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LTE: MWAA’s Cost-cutting Excuse Don’t Add Up

NoTollIncrease.org members question Airports Authority’s ability to manage Metro Silver Line project.

The evidence of poor management by the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority (MWAA) grows by the day. Elected officials continue to scold them, even for misdeeds that those same officials were alerted to but chose to ignore.

But take heart. There is a simple standard of performance this seemingly unaccountable bunch should conform to. According to the 2006 Dulles Toll Road Permit and Operating Agreement, MWAA is required to make “best efforts” to complete the project by Dec. 31, 2015. How do you measure best efforts? Schedule would be a good place to start; and in that area, MWAA’s report card is looking pretty bad, and their excuse for long delays might as well be to blame the family dog for eating the schedule.

Recently, in a letter dated August 3, MWAA President and CEO Jack Potter “notified” Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton that MWAA wants an additional two-year extension of their deadline to complete the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, commonly known as the Silver Line. VDOT already granted MWAA a similar one-year extension in 2009.

In the letter to VDOT, Potter claimed that “This extension is largely due to delays associated with the efforts by project partners to achieve a substantial reduction in the construction costs of Phase 2.” Is MWAA delivering their “best efforts”, or wasting time and money? Cost has not gone down as a result of MWAA’s efforts. In fact there is a very disturbing pattern of increases, which may signal what is ahead for Phase 2 if MWAA is left in charge.

Potter claims “ … substantial reduction in the construction costs of Phase 2.” When the project’s final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was completed in 2004, the cost of Phase 2 was estimated at $2 billion. MWAA took over the Rail project in 2007. As of March 2009, the Phase 2 cost was estimated to be up $500 million, to $2.5 billion. MWAA’s current Phase 2 cost estimate is $2.7 billion.

Phase 1 is nearing completion and actual costs went from $1.5 billion in 2004 to $2.9 billion today and are still climbing. If MWAA’s management of Phase 2 causes costs to double as Phase 1 did, we’re looking at a Phase 2 price tag of $4 billion. Tolls could be the backstop if this continues.

These massive cost increases are a fact, yet MWAA claims “substantial reductions.” That begs the question of whether VDOT is even paying attention to what is going on.

MWAA’s claimed savings include tentatively passing off construction of five parking garages and the Rt. 28 station to Fairfax and Loudoun Counties ($404 million) and relocation of the Dulles Airport station ($600 million). This did lower the cost estimate from a bloated early-2011 estimate of $3.8 billion, but those reductions may soon be erased when and if the Rt. 28 station and garages find their way back into the project budget, bumping Phase 2 costs back to $3.1 billion

MWAA also had little to do with the Dulles Station’s reduced costs. The MWAA Board’s April 6, 2011, insistence on the underground station added $330 million in costs and almost scuttled the entire project, until U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood stepped in to force them to go with the more affordable above-ground option. MWAA clearly favored spending more, not saving.

If LaHood hadn’t laid down the law, the project would still include $734 million in higher costs. Clearly, MWAA has failed to deliver the project on time, as required in the Dulles Toll Road Permit and Operating Agreement and claims of cost cutting do not add up.

Don’t forget, it was the MWAA Board who voted to institute a 10 percent scoring preference for union labor for the Phase 2 design-build contract, padding costs by $270-310 million. Stalling the project for months while insisting on a $300 million union perk should not be accepted as “best efforts.”

Potter’s cost cutting excuses are beyond ridiculous. MWAA’s long and well-documented pattern of corruption and extreme waste do not reflect “best efforts” and there is no reason to expect that will change.

This April, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton stated, "We are actively evaluating whether we can take the project over … These guys [MWAA] are a disaster. We're at the point, quite honestly, where we think we could potentially do it better, cheaper, faster."

It is time for Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Sec. Connaughton to show us their “best efforts” by stepping in on behalf of the commuters of Northern Virginia and tell MWAA their excuses won’t cut it. The MWAA spending binge should not be extended.

- Daniel Davies and David LaRock are residents of Loudoun County and members of www.NoTOLLincrease.org.

[Send your letters to the editor to Leslie@Patch.com.]

chefgio1 September 12, 2012 at 10:59 AM
Its time that Northern Virginia take the Virginia portion of the Toll Road into its own hands. We need to realize that Maryland and dc have the majority ownership of the MWAA and these members are from a state and a want to be state that do understand fiscal responsibility and see Northern Virginia as a cash cow a region that has been mostly in the "BLACK". Since the MWAA strategy is to ignore--then its time for us to get notices with our demands. The next step for us in this strategy is to stop paying the Tolls. Pull off the speed passes, drive by the Toll without dropping any coins, and inform the Governor and the State Police of this action with a simple message that this will get MWAA to listen and act on our concerns. Because if we do not do this now all will be lost.
Mark Carolla September 13, 2012 at 09:05 PM
I think many readers would agree with me that MWAA should not have control over a major regional (call it what it is) turnpike, any more than it should control Route 28 or the Beltway. Back in the day (and yes I'm long of tooth enough to have driven on it then) when the Dulles Access Road almost solely served the airport there was a rationale for such a set up,not any more. Because of projected growth, the region indeed needs heavy rail infrastructure and MWAA does have a need to plan for and coordinate a rail link to the Nation's International Airport, but local commuters and those doing local business, etc. need not be disproportionately forced to pay for it. With the exception of the actual ACCESS (not Toll) road, the Toll Road needs to be run by the Commonwealth of VA. As an engine of business & daily life in Fairfax and Loudon Counties it is essential & vital to the tax base of the entire Commonwealth, and Richmond needs both to lead & to share in its cost. Similarly, as a link to our Capital's International Gateway the Silver Line is vital to our national system of transportation systems (no matter how dysfunctional or tottering such systems may be --- the foreign visitor at Dulles is confronted with a ground transportation scene as in Cairo) & local commuters should not bear all of the costs. This means revenues from diverse sources and an MWAA that is focused on running an airport, not our roads. MWAA needs to be refocused on airplanes not highways and trains.
Bob Bruhns September 23, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Actually, it was MWAA that wasted all that time. Knowing that there would be no federal funds, and knowing that Virginia would put in no more than $150 million, MWAA's Board nevertheless proceeded to approve the unbelievably expensive underground station plan at Dulles Airport, that was badly designed to require a loop of miles of underground tunnel, instead of a short dead-end spur that should have been planned, and MWAA's executives also approved of this foolishness. MWAA's Board also resisted the removal of the PLA requirement until Virginia would not even provide $150 million because of it, and MWAA's executives also approved of that foolishness. And the MWAA board wasted a lot of time globetrotting at MWAA expense, when it shoud have been looking at the excessive costs of the jobs it was promoting. Did any MWAA Board member or executive go to Fairfield Connecticut to see how they built a Metro station very comparable to our Rt 28 Metrorail station, for LESS THAN HALF of the $101 million price that Fairfax County is expected to pay? Did any MWAA Board member or executive check the prices they approved for the five parking garages in Phase II that are TWO TIMES what they should be? No, they just dug in their heels and resisted all reasonable requests from the funding partners for this job. Two years have been wasted on Phase II alone, fighting over the crazy overcosts that MWAA's board and executives have handed us. Get MWAA out of this project NOW!!!

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