- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2008

RICHMOND — Gov. Tim Kaine in a letter to federal transit officials yesterday rejected the conclusion that the Dulles rail project does not qualify for federal funding, suggesting he is open to financing options that could include increased prices on the Dulles Toll Road.

“Simply put, the unshakable goal of the combined Virginia delegation and all state, local and private partners is to make this project work and to do so in partnership with the federal government,” Mr. Kaine said in the eight-page letter to federal Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters.

State officials said supporting documents sent with the letter also “provide a revised financing structure.”

“The governor indicated a willingness to consider all options that [bring] rail to the corridor — financial, managerial,” Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer said. “That is why discussion and open dialogue is needed.”

In his letter to Mrs. Peters, the governor said the current financing plan is based on “conservative revenue assumptions that benefit the toll payers on the Dulles Toll Road.”

“As part of our dialogue, we are prepared to discuss alternative financing scenarios,” he said.

Mr. Kaine said in the letter that the revised documentation should earn the project a “medium” rating, making it eligible for federal funding.

During a Jan. 24 meeting on Capitol Hill, Federal Transit Administrator James S. Simpson told Virginia officials the $5.1 billion 23-mile Metrorail extension to Washington Dulles International Airport was on the verge of losing $900 million in federal funding because it had earned a rating of “medium low.”

Mr. Simpson in the meeting and in a follow-up letter said he was concerned about the project”s costs, Metro”s ability to handle the added responsibilities of the project, and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s ability to manage the project.

In his letter, the governor reiterated his concern that his administration had received mixed messages from federal officials over the last year.

“I hope you understand our confusion at the recent process,” Mr. Kaine said. “One year ago, we were told that cost was the sole remaining issue to resolve. With FTA”s guidance, we took steps to reduce cost and were then given clear communication that we hit the target. To find out on January 24 that the cost issue was once again challenged, and that a whole series of additional issues stood as fatal roadblocks to a federal partnership was deeply discouraging.”

Federal officials said that Mr. Kaine was told in a July telephone conversation that he might want to consider preparing a “Plan B” option because of lingering concerns about the project.

They also suggested Mr. Kaine”s administration lobbied lawmakers on Capitol Hill in September for certain exemptions from federal requirements because it knew the current project might not meet the criteria for funding.

The debate was taken up on the House floor in Richmond yesterday. Delegate Joe T. May, Loudoun Republican, questioned why administration officials would not have prepared a second option after they were warned they may need one.

Tom Ramstack contributed to this report.

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