A few weeks ago, I wrote about the “mega-projects” in northern Virginia, but left out the Dulles Rail project. It’s because its status is constantly in the news and the news is often not good.
One of the ironies of the Dulles Rail project is that it never seems to get the “tunnel” issue correct.
In 2007, the County, state and Federal authorities (each entity blamed the other) collectively decided to not pursue a tunnel under Tysons Corner — thus creating a unique access into the most pedestrian-challenged business district in the U.S.
Flash forward to 2011. A month ago, the Airports Authority, which now operates the project, decided to spend an extra $330 million to build a tunnel to link the rail line up to the actual terminal, as opposed to having it terminate a few hundred yards away.
Local authorities and the U.S. Congressman, Frank Wolf, have objected strongly. It’s fair to say that the objection has nothing to do with the merits of walking 1,000 feet. It’s all about the cost of the project, which is now spiraling over the budget, estimated at $3.5B a few years ago.
And, now that the Feds have contributed their $900M share, who is responsible for those cost overruns?
The local governments, property owners and commuters along the Dulles Toll Road — all who are on the hook. “Conservative” estimates have Toll Road charges going up to $8-10 per trip for commuters driving to Loudoun County. (Note that the Toll Road is owned by the Airports Authority and not by the Commonwealth).
The sole control over this situation appears to be the local governments like Loudoun who are threatening to refrain from contributing their agreed share, if there is no “hard cap” on project costs and their own liability. While that withdrawal risks the whole project, it’s also the only leverage that Virginia taxpayers have at this point.
At this point, the risk of the increased costs are all on Virginia property owners and commuters. But the benefits are going to the Airport and its users. (That’s the problem with using MWAA to run this project).
Congressman Wolf has introduced a bill to put more Virginia members on the Airports Authority so as to make sure that the “representation” and “taxation” issues are evened out. When we’re back in session, the Assembly needs to look at similar legislation, if only to protect taxpayers from a blank check for Dulles Rail.
Otherwise, there are going to be some very unhappy drivers and property owners along the Route 267 corridor, unless this project finds a new source of funds or a way to ramp down the costs.