Lots of Competition for Phase 2 Rail-to-Dulles Contract

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The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) has approved five construction consortia to bid on the estimated $2.8 billion Phase 2 of the Rail-to-Dulles project. According to Leesburg Today, the bidders include Bechtel Transit Partners, which is building Phase 1, and four other groups with lead players ranging from Clark Construction Group and Kiewit Infrastructure to Archer Western Contractors, Sanska USA and Fluor Enterprises.

Of those, only Bechtel is known to be likely to utilize a voluntary Project Labor Agreement with organized labor. The PLA has worked well for Bechtel in Phase 1 of the Rail-to-Dulles project, which is nearing completion pretty much on time and on budget. But according to my source, two of the bidders are highly unlikely to use a PLA and two are playing their cards close to their chest and not revealing whether they will or not.

Thus, of the five most qualified bidders for the massive contract, it is safe to say that at least two, and possibly four, would have been disqualified if the MWAA board had stuck to its intention to require PLAs for all bidders. Fortunately, after being bludgeoned by political pressure, the board dropped the requirement. As a consequence, there is greater competition for the project and Virginians can be assured that the winner, even if it is Bechtel, will submit a lower bid, potentially saving the public hundreds of millions of dollars.

There are still unresolved issues regarding the rail project — citizen activist Bob Bruhns has questioned why the official cost estimate contains such inflated costs for parking decks — but at least on this one matter, it appears that the interests of the public will be served.

If Bechtel wins and chooses to lock in its labor force through a PLA, I will be the first to applaud it. Bechtel’s PLA-based business model appears to work well for it. But Virginians can be assured that stiff competition from open shop contractors will keep the final price tag for Phase 2 lower than it would have been.


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90 responses to “Lots of Competition for Phase 2 Rail-to-Dulles Contract”

  1. larryg Avatar

    how can phase I come in on budget and on time if they are using that nasty “socialist” PLA?

    1. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

      The jury is still out. But a few reasons. The P1 PLA was voluntarily adopted and crafted/negotiated by DTP. In addition, subs were not forced to agree to the PLA.

      This is much different that what Martire and the misguided MWAA almost implemented (before Virginia intervened) on P2. They wanted a PLA mandate on the prime and subs and it would have inserted inexperienced and union-friendly MWAA into the PLA’s negotiations instead of leaving it to the unions and respective firms to hammer out an agreement. It would have interfered with the free market and limited the pool of bidders to only firms and teams willing to sign a PLA.

      Off to work.

      1. construction for dummies Avatar
        construction for dummies

        The PLA requirement was voted on by the entire MWAA Board and the vote was 12-0. The Board voted for it because CEO Jack Potter, Chairman Michael Curto testified that it saved the project millions of dollars on Phase 1. But the vote was 12-0 with all Virginia Board members including Congressman Tom Davis voting for it. Dennis Martire was only one vote on this Board of 13. He abstained from voting the records show. But the PLA that was being offered on Phase 2 was the same as the PLA on Phase 1 but instead of voluntary it was given a preference of 10 points if a contractor decided to use it. Subcontractors were not subject to it just as it was in Phase 1. The labor rates for the project are set by the federal Davis Bacon laws. So the labor rates are the same for both union and non union contractors. So saying union rates cost more is a red herring. Where is this 18% increase coming into play? I assume Bechtel Construction is in business to make a profit. If unions added 18% I’m sure they would not be in business very long. But the safety record along with using trained and skilled workers must be a productive model . Phase 1 proved that point and as Secretary LaHood stated, Phase 1 is a model project that should be used all around the United States. This PLA is a huge red herring. This fight over ideology cost the project millions in not getting the phase 2 contract out the door months earlier . MWAA could have taken advantage of the construction market weakness and would have received much better numbers on bid day. But the market is now getting busy again. Materials costs are now starting to climb again . They missed a very good opportunity to take advantage of market conditions. All because of something that was not going to cost the project any additional money. PLA agreements are open to union and non union contractors. Non union contractors like to say they discriminate against them but they don’t. Another red herring. This project will probably still have a voluntary PLA and this entire costly argument will only be about ideology. Expensive lesson for MWAA and Virginia tax payers and toll road users.

        1. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

          You are way off the mark “Dummy”…I don’t know where to begin to debunk your misinformation.

          Martire voted for the PLA mandate and worked behind the scenes to promote the mandate and later, the PLA preference. MWAA minutes reflect both and reporters have produced evidence of both.

          The attempted P2 PLA mandate was not the same as P1 voluntary PLA. First, the P2 PLA would have applied to subcontractors (P1 does not) and it was going to be required prior to bidding, as opposed to voluntarily entered into by the prime contractor (DTP voluntarily used a PLA on P1 but only for their workforce). These are both important factors and differences.

          Later, once everyone understood Martire was pulling a fast one, MWAA removed their PLA mandate and changed it to a de facto PLA mandate via a PLA preference policy. Once again, the public smelled the rat and the PLA preference was eventually removed.

          While the wage and benefit rates on P2 are set by the federal government under the Davis-Bacon Act, and both union and nonunion firms would have been required to pay AT LEAST this amount to construction workers with or without a PLA, it is a huge misunderstanding to assume labor rates are the same with a PLA so therefore labor costs are the same. There are cost factors like labor productivity and the cost of individual units of labor that the PLA impacts. A PLA needlessly increases costs (union work rules, double payment of benefits, contributions into union slush funds, legal costs for analysis and compliance with PLA) that are born only on nonunion firms, making it difficult for them to compete. When PLAs are not mandated, there is more competition, which also drives down prices.

