WAMU 88.5 : Morning Edition

Dulles Rail: Virginia's In, Now What About Loudoun County?

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A pig put up in protest of Loudoun's continued funding of the Dulles Rail project at a June 4 Loudoun County Board meeting. 
Martin Di Caro
A pig put up in protest of Loudoun's continued funding of the Dulles Rail project at a June 4 Loudoun County Board meeting. 

The Commonwealth of Virginia now says it won't pull its funding for the next phase of the Silver line rail project to Dulles Airport. Now, it's up to Loudoun County to decide whether it will participate.

The state will provide its committed $150 million in funding, Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton confirmed Wednesday to WAMU 88.5.  This confirmation came just hours after the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board voted to remove a pro-union labor provision from the project — an issue that had been a sticking point for the state. 

“We've always been in. The question has always been just how much we can be in due to some of the things that the MWAA board was attempting to put in the contract,” said Connaughton, referring to the project labor agreement, which would have given more weight to bids where the contractor agreed to hire union workers.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Republicans in the General Assembly have argued that the agreement was illegal due to Virginia's status as a right-to-work state. The state threatened to withdraw $150 million in funding and Loudoun County threatened to back out of its $270 million commitment if MWAA stuck with the PLA preference. 

“I think it is important we send a signal to Loudoun County that we really wish to encourage their participation.  It’s critical to the success of the project,” MWAA Chairman Michael Curto said June 6, moments before voting in favor of dropping the PLA.

The death of the project labor agreement does not, however, guarantee Loudoun County’s participation in the Silver Line.  The Board of Supervisors has until July 4 to opt in, but board members are divided over funding options. Supervisors from eastern counties where the rail line would be built are pitted against representatives from other parts of the county where residents will rarely use the Silver line.

A decision by Loudoun County to withdraw from Phase 2 would delay the project at least 18 months, according to MWAA CEO Jack Potter.

Now that the PLA is out of the way, the Silver Line’s critics are expected to focus on coming toll increases on the Dulles Toll Road that are supposed to finance a significant percentage of the project’s cost.

The Loudoun County Board is considering a slew of potential tax increases to fund their share, including creating a county-wide commercial and industrial tax or special tax districts near two future Metro stops west of Dulles Airport where commercial development is expected.

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