Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton expressed concerns Wednesday in a letter to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority following its vote to build a tunnel through the Dulles International Airport rather than the proposed elevated track for the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project.
The decision will likely add hundreds of millions to the project cost and places in jeopardy the original $2.5 billion estimate for completion of the next phase of work, a move objected to by state leaders.
“As you know, the Commonwealth asked MWAA to ensure the most cost effective construction for Phase 2 of the project, and the decision to pursue a tunnel alignment raises concerns about MWAA’s commitment to the Commonwealth to ensure cost sensitive leadership,” says Connaughton. “The tunnel alignment, by all accounts, is a more expensive alignment than the aerial option through the airport, and will place a heavy financial burden on local funding partners and Dulles Toll Road users.”
The Commonwealth’s goal is to advance Phase 2 of the project with a cost estimate as close to the original estimate of $2.5 billion as possible. State officials warned MWAA that its decision will mean difficult future decisions to trim the project budget will be necessary.
Virginia state officials are also concerned about how high potential toll rates would need to be set to finance the tunnel options.
“We will work with you in the coming months to fully understand MWAA’s decision and its impact on local and state commitments,” writes Connaughton. “We trust that MWAA remains committed to working with the Commonwealth to deliver this critical transportation project in the most efficient, safe and cost effective manner, and that you will provide the Commonwealth with a plan that meets this goal.”
The Commonwealth has agreed to pay 25 percent of the cost of the 23-mile Dulles Metrorail Project, and in March 2008, it transferred operations and maintenance responsibilities of the Dulles Toll Road from the Virginia Department of Transportation to MWAA to help finance the cost of the project.
The Dulles Metrorail extension will expand the existing Metrorail system from the East Falls Church station on the Orange Line in Fairfax County through Tysons Corner to Washington Dulles International Airport and beyond the airport to Route 772/Ryan Road in Loudoun County.