          Research demonstrates PLA mandates typically increase costs between 12 percent and 18 percent on prevailing wage projects where wages are controlled, compared to similar projects without PLA mandates. We won’t ever know if that is the case on P2 because they did not bid the job with and without a PLA for direct comparison. But shouldn’t MWAA and other stakeholders do all they can to reduce costs without sacrificing quality considering the financial concerns with this job?

          PLAs absolutely discourage competition from nonunion firms (and even some union firms because PLAs interfere with existing collective bargaining agreements). I don’t think anyone is saying nonunion firms cannot bid on these projects. They are legally allowed to do so. It’s just that the terms of the PLA mandate are so discouraging, nonunion firms often elect not to participate because it would be a fools errand. Sort of like you being “allowed” to apply to Harvard, but you probably won’t get in because of their strict requirements. Except in this case, the requirements are rigged for a desired outcome: Ensure union firms and union workers build this project.

          The project was not delayed solely because of the PLA controversy brought on by Martire. There were a number of other squabbles that slowed things down, mainly basic financing. Besides, the industry is still in a funk with 15.7 percent industry unemployment rate. Not as high as 27 percent in 2010, but still almost double the national average across all industries. In theory, MWAA is still going to get a good deal. And a PLA would have harmed Virginia’s construction workforce, where almost 95 percent don’t belong to a union.

          And if the lack of a PLA really translated into an inferior project and worker skills, how do you explain the positive performance of the billions of dollars worth of P1 work performed by nonunion subcontractors who did not sign the voluntary PLA? How do you account for all of the roads, bridges, sewers and schools successfully built without PLAs?

          PLAs are a scam. A scheme to have the government interfere with the market and steer contracts to their chums.

          1. construction for dummies Avatar
            construction for dummies

            What I don’t understand about your long explanation of why non union contractors don’t like them is it says nothing about controlling costs or safety. It’s basically that non union contractors just don’t like them is all I’m hearing. But back to your Martire theory, how many votes did Martire get on this Board? I assume he was only given one vote. So how do you explain all the others voting for it as well? So let’s go with your theory that he worked behind the scenes to get the PLA. How did he convince Republican Congressman Tom Davis and all the other Virginia appointees to vote along with him? The two votes were 11-2 and then 12-0. That is some pretty impressive work behind the scenes. I would conclude that all of these Board members saw value in the PLA. The facts show the PLA worked very well on Phase 1. You can’t deny it. That is why the entire Board voted for it. That is why you will probably see a PLA on Phase 2 as well.

  2. The PLA _might_ have added 18% to the price. But we are looking at a double price for this project, even WITHOUT the PLA. In fact, did anybody see the price estimate drop by anything like 18% when the PLA was dropped? Gee, I didn’t either. Hmmmmmmmm.


    Reviewing MWAA’s 8-13-C001_RFQI, Request for Qualifications Information, Final Design and Construction, Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project – Phase 2, Package “A” (Rail Line, Stations, and Systems):


    Package A consists of the final design and construction of the rail line, stations and systems elements for all of Phase 2, including (from the Description of Work):

    – Rail tracks and supporting infrastructure at-grade in the DIAAH, Dulles Toll Road (DTR), and Dulles Greenway rights-of-way.

    – Rail tracks on elevated (aerial) structures and supporting infrastructure within the boundaries of Dulles Airport.

    – Rail stations and supporting infrastructure in the median of the DIAAH at Reston Parkway, Herndon (Monroe Street), Route 28, in the median of the Dulles Greenway at Route 606 and Route 772, and in the vicinity of the North (Daily 1) Parking Garage at Dulles Airport. Each median station will include pedestrian bridges crossing either the DIAAH/DTR or the Dulles Greenway, and entry pavilions, access roadways, surface parking and bus facilities. The Dulles Airport station will have a direct connection to the existing pedestrian tunnel, providing climate controlled access to the Main Terminal building.

    – Rail systems for all of Phase 2 including traction power substations, tie breaker stations, communications equipment and train control equipment.


    Package A includes one thing that is not usually included in the Phase II cost analysis: the Rt 28 (Innovation) rail station. This means that the Rt 28 station will be built for MWAA by the winning contractor, and MWAA will bill Fairfax County for it. The agreement is that Fairfax County will pay MWAA about $101 million for that station, based on information from the March 6, 2012 MWAA Phase II cost estimate, and baseline information from the FTA July 3, 2011 FTA White Paper. The Phase II rail project officially pretends that this $101 million cost is part of some phantom project to be paid for by Fairfax County, and it will only revert to the Phase II project if Fairfax County fails to provide these funds. If that happens, the unpaid cost will be paid in the agreed ratio of 4.1% from MWAA non-Dulles Toll Road funds, 4.8% from Loudoun County, 16.1% from Fairfax County, and the remaining 75% from the Dulles Toll Road tolls.


    Package B consists of the Rail Yard & Maintenance Facility. This includes the final design, construction, and all aspects of the WMATA Maintenance Facility, including rail tracks, maintenance buildings, service buildings, roadway improvements, specialized equipment installation, stormwater management facilities, and traction power, communications and train control equipment associated with the rail yard and maintenance facility.

    I think that Package B should cost about $250 million, because Seattle, Washington expects their comparable 20 to 25 acre rail yard to cost $250 million. Theirs is designed for about the same number of cars (180), but they also need to buy the 20 to 25 acres for their rail yard.


    Package C consists of the five Phase II parking garages. MWAA’s cost estimators say that the total cost of these five parking garages is about $303 million. The agreements say that this $303 million will not be part of the official Phase II cost unless Fairfax or Loudoun County can not pay for them as agreed.

