Life Just Got More Difficult for the MWAA

A bill filed Monday by Delegates Tim Hugo, R-Centreville, and Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, aims to prohibit state agencies from forcing bidders, contractors or sub-contractors to abide by a labor union agreement as a condition for participating in a public works project.

HB 33 is clearly targeting the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) decision to require bidders on Phase 2 of the Rail-to-Dulles project to sign a Project Labor Agreement (PLA). Word of the bill was disseminated by the Virginia chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, an open-shop trade association, along with a press release expressing support.

The bill would make it difficult for a state agency to “issue grants” or “provide financial assistance” to any entity requiring a labor agreement. The McDonnell administration is asking the General Assembly to appropriate an additional $150 million state contribution — presumably to be routed through the Department of Rail and Public Transit — to finance construction of Phase 2 of the Metrorail extension. As the entity in charge of managing the project, MWAA would be the recipient of the grant.

“Unfortunately, unaccountable political appointees controlled by special interests have been steering taxpayer-funded construction contracts to their political supporters by mandating union-favoring PLAs on projects funded by the state,” said Patrick Dean, president of ABC-VA. “This special interest favoritism has no place in Virginia.”

“If enacted, this measure would prohibit state-assisted construction projects, such as Phase 2 of the multi-billion dollar Dulles Metrorail Silver line project, from mandating unwanted anti-competitive and costly PLAs on contractors,” said Dean. “Why should Virginia’s financial stakeholders pay for the majority of this project when the PLA mandated on the prime contractor by MWAA ensures discrimination against 96 percent of Virginia’s construction workforce – those who have freely decided not to join a union? Local workers will lose jobs to out-of-state union members given hiring priority via the PLA.”

Eleven other states have enacted similar measures, noted Ben Brubeck, ABC National’s Director of Labor and Federal Procurement. “HB 33 allows contractors to voluntarily enter into union agreements like PLAs. Unlike a government-mandated PLA, it gives contractors a real choice, which can only increase competition and help taxpayers get the best possible product at the best possible price.”


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27 responses to “Life Just Got More Difficult for the MWAA”

  1. Jim:

    HB-2 from Bob Marshall was pre-filed some time ago and included a provision barring the state from funding Phase 2 if it had a PLA.

    It seems the Republicans can’t pre-file bills fast enough to prove how much they hate unions.

    Barbara Comstock is my representative in the Virginia House of Delegates. She seems bright and energetic but she didn’t do anything of note in her first term. Now that she’s won a second term I guess she has decided to hold her political coming out party. Given the district she represents, I find it an odd choice. While her constituents are conservative, they are also pragmatists. Relieving traffic congestion is more important to the voters than some odd anti-union bias. However, I am sure that she needs to establish her Republican bona fides with the Clown Show in Richmond so she has sprung into action to protect us from the evils of a PLA.

  2. Groveton, it’s also time to stop pretending that Dulles Rail will reduce traffic congestion. If it did, we would not need $1.5 to $2 billion in road improvements in and around Tysons Corner. At one time, Fairfax County DOT project a need to add three concentrator lanes westbound on the DTR and two concentrator lanes eastbound on the same road. Now they hope for less, especially since there are now plans for widening Route 7 west from Tysons. How can we square spending billions on rail and also need to spend hundreds of millions on a wider DTR? The County also projects a need for one more southbound lane on the Beltway (beyond the four new HOT lanes) from Route 7 to I-66. There are also many more ncessary road improvements needed that are set forth in Table 7 of the new Tysons Comp Plan. If these roads are necessary, how can we say Dulles Rail reduces traffic congestion?
    The only way for traffic to improve is for supply to increase faster than demand. Otherwise, there can be no reduction in traffic congestion. Moreover, FC DOT projects that, with Dulles Rail, high-quality mixed use development within the four TOD areas, additional bus transit, and “severe” (my word) TDM requirements, all of these new road projects will fail by 2030. Routes 7, 123, the Beltway and the DTR will reach traffic failure every evening. That’s not me talking; that’s from traffic studies by qualified engineers.
    I think it is very wrong to suggest that we will see any improvement in traffic due to the arrival of the Silver Line (which I still think must be built) and everything else that is planned for Tysons. Under these circumstances, I don’t think we ought to pay more to have union labor build Dulles Rail, Phase II.

