Saturday, February 2, 2008

Northern Virginia business leaders stood solidly behind Gov. Tim Kaine’s pledge yesterday to complete a Metrorail extension to Washington Dulles International Airport, even if the state must change its plans to meet federal guidelines.

Virginia’s “unshakeable goal … is to make this project work and to do so in partnership with the federal government,” Mr. Kaine said in a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters.

Business leaders led by the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce yesterday produced a petition they plan to present to the Department of Transportation in support of a passenger rail line from Tysons Corner to Dulles.

The petition was signed by some of the region’s biggest employers, including Northrop Grumman, AOL, Kaiser Permanente, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and George Washington University.

After Mr. Kaine delivered his letter to Mrs. Peters, Danny Vargas, chairman of the Dulles Chamber, said, “He did absolutely the right thing. This project is essential for citizens of the region. It’s too important to not be willing to roll up our sleeves and make that happen.”

The business group’s petition was a response to statements from the Federal Transit Administration last week notifying the Virginia Department of Transportation that the Dulles rail project suffered too many financial and management problems to win federal funding.

Mr. Kaine’s letter said Virginia transportation officials and their partners in the project were willing to cooperate with the FTA in revising the plan.

Jim Dinegar, chief executive officer of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, called the governor’s letter “compelling.”

Mr. Dinegar blamed the dispute over the project on misunderstandings between Virginia transportation officials, who believed the federal government supported their proposal, and FTA officials, who insist they pointed out shortcomings years ago.

“The mixed smoke signals have apparently been very problematic,” he said. “I’m very glad that the governor and the [U.S.] secretary of Transportation will clear the air and sit down in a collaborative manner.”

Mr. Dinegar joined Northern Virginia business leaders yesterday morning at a press conference in a Reston hotel to stress the economic importance of the Dulles rail project.

“Every day we experience the same headaches,” said Kirk Forman, vice president of business development for Element H2O, a Chantilly bottled water distributor.

Traffic congestion slowed his company’s deliveries to customers, raising costs of doing business. Now the company is faced with a choice of raising prices or shrinking its business to compensate for the costs of traffic congestion.

“We don’t want to raise prices and cut jobs,” Mr. Forman said.

John Wood, chief executive officer of Ashburn, Va., computer security company Telos Corp., said Northern Virginia’s congestion is hurting his ability to retain talented employees.

“By and large, people are leaving because of the time it takes to get to work,” Mr. Wood said.

Darren Lisse, chairman of Reston Hospital Center’s emergency department, said he witnessed a fatal accident on Virginia Route 7 in which an ambulance was bottled up by traffic.

“We need this project to get cars off the road,” Dr. Lisse said.

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