    Loudoun County is expected to pay $168 million for their three parking garages. Fairfax County is expected to pay $135 million for its two parking garages, based on information from the March 6, 2012 MWAA Phase II cost estimate, and baseline information from the FTA July 3, 2011 FTA White Paper. Note that these payments are in addition to the $270 million that Loudoun County has agreed to pay for Phase II, and the $330 million that Fairfax County has also agreed to pay for Phase II.

    Loudoun and Fairfax Counties have agreed to make their best efforts to pay for these parking garages somehow. If either county fails to provide these funds, the unpaid cost will revert to the Phase II project, and then be paid in the agreed ratio of 4.1% from MWAA non-Dulles Toll Road funds, 4.8% from Loudoun County, 16.1% from Fairfax County, and the remaining 75% from the Dulles Toll Road tolls.

    These garages have not been included in the generally reported Phase II price estimates since 2011. The Phase II parking garage price estimate was hyperinflated to $303 million ($34,015 per space, two times what they should cost), and the Rt 28 rail station price was bloated to $101 million (2.4 times what it should cost) in the March 6, 2012 MWAA estimate. They are not included in this October 17, 2012 $1.4 to $1.6 billion estimate for the Package A – but they are also not included in the earlier March 6, 2012 $2.7 to $2.8 billion MWAA estimate, because Fairfax and Loudoun Counties are supposed to pay for them. However, MWAA still maintains a cost estimate for them, broken out to dollar amounts for each of the Counties, because the counties may fail to obtain funding for these ‘County Elements’.

    Based on the realistic cost of $17,000 per parking space in this kind of above-ground parking garage, and the total of 8915 spaces in these five garages, I think Package C should cost about $151.5 million. However, MWAA’s estimators say that this should cost about $303 million. And based on the cost of a somewhat more capable Metro station in Fairfield, Connecticut, I estimate that the Rt 28 Metro station should cost about $42 million, but MWAA’s estimate is about $101 million. None of our so-called leaders will call MWAA’s cost estimators out on these bloated estimates. And until the Counties default (assuming that they do), the Rt 28 Metro station and the parking garages in Package C are not considered part of the Dulles Rail Phase II project.


    I estimate that the 64 rail cars for Phase II will cost about $192 to $256 million, depending on how badly WMATA marks up the prices for them.


    The price estimate for Package A is $1.4 to $1.6 Billion. (That includes about $101 million for the Rt 28 Metro station that Fairfax County is supposed to pay.) I estimate about $250 million for Package B. Package C, the five parking garages, are supposed to be managed and financed directly by Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, so their price estimate does not appear here. And I estimate about $192 to $256 million the 64 rail cars.

    OK. Now, if I subtract the cost of Package A ($1.4 to $1.6 Billion) and Package B ($250 million) and the 64 rail cars (about $192 to $256 million) from the official Phase II project cost estimate ($2.7 Billion to $2.8 Billion), I see about $1.84 Billion to $2.1 Billion, meaning that THERE ARE ABOUT 700 MILLION to 950 MILLION OF ADDITIONAL MISCELLANEOUS COSTS IN THE DULLES RAIL / SILVER LINE PHASE II PROJECT THAT ARE NOT PART OF THE CONSTRUCTION AND MATERIALS PRICES OF THE JOB. Based on what I saw in the KPMG Audit of Phase I, most of that – probably about $700 million – will probably turn out to be ‘Professional Services’. With this $700 million adding to the $700 million from Phase I, I would say that a total of about $1.4 billion of Professional Services in the Dulles Rail / Silver Line project would have to mean that that there must be some VERY happy professionals out there somewhere. Maybe we should ask what they actually DID?

    And all of that isn’t even considering that the official overall price estimates appear to be about 100% high. Certainly $101 million for the Rt 28 rail station is about 140% high, the MWAA parking garage estimates are 100% high, and the whole project estimate looks to be about 100% high. With price excesses like these, it isn’t hard to see why this project is in serious financial difficulty.

    Did Fairfax and Loudoun Counties ever look at these numbers? Let’s see their justifications for the way these figures add up. And while we’re at it, let’s have the FTA’s and MWAA’s cost estimators justify their incredibly bloated numbers in detail before a Congressional Committee, shall we?


    On April 20, 2009, Fairfax County approved the ‘Fund 121’ Dulles Rail Phase I transportation tax in its FY2010 County Budget. The Fund 121 plan said “Due to financial constraints imposed by the federal government, which are expected to limit federal funding to approximately $900 million; the project is currently expected to be completed in two phases. Phase I is expected to cost approximately $2.64 billion for the segment from the Metrorail Orange line to Wiehle Avenue in Reston, including construction of five new stations.” (The $900 million in federal ‘New Starts’ money for Dulles Rail had been approved on March 10, 2009.)

    So Phase I was supposed to cost $2.64 Billion. But the KPMG Phase I audit of 2012 (Page 5: C. Project Status) said “The Project has a total approved budget of $3,265,679,863. This amount is a combination of the FFGA approved budget of $3,142,471,634 and the interrelated highway activities budget of $123,208,229.

    Evidently the $510 million financing costs (reported in the KPMG Phase I audit) were added to the $2.64 Million Phase I estimate of 2009, so that now in 2012 the estimate for Phase I is $3.14 billion.

    (The way these estimates are arranged, the Interrelated Highway Activities budget of $123,208,229 should not be considered part of the project.)

    So, we were told $2.64 Billion, but we were billed $3.14 Billion – about $500 million more than we were told. The point is that we are not told the real price – we are only told about part of the price. This should be kept in mind while we fret over how we are going to pay for Phase II, and while we are still sweating over how to pay for Phase I.

    People should take a look at my report on the double price of this project.

