metro through Tysons Corner to Wiehle Avenue in Reston to be done in 2011. The state will ask the Federal Transit Administration for $900 million to help fund that phase, which contractors said last week increased from $1.8 billion to an estimated $2 billion.

The second phase, which would extend Metro beyond Route 772 in Loudoun County, is expected to be done by 2015. The airports authority will not depend on federal funding for that portion of the project, but it will keep the option open and could decide later to apply for federal assistance, Mr. Bennett said.

Not relying on federal funding is likely to speed up construction, said Marcia McAllister, spokeswoman for the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, an arm of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

It is less clear whether Metrorail will ease congestion along the corridor, said Bob Grow, director of government relations for the Greater Washington Board of Trade, which supports the plan to extend Metro.

“It certainly is not a silver bullet, but it will certainly pull some people off the road,” he said.

The airports authority plans to spend $1.7 billion in tolls on the Metrorail extension. The toll road generated $43.7 million in tolls in fiscal 2005. Tolls were raised in May from 50 cents to 75 cents at mainline plazas and 35 cents to 50 cents at plazas at ramps.

A preliminary analysis by the airports authority indicates that inflation would require raising tolls every three years beginning in 2010, and those increases would be about 9 percent.

“Our toll-setting will be very transparent. The only reason we will raise tolls is because it will be necessary to fund the project,” Mr. Bennett said.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors yesterday passed a resolution calling for both Loudoun and Fairfax counties officials to have a say in issues including toll increases, construction and maintenance.

“The concern is that MWAA is not an accountable body. They aren’t accountable to voters. We want a mechanism to ensure that we will be heard,” said Gerry Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Construction is likely to begin by January, Ms. McAllister said.

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