  3. constructionandlaborguy Avatar


    This is a no-brainer for Comstock. This ensures her constituents get construction jobs because Virginia is predominantly nonunion. Opening the project up to more competition could save between $250 million and $500 million in project costs, which will bring toll costs down as the Dulles Toll Road is funding 75 percent of the project. Cheaper tolls will keep motorists on the Dulles Toll Road and relieve increased congestion on the other roads in the area if there are high tolls. Plus, this sticks it to unions who bankroll her opponents and holds the crooked MWAA board accountable. Where is there a downside for Comstock? The unions will still work on this job – it is too big for them not to get work – they just won’t have a monopoly on the portion of the job covered by the PLA.

    Explain to me how more competition is a bad thing?

    I think TMT is right, however. The Silver Line won’t relieve much congestion. Virginia needs to spend more on infrastructure to keep up with the growth and transportation needs. They haven’t raised the gas tax in years. They might as well index the gas tax for inflation to raise revenue as a tax hike won’t be popular anyways. They might as well get something for the trouble.

    They won’t be able to do any more construction by 2018 because revenue has to go to repair/maintenance first and the annual funding deficit is too large to fund new construction. Both parties need to stop kicking the can down the road.

    Maybe diverting revenue from other programs and into the infrastructure programs that will help economic development and growing the tax base is better than nothing, but Richmond needs to get real about transportation spending and needs.

    A short term fix of allocating revenue from other programs doesn’t address the long term funding deficits.

  4. Metro wont reduce traffic congestion? I got slammed for saying that ten years ago.

  5. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

    And the project is already subject to federal wage and benefit scales determined by the U.S. DOL via the federal Davis-Bacon Act regardless of whether or not the unions get a PLA. Davis-Bacon is the sacred cow of the construction unions. So there is no point in wasting your time making arguments about the need for high wages and benefits, etc.

  6. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

    It will help but it isn’t a cure all. The MWAA traffic studies (if you believe them) say cars will be taken off the road but it will depend on the rates of the tool. However, metro lines soon create higher density areas around the metro line and more development, which will lead to more cars, businesses and traffic that our roads won’t be able to eventually handle. The old saying goes, IF YOU BUILD IT, TOO MANY WILL COME.

  7. constructionandlaborguy Avatar


  8. HardHatMommy Avatar

    I beg your pardon Groveton, this is not some “odd anti-union bias”. Mandated PLAs raise construction costs significantly and the actual workers don’t benefit. The more this project costs, the more unlikely it is that we see it completed. There is no reason the taxpayers and toll road users should shoulder additional burden due to a mandated PLA. Most contractors are small businesses. They want to use their own employees (people they have trained and developed), not be forced to use union labor. The PLA is a disaster for minority, woman and veteran owned businesses and it will send jobs to out of state workers during a time when there are qualified non-union workers right here in our state who are ready and able to build this amazing project. This is a big deal to an industry that has been crippled by the recession. Maybe those at desk jobs don’t see what the big deal is, but I can tell you that in the eyes of the little people who build this state’s schools, monuments, hospitals and infrastructure, Barbara Comstock is our champion.

  9. well heckfire … if we’re gonna build METRO all the way to Dulles and finance it from tolls on the DTR…. why don’t we ALSO extend METRO to Fredericksburg and finances it with tolls on I-95?

    and of course, we’d build it with non-union labor…. a given…

    Groveton keeps talking about the need for more transportation infrastructure in NoVa….

    and I keep thinking… WHERE would you put it…??? even if you got more money?

    are there actually places in NoVa to build more roads? serious question!

  10. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

    Virginia’s gas tax is 17.5 percent per gallon. It hasn’t been raised since 1986 and isn’t indexed for inflation. It is the 37th lowest of all states.

    Learn about it here:

    Virginia already stretches infrastructure dollars pretty far because there isn’t a state prevailing wage law/little Davis-Bacon law mandating union wages (in most cases) unless there are federal dollars.

    I hate calling for a tax raise, but Virginia needs to get serious.

    There are no other realistic options.