    And have you heard? That transportation tax plan that is on its way to Virginia Governor McDonnell, says that anybody selling lands, tenements, or other realty located in Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Prince William County, Arlington County, and Alexandria, will have to pay a 25 cent per $100 tax, when they finally get disgusted with this nonsense, and try to sell their homes, businesses, etc, and move away from here.


  3. Heck, I forgot to remove the $101 million for the Rt 28 rail station when I added the numbers up. Remarkably, this is a relatively small error, but it makes the miscellaneous costs $101 million higher than I thought. So it’s not $700 million to $950 million – it’s $801 million to $1.05 Billion! Hmmmmm.

    I believe that the reason that the so-called ‘news media’ flatly refuses to mention the obvious double prices, is that they are all Democrat or Republican mouthpieces, and neither party wants the public to know anything – or the public might finally get MAD, and actually DO something – and the Billions of overcharge might go away as a result. That would be Very Bad for the parties, becuase that money is supposed to get kicked to their buddies, in exchage for revolving-door rewards later.

  4. So I revise that paragraph like this:

    OK. Now, if I add up the cost of Package A ($1.4 to $1.6 Billion) and Package B ($250 million) and the 64 rail cars (about $192 to $256 million) from the official Phase II project cost estimate ($2.7 Billion to $2.8 Billion), I see about $1.84 Billion to $2.1 Billion, leaving about $700 million to $950 million in miscellaneous costs. And if I remove the $101 million for the Rt 28 station cost, because it is supposed to be paid by Fairfax County, THERE ARE ABOUT $800 MILLION to $1.05 BILLION OF ADDITIONAL MISCELLANEOUS COSTS IN THE DULLES RAIL / SILVER LINE PHASE II PROJECT THAT ARE NOT PART OF THE CONSTRUCTION AND MATERIALS PRICES OF THE JOB. Based on what I saw in the KPMG Audit of Phase I, most of that – probably about $700 million – will probably turn out to be ‘Professional Services’. With this $700 million adding to the $700 million from Phase I, I would say that a total of about $1.4 billion of Professional Services in the Dulles Rail / Silver Line project would have to mean that that there must be some VERY happy professionals out there somewhere. Maybe we should ask what they actually DID?

  5. larryg Avatar

    Wish we had this kind of scrutiny for other transportation projects!


    not complaining.. it’s a good thing and much needed since govt tends to fail miserably at these things until AFTER the fact IG look-sees.

    and just curious here are BobB and Construction Guy supporters of METRO and that kind of transit for urbanizing areas like NoVa?

  6. There’s nothing wrong with a PLA if it’s voluntarily adopted. Why did some board members object to the voluntary nature of a PLA for Phase 2 when that was the case for Phase 1?

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Because the Governor of Virginia (Tim Kaine) appointed a professional union man (Denis Martire) to the MWAA board and the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond endorsed the appointment?

      The source of the stink from the MWAA board leads directly back to Richmond.

  7. Well, my main post from 4:18AM 3/8/2013 has not yet been approved. It has more information and also my $101 million omission of the week 🙂 But the corrected paragraph from 5:06AM is somewhat informative.

    Also, check out Virginia’s Transportation deal (HB2313ER) that was approved on March 4, 2013, and is now heading to Governor McDonnell for his signature. It includes a sneaky little “Regional congestion relief fee” (§ 58.1-802.2) that I think is more like a “Northern Virginia Exit Tax For Angry Real Estate Owners”- and of course, for some Very Strange Reason, you aren’t hearing about in the news.

    Do a web search on ‘ § 58.1-802.2. Regional congestion relief fee ‘, or maybe search for it on Virginia’s LIS. There is a page link problem with 58.1-802.2 (Hmmmmmm) so you may have to dig a little.

  8. Nuts. If I put a link in a post, I introduce a posting delay. I made a big post in this thread with links at 4:18 AM EST today that people may find interesting.

    Meanwhile, check out Virginia’s Transportation deal (HB2313ER) that was approved on March 4, 2013, and is now heading to Governor McDonnell for his signature. It includes a sneaky little “Regional congestion relief fee” (§ 58.1-802.2) that I think is more like a “Northern Virginia Exit Tax For Angry Real Estate Owners”- and of course, for some Very Strange Reason, you aren’t hearing about in the news.

    Do a web search on ‘ § 58.1-802.2. Regional congestion relief fee ‘, or maybe search for it on Virginia’s LIS. There is a page link problem with 58.1-802.2 (Hmmmmmm) so you may have to dig a little.

    1. DJRippert Avatar


      A comment with a single link will be automatically approved. A comment with two or more links requires manual moderation.

  9. larryg – new Metro in NoVA should not have extended west of Tysons Corner probably for another decade. Rail from Falls Church to Tysons made some sense, but rail doesn’t make sense beyond that, and it makes less and less sense the further west you go. West of Tysons, it should have been BRT in the rail right of way. And in Loudoun County, that BRT should have established new future rail right of way and transit corridor way past Leesburg.

    There are two primary reasons why the rail project that we got, is a disaster.

    First, it is premature. We don’t have the population density to justify and pay for a heavy rail system west of Tysons Corner. Heck, Loudoun County doesn’t even have businesses around the planned rail stations, and yet it plans to pay 269 million to join the premature heay rail extension, plus $168 million to pay for three of the rail station parking garage buildings so the project could look less expensive than it really is. Funny – we were told, by pen name posters, that contractors would be lining up to build those parking garages for free or something… but proffers are being used for the deals to build the two garages at the Rt 772 station, and somehow nobody has yet stepped up to build the Rt 606 parking garage. (By the way, it will be on Dulles Airport property).

