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Fairfax County Board Defers Metrorail Vote

The board reached a decision after a two-hour public hearing.

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.

Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA) is overseeing construction of the subway line. MWAA's Project Labor Agreement (PLA) was a 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."

"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."

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  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." 

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.

Jeff Barnett March 22, 2012 at 01:37 AM
David Danner is correct. Virginia has used Project labor Agreements for decades. Republicans and Democrats signed them. PLAs ensure that no small group of workers can walk off the job and delay the entire project.
HardHatMommy March 22, 2012 at 12:52 PM
The whole truth is that Phase 1 does indeed have a voluntary PLA by Bechtel. It only applies to union folks. The non-union companies did not have to sign it. It's likely there to keep the unions from fighting each other. Thats Bechtel's business to decide where to get their labor. Over 60% of the job is currently being built with NONunion labor. The other 40% is Bechtel's union workers. That's a voluntary PLA and nobody has a problem with it. MWAA did not force a PLA of any kind on the contractor. Phase 2 is a whole different story because of the PLA preference scam. MWAA gives 10% bonus to a PLA bid making it a foolish move to bid without a PLA. This kind of PLA mandated by the owner, not the winning contractor in a voluntary way, discriminates against the 97.4% of construction workers from our state who are non-union. Both union and non-union should build this job. Just as they did on Phase 1. There is no need to give preference to union bids all of a sudden. That's not good for Virginia workers or taxpayers. The only ones who benefit are the union bosses like the LiUNA executive that sits on the MWAA board and the political candidates that take gobs of money from organized labor.
HardHatMommy March 22, 2012 at 01:06 PM
MWAA's 10% advantage scam on Phase 2 is huge and it will result in a mandatory PLA that doesn't necessarily violate Right to Work law. It just means that union labor will be used and the 97.4% of Virginia construction workers who are not in a union are out of luck. Disgusting, but not technically violation of Right to Work. There is nothing "open" about discouraging the bulk of a state's workforce from this job. We all know that when you constrict competition, the price goes up. And it isn't the guy with the jackhammer who benefits; it's the union executives and their political friends who gain at the expense of the Virginia worker, taxpayer and toll road user.
HardHatMommy March 22, 2012 at 01:08 PM
As far as PLAs in Virginia, there are billions of dollars of work performed without a PLA each year. We have had very few PLAs in our history as a state. Typically union and non-union workers build side by side in Virginia without a problem. Sometimes PLAs are used on a voluntary basis after a job is awarded to attempt to keep the unions from striking and to keep fighting between different unions under control. That is the union's business and doesn't relate to this discussion of MWAA mandating a PLA that discourages the nonunion marketplace in Virginia.
Rob Jackson March 22, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Any cost increase for Phase II will translate into higher fees on the Dulles Toll Road, which, in turn, means more traffic on local McLean, Vienna and Great Falls streets. Fairfax County does not yet have a handle on where those Toll Road users will go. Some will take transit; some will telecommute; some will car pool. But a significant number will drive on our streets. How many more? That is not in the interests of anyone in the northern part of Fairfax County. If the winning bidder wants a PLA, that's fine. But either forcing or incentivizing a PLA with higher prices is bad public policy. It will hurt residents of Fairfax County. And if workers walk off the job, it is a very simple process to replace them, especially in these hard times. The MWAA board has once again shown it does care about the public interest.

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