    Loans, public private partnerships and tolling 95 will be almost as unpopular and won’t reduce long term deficits.

    There is no way around it.

    People want services but they don’t want to pay for them.

  11. TMT:

    “Groveton, it’s also time to stop pretending that Dulles Rail will reduce traffic congestion. If it did, we would not need $1.5 to $2 billion in road improvements in and around Tysons Corner.”.

    We wouldn’t need to spend more on road construction if Rail to Dulles ELIMINATED traffic congestion. It is illogical to cite the need for ongoing road construction as proof that Rail to Dulles won’t REDUCE traffic congestion.

  12. Constructionandlaborguy and Hardhatmommy:

    Please don’t assume that all those who have issues with Rail to Dulles are honest people like TMT. Many of the opponents have ideological complaints that they disguise as economic concerns. Some believe that that the high density infill development which usually accompanies heavy rail deployment will lead to a more liberal community and higher taxes. Some of these people used to have bumper stickers which said, “Don’t Fairfax Loudoun”. You don’t see those bumper stickers anymore. However, hope springs eternal in the hearts of these people. When they moved from Arlington to Lessburg I guess they assumed they would be the last person to do so.

    Some are retired or semi-retired “work at homes”. They were all too happy to spend their working years driving on highways built by the economic sacrifice of prior generations. Now, however, their mobility needs are reduced and they see no reason to pay taxes in order to support the mobility needs of the current working population and/or future generations. These early Baby Boomers or “Greedy Grays” are truly America’s Worst Generation. It pains me to be generationally on the borderline with these sad people.

    Some are downstate residents who just can’t accept the decline of traditional Virginia centers of power. Some are rural residents with an honest belief that they can live with limited government support and don’t see why they should finance greater government support in other regions of the state. Some are rural residents who like the financial subsidies that come to them from Virginia’s urban and suburban areas. They understand that the size of the subsidy depends, in part, on preventing the urban and suburban areas from keeping too much of their own tax money. But the worst are the “Descendants of Pocahontas”. These sad people tend to live in declining cities and spend a lot of time talking about the “First Families of Virginia” and “The War of Northern Aggression”. They drink Rock and Rye and talk about the good old days when the entire world of Virginia spun around the epicenter of Richmond. They see Northern Virginia and Tidewater overtaking them and it makes them mad. If they were a bit more aware, they’d look in their rear view mirror and see Charlottesville gaining on them fast. They see a compelling need for a perpetually un-congested four lane beltway around Richmond but don’t want NoVa to build any transportation infrastructure.

    Enter Barbara Comstock. She sees an opportunity to enhance her image by opposing the PLA. Maybe that’s a good idea, maybe not. For the sake of argument, let’s say she’s right. The risk is that her opposition places her in the anti-Rail to Dulles camp. What happens if the Greedy Grays, Descendants of Pocohontas, etc succeed in canceling the project? Will her constituents say, “Barbara was really only trying to improve things with her legislation, not get the program canceled?”. I won’t. I’ve voted for her twice and I’ll vote against her in 2013. I’ll write a check to her opponent. I’ll see her as being unable to see the forest for the trees. Or, maybe being unable to see the trees for the bark. Of course, if the PLA is dropped and the project goes forward, all will be hunkey – dorey and I’ll vote for her again.

    The question she needs to ask – is it worth the risk?

  13. HardHatMommy Avatar

    Groveton, nothing about HB 33 is intended to kill the project. The intent is to make sure both union and non-union companies can compete for work (as they always have in our state and did on phase 1) without a mandatory PLA scheme that drives up costs and sends jobs out of state. Removing the PLA makes the project more likely to succeed. Do you think MWAA is not going to finish the project because a piece of legislation thwarted the attempts of a couple of their board members to give union a monopoly on the work? You should be celebrating the fact that she is doing something that will make this project more cost-effective and make phase 2 a poster child for jobs creation for our state’s workers. The Bechtels of the world could care less – they just want the job and a mandated PLA gives them less competition so their cool with it. But the workers and taxpayers who understand what this PLA means do care. I’ve heard Comstock talk on this issue. She believes in rail to Dulles. She is trying to help this project and others in the future get built by lifting this PLA burden. The bill is in no way anti-rail or anti-union. It is about making sure our state keeps up with its tradition of NOT discriminating against EITHER union or non-union. It’s about making sure that there is open and transparent competition. It’s about building projects with Virginia labor. It’s about sticking up for the workers, the businesses, the taxpayers and the toll road users to make sure that the project gets built and is a good deal for all, not a big dig.