    Second, the Dulles Rail / Silver Line project is double-priced. This slams us with a double-sized pricetag, and then we have to pay a really big finance charge on the money we have to borrow to PAY that double price. Hence the anxious wait to hear if our Tifia loan got lost in the sequestration. (I think it was. But even if not, it’s a LOAN. If we lost the Tifia loan, we will have to get a different loan, float bonds, etc. And we will have to pay it back. At these prices, that will take generations.)

    Oh. And Mssrs. Gerry Connolly and Jim Moran are rushing to make more of these disasters happen, with Metrorail extensions to Woodbridge and Centreville. Using what for money? Who knows.

    Speaking of Dulles Airport property, MWAA plans to compete with struggling Loudoun County by leasing some of its tax free federal land around the planned Rt 606 station for business purposes. So, Loudoun County is facing a further extended recovery from its premature leap into heavy rail, and Fairfax County will be losing some business as well. SURPRISE!!! Oh, and MWAA may decide to compete at the stations, too – they were planning ‘air rights’ construction over the planned Reston Parkway Metro station, and the surrounding Toll Road and Access Road, as far back as 2010 and 2011.

    So look for gold-rush level overdevelopment, followed by lackluster business performance, followed by more bailout tax dollars (already $300 million of bailout this year to keep the Dulles Toll Road tolls below an explosion point, and yet the rail line hasn’t even opened yet), and our ‘leaders’ saying “Oh, ain’t it awful! Who could have foreseen this?” And the ‘news media’ will be reporting the Metro breakdowns.

    It should have been BRT in the rail right of way west of Tysons Corner. Build up a business base and a transit corridor, THEN upgrade to rail. The way this project was done, “the cart is before the horse.” Oh, and ‘the foxes are guarding the henhouse’, too.

  10. I am intrigued as to your point that there is lots of competition for Phase II. Can anyone tell me how many consortia bid on Phase I, which was won by Bechtel? I think a comparison is in order, don’t you? Also, I think it’s pretty much a red herring for anyone to suggest that the absence of a PLA will lower the costs of the project, since it’s a Davis-Bacon job and the wage rates will be the same with or without a PLA. However, with a PLA the project will be guaranteed a safe, highly trained and more productive workforce. That ought to factor in somewhere, no?

    1. TomO, the issue isn’t the union wages. Non-union wages are just as high (though the benefits are not as expensive). The issue is the business model. Union shops have a very different way of engaging with the workforce than open (non-union) shops. There are pros and cons to each. But to mandate a PLA in a bidding process puts open-shop contractors at a significant disadvantage because they’re not organized to do business that way.

      1. construction for dummies Avatar
        construction for dummies

        James you say union and non union shops have a different way of doing things. Please elaborate on what that means. If the wages are set by the federal prevailing wage, it’s not about the wages. So what would you point to to get to your 18% increase using union labor vs non union labor? Because the Springfield Interchange was done all non union and was I believe 300% over budget and 3 workers were killed on the job. How was the safety and productivity on Dulles Rail where they had to build a tunnel and worked in very tight spaces on Rt 7 and the Dulles Toll Road. Then you could also compare the Wilson Bridge job. The Maryland side was done using unions and was on time and on budget. The Virginia side can’t say the same. So I would love to hear why you said they have a different way of doing things that would add 18%. I would like to hear what model is better for the taxpayers and toll road users. I think that is how a decision should be made.

        1. larryg Avatar

          hmmmm.. what about that Jim? your objections wouldn’t be just ideological would they? I mean you DO have substantiative reasons, right?


        2. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

          From my earlier comment:

          “While the wage and benefit rates on P2 are set by the federal government under the Davis-Bacon Act, and both union and nonunion firms would have been required to pay AT LEAST this amount to construction workers with or without a PLA, it is a huge misunderstanding to assume labor rates are the same with a PLA so therefore labor costs are the same. There are cost factors like labor productivity and the cost of individual units of labor that the PLA impacts. A PLA needlessly increases costs (union work rules, double payment of benefits, contributions into union slush funds, legal costs for analysis and compliance with PLA) that are born only on nonunion firms, making it difficult for them to compete. When PLAs are not mandated, there is more competition, which also drives down prices.

          Research demonstrates PLA mandates typically increase costs between 12 percent and 18 percent on prevailing wage projects where wages are controlled, compared to similar projects without PLA mandates. We won’t ever know if that is the case on P2 because they did not bid the job with and without a PLA for direct comparison. But shouldn’t MWAA and other stakeholders do all they can to reduce costs without sacrificing quality considering the financial concerns with this job?

          PLAs absolutely discourage competition from nonunion firms (and even some union firms because PLAs interfere with existing collective bargaining agreements). I don’t think anyone is saying nonunion firms cannot bid on these projects. They are legally allowed to do so. It’s just that the terms of the PLA mandate are so discouraging, nonunion firms often elect not to participate because it would be a fools errand. Sort of like you being “allowed” to apply to Harvard, but you probably won’t get in because of their strict requirements. Except in this case, the requirements are rigged for a desired outcome: Ensure union firms and union workers build this project.”

          I don’t know enough about the Wilson Bridge or the Interchange to verify that what you are saying is accurate or that the PLA/use of unions were responsible for positive/negative performance and if those PLAs were mandated or voluntary. I can look into it.

    2. TomO, I’m pretty sure the Phase I project was no-bid, involving Dulles Transit Partners (consisting of Bechtel Infrastructure, Inc. and Washington Group International), contracting with the Commonwealth of Virginia.

      That DTP arrangement was then handed to MWAA and Northern Virginia by Governor Kaine and VDOT, when the project and the Dulles Toll Road were given to MWAA.

