- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 8, 2011

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II is betting against the General Assembly approving $150 million for the Dulles Metrorail project — a prospect that would throw a wrench into months of delicate negotiations among stakeholders who have finally reached a tentative accord on its financing.

Fairfax County, Loudoun County and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is overseeing the massive project, have all approved a memorandum of agreement to trim about $1 billion off the price tag of the rail line’s second phase.

But Mr. Cuccinelli, a Republican and conservative firebrand who last week announced that he will run for governor in 2013, does not want to see it go any further.

“I would oppose putting a single penny of state dollars to bail out Phase 2,” he said. “I hope that legislators will not agree to spend the $150 million.”

Mr. Cuccinelli’s position stands in contrast to that of Gov. Bob McDonnell, a fellow Republican who has pledged his support in the 2013 gubernatorial election to Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.

The attorney general described their differing positions on the financing as a “polite disagreement.”

Though Mr. McDonnell was hesitant about putting in additional state money while an issue regarding a union-friendly project-labor agreement remained unsettled, he lauded stakeholders Thursday for reaching the tentative accord.

“I’m delighted that we’re very close to having all the financing partners approving the things that need to be done to get that project back on track,” he said.

Among those partners is the Virginia government.

The agreement to trim Phase 2’s escalating costs from about $3.8 billion to $2.8 billion has the state kicking in an additional $150 million, though the funds must be approved by the General Assembly.

“The best thing we can do right now is keep this thing to Phase 1 — to minimize the damage,” Mr. Cuccinelli said.

The 11.5-mile first segment of the line, stretching from East Falls Church to Reston, is expected to open in late 2013. Phase 2 would extend the 23-mile project through Dulles airport and into Loudoun County.

He said the MWAA is mishandling the first phase, and allowing the agency to oversee the second is like “buying your 16-year-old a new sports car, they go out, get drunk, crash into a tree, and you go out and buy them another one. And then buy them a six-pack.”

The agency has said it is committed to the recent agreement reached by Virginia and all the partners, under the leadership of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Mr. Cuccinelli, meanwhile, has suggested the possibility of Loudoun County eventually backing off its part. Republicans will control all nine seats on the county’s Board of Supervisors after new members are sworn in Friday.

Under the funding formula for Phase 2, Loudoun would pay 4.8 percent of the cost. Dulles Toll Road users would pay 75 percent, with Fairfax County contributing 16.1 percent and the MWAA 4.4 percent.

Loudoun County Board Chairman Scott K. York said he was reserving judgment on how to move forward until new information, such as projected toll rates on the road, is published.

“There is still a lot of information on the cost of the project — it’s all new numbers,” he said. “I’m satisfied that we have reduced the cost. … Again, this all started out with the impact this would have on toll rates. We’ve put together a less expensive project than what was originally being scoped out.”

The assembly also must make a decision as the state faces a potential shortfall of about $1 billion over the next two years.

“Particularly given our budget situation, that’s a lot harder sell in this budget environment,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “If I had to predict, I’d bet against. I think the governor is the greatest reason that it may happen. He brings a lot to the table.”

Mr. York said the board would simply have to see how that scenario would play out, if it indeed should arise next year.

“It’s unfortunate if the state doesn’t kick in more money for the project, as it should,” he said. “And we’ll just have to see what happens.”

Mr. Cuccinelli, meanwhile, was intractable.

“Any argument that can be made that Virginia benefits, I can defeat,” he said.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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