  14. re: NoVa needs more roads?

    where the heck would you put them even if you had the money?

    re: “we have to increase the gas tax” because NoVa and HR need more money for more roads.

    RoVa: ” nope… we don’t need no mo stinkin taxes and we control the GA”

    Experts: increasing the gas tax won’t generate revenues like it use to.

    Cars are much more efficient ..some are going electric so raising the gas tax is not going to come close to “fixing” transportation.

    Note that McDonnell has a proposal to increase funding for transportation by increasing it’s share of the sales tax which is a much more sustainable source not affected by more efficient cars.

    look at a comparison here of gas tax verses sales tax:

    Retail sales and use tax 1% = 834.9 million
    Motor Fuel Tax 1 cent = 51.7 million

  15. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

    I didn’t know the gas tax revenue was so little if they hiked it by just one penny.

    However, I think the car efficiency argument is weak. There will be more motorists with Virginia/Mid-Atlantic population growth that might offset any efficiencies (even though nobody drives electric cars). But if those figure are correct, you are right, that is not enough revenue to make much of a dent.

    I still think the gas tax needs to be raised/indexed for inflation. Maybe they need to explore both solutions.

    My understanding is that the sales tax for roads is not a tax increase but a tax shift from other programs into transportation needs. Isn’t that robbing Peter to pay Paul and won’t it sustain future budget deficits? There will be a crisis point sometime. I’m not sure if there is fat somewhere else in the budget, but since Virginia pays for so many local roads, they do need to develop a dedicated revenue stream to keep up with our needs.

  16. I’d like to also point out that virtually every locality in Va taxes vehicles but instead of spending that money for roads – they spend it for other things.

    shouldn’t taxes on vehicles be spent on roads?

  17. another approach. Enable localities to add a percent tax on fuel AND a percent tax on all auto-related sales and to REQUIRE that it be spent ONLY on transportation infrastructure.

    this should satisfy BOTH the urban and the rural counties in Va, letting each one decide what is best for their locality.

  18. in terms of METRO funding – why would it be wrong to institute a 1% NoVa tax to be a permanent revenue source for METRO?

    Groveton makes a big deal about Dillon from Richmond but he seems to enthusiastically support a NoVa version of it – i.e. NOT going to the voters but instead having “real” leaders make the decisions that must be made.

    why is Dillon NoVa Style better than Dillon – Va style?

  19. Hardhatmommy:

    Politics is a strange world. Sometimes politicians get blamed for things they didn’t do. Was the bank bailout unfair? Yeah, that rat Obama should never have done that. Actually, he didn’t. TARP was Bush. So, Bush should be blamed if the Euro crashes and we get another “too big to fail” situation with the big US banks? Not really. Frank – Dodd was the handiwork of Obama and his Democratic colleagues.

    You want jobs for “little people” who don’t sit behind desks. You correctly believe that Phase 2 will help provide those jobs. What if Phase 2 is canceled? Nobody will get jobs. Not the union construction workers, not the non-union construction workers.

    There is one reason ans one reason only that Northern Virginia is making progress with transportation. That reason’s name is Bob McDonnell. Unfortunately, Bob McDonnell won’t be around forever. In fact, he might not be around after this summer’s Republican Convention.

    Do you think Bill Bolling has the guts to press Phase 2 forward? I don’t. So, if the delays being proffered by Barbara Comstock, Bob Marshall, Ken Cuccinelli and others result in Phase 2 being canceled because those delays pushed the decision outside the envelope of the one competent senior level politician in the state – who is to blame?

    I’ll blame Barbara Comstock.

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Tell Barbara to put down the trowel.

  20. LarryG:

    Dillon’s Rule has nothing to do with “going to the voters”. It is a governance construct that puts power in the hands of the state rather than the localities.