      Washington Group International then became URS Corporation a few years ago, and since then it has been mentioned less and less in the Dulles Rail / Silver Line project. URS has completely vanished from the Bechtel website, Bechel no longer refers to Dulles Transit Partners, the old DTP appears to have become Bechtel Transit Partners, and the latest MWAA Dulles Rail Phase 2 contract 5-group bidder list includes Bechtel Transit Partners / Bechtel Infrastructure Corporation, but URS never appeared on that list at all.

      1. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

        This is true. You can’t really compare the two phases properly.

        And it is worth noting that according to the icon appearing next to TomO’s comment, he works for the Building Construction Trades Department (or at least is a huge fan of it), a national umbrella union representing all of the construction trade unions. You should ask him more about their strategy to push public and private owners use PLAs to regain lost market share for their members and signatory contractors.

  11. Force all rezoning projects dependent on transportation improvements to pay 59.5% of the costs for such improvements and we fix a lot of problems.

    1. TMT, What’s the logic behind 59.5%?

      Why not more? Why not less?

      1. 59.5% was the portion of the costs allocated to the private sector and agreed to by them. For want of a better number, go with it.

  12. larryg Avatar

    good question!

    re: west of Tysons… okay.. now I understand…

    re: union vs non-union.. are we talking about bid costs or something else?

    are we saying that PLAs will increase costs or not?

  13. Darn, I’m a mistake machine, I think. Where I said “The Phase II parking garage price estimate was hyperinflated to $303 million ($34,015 per space, two times what they should cost), and the Rt 28 rail station price was bloated to $101 million (2.4 times what it should cost) in the March 6, 2012 MWAA estimate. They are not included in this October 17, 2012 $1.4 to $1.6 billion estimate for the Package A…”

    I should instead have said “The PARKING GARAGES are not included in this October 17, 2012 $1.4 to $1.6 billion estimate for the Package A…” – because as I said, the Rt 28 Metrorail station -IS- included in Package A, although Fairfax County will supposedly be paying MWAA separately for it (unless it backs out of that deal). Sorry for my blunders, I know they make this horribly overcomplicated mess even harder to understand.

  14. larryg – I don’t think there is any doubt that a mandated PLA would have increased the contract price somewhat. I don’t think it would have raised the cost very much, but the debate there was (1) whether a mandatory PLA would be a violation of Virginia’s Right To Work laws, and (2) whether the extra cost would be worth the extra protection against labor relations problems delaying the project. The laws of Virginia are indeed supposed to apply to the project, according to the agreements that formed this project.

    I am convinced that the PLA was just one of several red herring issues that were deliberately inserted in this project to distract the public from the real problems that it has – in particular, its double price. (Some other red herring issues were the above ground / below ground Dulles Airport station issue (below ground was obviously doomed, but it was used as a distraction for about a year), and MWAA’s Amazingly Stupid Board and Officer Tricks (this distraction continues to this day). With Billions of dollars of excess money at stake, please don’t think for a minute that this project is being managed honestly.

    1. Bob, If the Phase 2 estimates are wildly over-priced, in theory, a robust, competitive bidding process for the project should bring in bids way below estimates. If the process had been rigged (as some suspect) in order to lock in Dulles Transit Partners as the only bidder with a realistic chance of winning the project, we might have ended up with a high bid and obscene profit margins. But if multiple bidders think they can do the work for significantly less, at least one or two bids should come in way below the others…. right?

      1. Jim, with more than a Billion dollars of overcharge at stake, ANYTHING is possible. But it will be interesting either way. If bids come in close to the estimates, then why are they so much higher than they should be? And if bids come in way below estimates, then why were the estimates so far high? I would love to see the FTA and MWAA estimators brought before a Congressional committee and questioned about their estimates, the basis for those estimates, etc – but apparently this class of our society is above oversight or review.

        It is VERY interesting that the news media has been obediently reporting – totally without comment – that the cost of the Dulles Rail Phase 2 project is $1.4 to$1.6 billion – when the estimate they were previously reporting was about $2.8 billion, and IT ignored the cost of the parking garages, and the Rt 28 station, and of course the cost of financing.

        So why didn’t ANYBODY in the so-called ‘news media’ appear to notice the $1.2 to $1.4 Billion price discrepancy in the numbers that they were reporting? I submit that they are simply cutting and pasting from MWAA press kits and/or their political party directives, if they didn’t even notice this. Is noticing the difference between $2.8 Billion and $1.4 to $1.6 billion ‘above their pay grade’, or something? Or is it deliberate?

        And either way, even with the news media confusing them with this comment-free price reporting flip-flop, why is the public completely oblivious to this as well? I think we teach elementary school kids that 2.8 is a lot larger than 1.4 or 1.6. What’s going on here?

        I don’t think that the Package B contracts have been put out yet. The $1.4 to $1.6 Billion estimate number that we were handed tells me that only the Package A contracts went to the bidders so far, because that estimate range was presented for Package A a few months back.

        If indeed the Dulles Rail / Silver Line Package B contracts (for the rail yard, etc) have not yet been presented for bids, then it will be interesting (and mildly amusing) if the news media then proceeds to report (again totally without comment) that the Dulles Rail / Silver Line Phase 2 project costs about $250 million, or whatever estimate appears for the Package B contract.

        This would be the stuff of late-night TV comedy, except that it is actually scary that the public remains totally oblivious to the epic mishandling of their money that is going on, that is all set up to cost us dearly, for generations.

        1. larryg Avatar

          Bob – some of this seems pretty much into the weeds.. for the average person and in turn most media but we do have the Washington Examiner… 😉

          I think part of the problem is that a good percent of NoVa is transient and as long as they’re not paying for it – they really don’t care.

          are you a fiscal hawk on all projects? Do you have a view on the Springfield Bypass, WW bridge, ICC, HOT lanes?

