The board tasked with overseeing two of the D.C. regions three airports has been accused of transparency, contracting and ethical issues.
Dennis Martire's resignation from the board of directors of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority went into effect Wednesday. He served since 2009, and announced his resignation in August.
Martire's name is not exactly on the lips of most Washingtonians. The agency he worked for would be paid little attention, if not for its responsibility for one of the largest public transportation projects in the country: the $6 billion Silver Line Metro rail to Dulles International Airport.
Martire faced months of criticism directed from high places at both his professional behavior and the conduct of the airports authority itself. He became the poster boy for what's wrong with the agency and Gov. Bob McDonnell attempted to remove him from the MWAA board. Martire ultimately decided to settle his legal dispute with the administration and resign.
The U.S. Department of Transportation's Inspector General in May issued a report criticizing the board's contracting, ethics and travel policies. Martire was accused of spending more than "$38,000 attending five conferences in 2010 and 2011," including a nine-day trip to attend a 36-hour conference in Sardinia, in a Washington Post editorial published in May.
In his first interview since announcing he'd step down, Martire defended the agency’s record and denied any wrongdoing.
“It was a three-day trip [the Post] made into a nine-day trip," Martire said of the accusations. "The conference was only three days. I flew from there to somewhere else on my dime, not on MWAA's dime.
"We have a policy that allows us to go to airport conferences," he continued. "It's not like we pull out a globe, spin it, and say, we're going here today."
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood sent MWAA a letter in August expressing outrage at "ongoing reports describing questionable dealings including the award of numerous lucrative no-bid contracts to former Board members."
MWAA has publicized reforms of its spending, travel, and contracting practices and Martire believes the agency's leadership allowed their opponents to turn the transparency issues into a distraction from MWAA’s stewardship of the Silver Line.
"The airports authority has handled this project remarkably well … I regret that they've kind of stumbled and made us look bad, " said Martire. The labor-union official credits a project labor agreement (PLA), a pro-union provision voluntarily implemented by the prime contractor in the Silver Line's Phase 1 construction, for keeping the project on time and on budget with a strong worker safety record.
"Compared to other major infrastructure projects in northern Virginia, like the Springfield interchange or the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, it's a model project," Martire said. "Those projects were all hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. The taxpayer is the one who has to eat that money."
Martire called Virginia's $150 million contribution for Phase 2 of the Silver Line, which has an estimated price tag of $3 billion, "disgraceful," and he urged the federal government to provide additional funding to bring down projected toll increases on the Dulles Toll Road that will pay for the project.
Under the current financing arrangement, those tolls will cover 75 percent of Phase 2's costs. A full, round-trip toll would rise from $4.50 in 2013 to $9 in 2015 under current MWAA projections.
"You're going to have rail to Dulles and beyond, but the tolls are still my major concern," Martire said. "This could be a boondoggle if it's built out there with $10 tolls."
Martire also shrugged off criticism for supporting the use of a non-voluntary labor agreement in planning process for Phase 2, accusing its critics of opposing organized labor.
Listen to a longer version of WAMU 88.5's interview with Dennis Martire.
[Music: "Move On Up" by St. Germain from The Finest Electro Jazz Compilation]