    You can have voter referenda under Dillon’s Rule, you can voter referenda under Home Rule.

    I applaud Bob McDonnell for going around the largely useless General Assembly. However, that’s far different than going around the voters. The vast majority of General Assembly members play an ongoing game of “avoid and evade” with the voters. Dick Saslaw doesn’t think the minutes of committee meetings should be made public, for example. Of course, it’s the committees that kill most of the bills that the voters want.

  21. “in terms of METRO funding – why would it be wrong to institute a 1% NoVa tax to be a permanent revenue source for METRO?”.

    It’s half-assed.

    Why would it be wrong for all transportation taxes raised in NoVa to be controlled by NoVa and spent on projects that are NoVa priorities?

    It’s time to get Richmond out of NoVa, out of Tidewater and out of Charlottesville.

  22. More roads. Larry’s point about limits on the ability to build more roads in NoVA is generally correct, but not applicable in all instances. For example, my favorite Table 7 in the Tysons Comp Plan sets out specific road improvement projects that must be completed by 2030. However, if one reads more the Comp Plan, one finds that traffic engineers have concluded that, once the Table 7 projects are completed, it would be impossible to build more road capacity in the area. After 2030, every single new trip in and out of Tysons must use transit. Limits to growth? Yep! There are only limited things that can be done for traffic improvement with blacktop and concrete.
    We still need reforms or nothing will improve. We say Tysons is a key economic engine for the entire state; are spending billions on Dulles Rail; millions more on planning; and have identified the needed road projects for Tysons. Yet the CTB has decided to resurrect the old Outer Beltway, which would not be connected either to I-95 or Maryland. Our leaders have ignored what we are doing and what we have decided in favor of another scheme to enrich land speculators. Transportation tax money is nothing more than a slush fund to reward the well-connected. Chicago and Louisiana have nothing on us.

  23. HardHatMommy Avatar

    Groveton, why do you think removing Dennis Martire’s PLA will stop the project? I don’t understand. Are you saying that you think MWAA won’t build this project if they have to proceed as they did in Phase 1 with a voluntary, optional PLA or no PLA at all? I’d like to understand your point of view.

    Also, this bill is important above and beyond this one project. Had someone had the political courage to do this back during the Wilson Bridge fiasco, we wouldn’t be having to fight to work on a project we pay taxes to build. It’s crazy that this is such a difficult issue to get through our politicians’ thick skulls. PLAs are absolutely discriminatory and they drive up cost and the person running the jackhammer doesn’t see any benefit.

    As my kids say to me sometimes, I don’t understand why you don’t understand.

  24. Groveton either missed the import of my question or sidestepped it.

    Groveton applauds MWAA taking the bull by the horns so to speak…without voter referenda…without voter input even… just do it.

    well that’s Dillon Rule were you “do it” because the leaders have decided what is best.

    Groveton hates it at the state level but he wants the same kind of “rule” at the local level.. let the leaders decide… don’t ask the voters because they will ask questions and cause delays……

    same church, different pew.

    I have suggested a compromise… give NoVa Home Rule but make it be transparent and accountable to the folks who will be paying the newly enabled taxes.

    the best plans going forward are the ones that a majority of people support.

    it’s slower and often delayed but it’s also not subject to nasty backlashes that kill ongoing projects and refuse to agree to new ones.

  25. Groveton, Fairfax County’s 527 TIA submission for Tysons indicates the transit modal split for Tysons’ four stations is much less than Downtown D.C., the Rosslyn Ballston corridor and less than Bethesda. VDOT engineers also felt this prediction was overly optimistic and transit ridership at Tysons will be even less.
    Just growing from today’s 46 MSF to 84 MSF, which George Mason University predicts will occur by 2030, means huge increases in traffic that require $1.5 B in new roads (at understated 2009 costs). Unless we were to hold Tysons at today’s levels — something no one is advocating — Dulles Rail will not reduce traffic congestion. A bigger Tysons or a bigger anything means worse traffic congestion.
    I think that I’ve reviewed virtually everything written in the last several years about Tysons traffic. I’ve seen nothing that suggests rail will reduce traffic congestion in a growing Tysons. Am I missing something? It’s possible.