          1. I don’t believe for a minute that news reporters consider a $1.2 to $1.4 Billion discrepancy in a $2.8 Billion project that is really more like $3.2 billion is just some minor detail that need not be mentioned. I believe that their bosses have drawn a line in the news, that they are not to cross. As for the Examiner, yes it is pretty much the only paper that even questions anything about MWAA and this project. But the Examiner also flatly refuses to touch the double price story. My opinion is that it’s just an especialy shrill Republican Party news outlet. It loves to embarrass the Democrats in MWAA, although it will also slap the Republicans there who go along with the Democrats. But the Republican Party in general wants very much to kick the overcharge money in his job to their friends, just like the Democrats do. These parties are two sides of the same coin. So, like all of the rest of the so-called ‘news media’, the Washington Examiner:

            – never reported that in its July 3, 2011 White Paper, the FTA bungled the price of the Rt 28 station by $53 million by wrongly adding the $53 million Rt28 parking garage to it,

            – never reported the double prices that are glaringly evident in the per-mile cost of the project, the 2.4X price of the Rt 28 station, or the double rice of the Phase 2 parking garage estimates,

            – never mentioned the 29% estimate jump in the parking garage estimates between July 2011 and March 2012, when the rest of the estimate hardly changed,

            – never mentioned the 22% jump in the price estimate for the Rt 28 station between July 2011 and March 2012, when the rest of the project estimate hardly changed,

            – never mentioned the US DOT audit, announced on March 15, 2012 (and still going on now), of the Dulles Metrorail Phase 2 Project itself, including its financial planning (the big DOT Audit report from November 1, 2012 was from an audit of MWAA that was announced in June 2011),

            – never mentioned that the Tifia Letter of Interest for this project lists the cost at $5.999 Billion, when the official price that WE are told, is $5.6 billion,

            – never mentioned that the Tifia letter of Interest for this project officially claims that there is no city with a population of more than 200,000 near this rail project, when new construction for this project is less than five miles from the District of Columbia, and the Silver Line, of which this project is a part, actually runs right THROUGH the District of Columbia and on out to Largo, Maryland, and the District of Columbia IS a city, and its population is well over 600,000.

            I get the feeling I’m forgetting a few things, but I think you get the idea. The parties confuse the ignorant by pointing at each other all the time, as both rip us off every way they can think of. And their news media outlets are just more of the same.

            I don’t especially mean to single out the Examiner. The Washington Post, for example, is even worse.

          2. Oh yeah, add this to the list:

            – never mentioned that the MAP-21 money for the Tifia loans that this project seeks, was cut in September 2012 – so now with sequestration, we really aren’t likely to see those loans.

          3. larryg Avatar

            It’s complicated and in the weeds… would make for a snooze article…

            people ARE ignorant but by choice!

            re: TIFIA – might be worse than you think. Right now we are spending about twice as much as the Fed gas tax brings in and there are rumblings that transportation spending should not exceed revenues.

            yeah.. I know… a revolutionary concept!

        2. I agree, the media isn’t much of a watchdog any more. Most reporters cover events and re-write press releases. They don’t do any of their own digging — even when citiens like you presents them with issues that mainfestly need digging into.

          1. The Metrorail ads masquerading as news reports on Rail to Woodbridge and Rail to Centreville show the INCREDIBLE bias of the so-called ‘news media’. I’ve seen two of them in the last few days, both from WUSA TV9. Laziness would have brought us ho-hum reports with random interviews, maybe including somebody saying something against more rail jobs, and somebody who didn’t know or care. But these reports are PR pieces with a clear and obvious pro-Metro extension agenda. This is not laziness, this is active collusion.
            March 7, 2013:

            March 8, 2013:

          2. not even the Washington Examiner?

          3. OK I take back what I said about WUSA, anyway. Peggy Fox contacted me, and I think she’s just being bombarded with propaganda from pro-rail people. She was interested in what I had to say about the overcosts, the hidden prices, and the super-secret public-private partnership redactions in this rail project. She was clearly trying to capture my points about this mess when she interviewed me, and if it comes out well I’ll probably be on Ch 9 tonight.

          4. YES! This is a fair and honest news presentation. Kudos to Peggy Fox and WUSA TV9.


          5. here’s a fair and honest question.

            Bob Bruhns (and others) assert that extending METRO is too expensive.

            My question is that since METRO loses money anyhow.. even in it’s compact configuration – then what threshold is Bob using to determining what “too much” is?

            how about we drill down on this?

            and Bob – don’t encourage Reed… 😉

          6. May I suggest that we start by looking at the normal prices for the work we have already contracted, and are already contracting. Certainly if we are overpaying for these items, then we should, at a minimum, be pushing back on the price. I have already done some drilling on this in the Dulles Rail / Silver Line project.

            The vast majority of line item prices are hidden, but these ones were dumped onto Fairfax and Loudoun Counties in order to make the project price appear lower than it really is.

            The Rt 28 station: about 2.4 times the price of a comparable (actually a more capable) Metro stationin Fairfield Connecticut.

            The Phase 2 parking garages: above-ground parking garages costing about 2.0 times what above-ground parking garages should cost.

            Nearby Herndon Virginia estimates that its municipal parking garage should cost $15,000 per space when it is built, probably around 2018. I have asked the Town of Herndon to review their $15,000 per space price estimate, because it seems a bit low – I expect more like $17,000 per space. I also asked the Mayor and Council of the Town of Herndon to protest the outrageous $34,014 per space estimated price of the Phase 2 parking garages, on the grounds that such a bloated price, if not challenged, would skew the entire basis for such construction in this area, thereby threatening to cause a substantial price increase in the parking garage that the Town plans to build. Results remain to be seen, but I believe that the price estimate question has been put to Town staff.

