The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors deferred until April 10 a vote on the county’s participation in Phase II of the Dulles Metrorail project after a public hearing Tuesday night.
Dulles Rail has been a contentious topic since its inception, and Tuesday night was no different. More than 20 county residents voiced their support for or opposition to the $2.7 billion project during the two-hour forum. Virginia Del. Barbara Comstock (R-McLean) and former county board chairman Kate Hanley were among the speakers, about half of whom supported the project.
"Rail is necessary for the long-term economic health and development of Fairfax County," said Mark Ingrao of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce. "It is our responsibility as a community to finish what we started."
Hanley also supported Fairfax County's involvement. "Historically, this has been the most popular transportation project in the region," she said. "This board and previous boards have voted a number of times to keep the train on track to Dulles, and I hope tonight you will do it again ... All of Fairfax County will benefit."
Stations from Phase I of the project are already under construction, but if the county opts out of Phase II, the three proposed stations in Fairfax County would not be built. Many supporters of the project think that's wasting an investment in the first phase.
"This was never meant to be the 'Rail to Reston,'" Ingrao said.
But many residents who live in the Dulles corridor are concerned about drastic toll increases to the Dulles Toll Road, disagreeing with current plans to have vehicle tolls shoulder more than 50 percent of the Phase II cost. According to a Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA) report, a one-way trip could increase from $2.25 to $4.50 in a year, and to $6.75 by 2018.
Terry Maynard of the Reston 2020 committee called the current funding format "grossly unfair," urging the board to put any decisions on hold until a better funding scheme can be found.
"To do otherwise is imprudent, impractical and unjust,” he said.
Tammi Petrine, also with Reston 2020, agreed.
"The use of wildly excessive Toll Road revenues to fund Metrorail construction is unjustified and risky," she said.
Springfield Supervisor Pat Herrity also had apprehensions about the Toll Road's burden. "My concern is, are we going to do more damage with the tolls even with the economic benefit of rail," he said.
Thomas Cranmer, a representative of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, said the second phase had potential to be a disaster. "This is probably the worst commercially planned project I have seen in 40 years," he said. "I hope that you will not approve this project."
MWAA's Project Labor Agreement (PLA) was another point of controversy. The agreement, which the MWAA board adopted by an 11-0 vote, gives contractors incentive with a 10 percent credit on their technical evaluation scores if they use union labor. Residents and legislators alike worried this would make for an uneven playing field for bidders.
"We believe that Dulles Rail is the most important transportation and construction project for our region in decades," said Christian Deschauer of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. "And we are not opposed to the voluntary use of PLA when they follow a fair, transparent and competitive bidding process where all bids are treated equally. The effect of the decision of MWAA board, however, is that it puts any contractor who declines to include a PLA in their bid at such a disadvantage, that inclusion of [one] becomes a de facto mandate."
Comstock has spearheaded legislation that could jeopardize the $150 million the state has said it will contribute to the project. House Bill 33 prohibits discrimination against bidders in the procurement of services, and she claims the PLA discriminates against Virginia's nonunion workers.
"The MWAA Board continues to be very disfunctional," Comstock said. "Taking those preferences and those mandates out releases the state money and allows us to move forward."
Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay did not want to see that money disappear. The $150 million is to reduce the hurt from increased tolls, which would only get worse without it. "It is very important to the taxpayers and the users of this toll road that the state make its contribution," McKay said.
The decision to defer until April 10 came after a motion by the board Tuesday morning to allow the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors 30 extra days to review their decision to participate in Phase II. In a statement, chairman Sharon Bulova said Loudoun County requested the extra time because of turnover on their board after the November 2011 election.