  26. LarryG:

    “I have suggested a compromise… give NoVa Home Rule but make it be transparent and accountable to the folks who will be paying the newly enabled taxes.”.

    I am fine with that suggestion. I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t want all of Virginia to transparent and accountable to the people paying the taxes. Transparency to the citizenry should be a right guaranteed by the Virginia Constitution regardless of Dillon’s Rule vs Home Rule.

  27. I do want more/better transparency/accountability across Va but if a locality wants to levy more taxes -more kinds of taxes – and have more autonomy from the state then I think the best governance is better local citizen involvement.

    I point out that, for instance, counties collect significant revenues from automobile taxes and yet almost none of them dedicate that revenue to transportation and instead wait for the state to step up.

    and I got to thinking about the region-wide issue…and your MPO …and your CLRP – your long range transportation plan for Md/Dc/NoVa and it covers the period 2011-2040 and it has over 200 billion worth of transportation infrastructure in it.

    that’s a LOT of money…. and quite a bit of it goes for expanding existing roads:

    take a look:


    Battlefield Pkwy., construct 4 lanes, 2012
    Dulles Access Rd., widen to 6 lanes, 2017
    Franconia/Springfield Pkwy., HOV with interchange at Nueman St., 2020, 2025
    I-395 HOV lanes reversible ramp at Seminary Rd., 2015
    I-495 High Occupancy/Toll (HOT) lanes, auxiliary lanes, and new bus service, 2013, 2030
    I-66 HOV, widen to 8 lanes, reconstruct US 15 interchange, 2018
    I-66, reconstruct interchange at US 29, 2014
    I-66, spot improvements inside the Beltway, 2013, 2020
    I-66/I-495, reconstruct interchange, 2013
    I-66, construct auxiliary lanes at Gallows Rd. and Cedar Ln., 2030
    I-95, Fort Belvoir EPG access improvements, 2012, 2016
    I-95, construct approaches to Woodrow Wilson Bridge, 2013
    I-95, reconstruct interchange at VA 642, 2010
    I-95, widen to 8 lanes, 2011
    I-95/395 HOT Lanes, construct 1, 2 additional lanes and new bus service, 2015
    I-95/495, reconstruct interchange at VA 613, 2025
    I-95/I-395/I-495, interchange access ramps to I-495 HOV, 2013
    US 1, widen to 6 lanes, 2011, 2025
    US 1, widen to 6 lanes, 2020, 2025
    US 15, widen to 4 lanes, 2040
    US 15, widen to 4 lanes, 2015
    US 15 Bypass, interchange at Edwards Ferry Rd., 2035
    US 29, interchange at VA 55, 2014
    US 29, widen to 5, 6 lanes, 2014
    US 29, widen to 6 lanes, 2013, 2040
    US 29, widen to 6 lanes, 2015, 2025
    US 50, widen to 6 lanes, 2014, 2025
    US 50, widen/reconstruct 6 lanes including interchanges, 2013, 2015, 2025
    VA 123, widen to 6 lanes, 2013, 2025
    VA 123, widen to 6 lanes, 2017
    VA 123, widen to 6 lanes, 2013
    VA 236, widen to 6 lanes, 2025
    VA 28, widen to 6 lanes, 2016
    VA 28, widen to 8 lanes, with interchanges, 2010, 2011, 2015, 2025
    VA 3000, widen to 6 lanes, 2012, 2020, 2025
    VA 411 Tri-County Pkwy., construct 4 lanes, 2035
    VA 7, Leesburg Pk., widen to 6, 8 lanes, 2014, 2025, 2030
    VA 7, construct interchange at VA-659, 2020
    VA 7, widen to 6 lanes, 2025
    VA 7 Bypass, widen to 6 lanes, 2040
    VA 7100/Fairfax Co Pkwy. HOV, widen, upgrade to 6/8 lanes, 2035
    VA 7100/Fairfax Co Pkwy., construct 4, 6 lanes with interchanges at Franconia Springfield Pkwy and Boudinot Dr.,2011, 2012, 2025
    VA 7100, interchanges at Fair Lakes Pkwy. and Monument Dr., 2013
    VA 7100, widen to 6 lanes, 2020

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