            Certainly the rail stations for Phase 2 should not cost 2.4 times what more a more capable Metro station costs in Fairfield, Connecticut, and Phase 2 parking garages should not cost two times (or more) what nearby parking garages cost. So at a minimum, these prices need to be reduced, and other line item prices should be inspected and reduced if they are similarly excessive. Such excess prices are to be expected all throughout Phase 2, since the overall per-mile cost of Phase 2 is about two times the per-mile cost of the Franconia-Springfield Metro extension in the same DC Metrorail system, adjusted for inflation and adjusted for the different components in the systems.

            But I would go further than simply to think only of rail. The selection of rail in this Dulles Corridor project has always been controversial. Earlier, Bus Rural Transit had been the plan, to be converted to rail in the future as this became appropriate. I believe that this was a viable plan. But a powerful faction was pushing for rail, against the wishes of WMATA and the FTA. But somebody got to the Bush administration, and WMATA and the FTA backed down. Since then, the Dulles Rail / Silver Line project has been bailed out at least two times – 0nce by DOTs Ray LaHood and the FTA in 2011, by sloughing the Rt 28 station and the Phase 2 parking garages onto Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, to make the cost of the project appear to be lower than it really is. And now the transportation bill heading to Governor McDonnell for approval contains a $300 million bailout for this project, to reduce the increases in the planned Dulles Toll Road tolls a little bit for a few years. More and bigger bailouts will be needed every few years to hold back the planned toll increases slightly. But despite these bailouts, the plan is for the tolls to increase more and more rapidly every few years, so these bailouts will become more and more painful, and the impact of increasing numbers of former toll road users on local traffic congestion is not going to be is not going to be good for this region. I submit that the Dulles Rail / Silver Line project has demonstrated that rail was indeed premature here – so, Bus Rural Transit needs to be reconsidered.

            Done properly, Bus Rural Transit (BRT) can be arranged in existing and new dedicated rights of way, which can be converted to Heavy Rail in affordable length conversions as that becomes appropriate, as the business and population base that develops around the routes grows to the point that rail can actually be afforded. BRT can be temporarily assigned to existing roads and extended much further than rail could possibly be built even with the borrowed money that it would require, and therefore the massive finance costs of that borrowing can be avoided. This is where further research drilling should be done, and I believe that a lot of this drilling has already been done.

            If bus seems too low-class or something, then consider the effects of regional bankruptcy and receivership that we are likely to experience if we proceed to build Metro to Woodbridge and Metro to Centreville as foolishly as we are building Rail to Loudoun.

            I see reports about how commuters just love the idea of Metro to Woodbridge and Metro to Centreville. However, I submit that it is doubtful that anybody will want to PAY for that rail, based on the experience with Dulles Rail – where toll road drivers want taxpayers to pay, and taxpayers were sold the idea because they thought toll road drivers would pay 59% to 75% of it, and riders have no intention of paying the true costs of the rail service in their fares. And now taxpayers are paying for a $300 million bailout – and the rail line hasn’t even OPENED yet! Hence I recommend the much less expensive and much more flexible BRT.

      2. construction for dummies Avatar
        construction for dummies

        Here is where the problem is. Low bid on bid day does not mean that is the price that will be paid at the end of the job. All it means is MWAA took the lowest number on bid day. Then the contractors play the change order game. Bid low, change order the owner to death to make up for everything they need to make money on the project. MWAA has a long history of awarding contracts to the low bidder but you need to look at the actual price paid at the end of the project. What steps if any has MWAA put in place to make sure the price on bid day is the price paid at the end of the project? They are paying millions to the 5 teams bidding just so they can offset the high price of bidding. But they should have asked all the bidders for a guaranteed price or made this a best value contract. Once a contractor gets selected using the low bid and starts asking for change orders, what will MWAA do, remove the contractor? Fat chance. They will just end up in court and settle each claim for .50 cents on the dollar. But the price still will go up and the toll road users will be footing the bill. A design build low bid contract is borderline stupid. Low bid contracts are made for lawyers to find the loopholes in the contract and bill the owner later. MWAA should insist on a guaranteed price. How else do you set toll rates based on a moving number? Also everyone knows these garages are coming back into the project. Will that just be given to this”low bidder” or will MWAA make that a new contract? Also MWAA said on phase 1 that WMATA required them to put in additional safety equipment. Has that all been agreed too for phase 2 on what will be paid upfront? Or are they going to say they had more changes put on them by WMATA? Or will the counties be able to ask for changes after bid day as well? This low bid design build contract is great for the contractors but really bad for MWAA and Dulles Toll Road users. But this blog , Washington Examiner, Washington Post will all applaud the low bidder on bid day. But just look to other MWAA recent low bid contracts and see if they came in at the low bid price and you will get your answer. It will be a race to the bottom and then who has the best lawyers will win in the end. MWAA and the toll road users will all still lose.

        1. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

          I agree that owners sometimes fail to understand the life cycle costs of a building and focus on the lowest bid numbers. They could save money in the long run if they paid a little bit more for energy savings strategies, better materials, etc., but those are all laid out in their RFP.

          Change orders are part of the construction industry. For better or for worse, contractors bid based on the specs given to them. If the owner changes those specs or design flaws are identified, there are going to be appropriate adjustments. Both sides agree to them and both union and nonunion firms deal with change orders. To assume a PLA mandate or a best value contract would eliminate the problem with change orders is a complete fallacy. Take the problem with the utilities on P1. It cost more to change P1 plans to adopt to this new problem. That was a change order completely out of both MWAA and DTP’s control.

          The P2 firms were all prequalified in step one of this RFQ and are assumed to be the best of the best.

          The phrase, “a race to the bottom” is a dog whistle phrase used by unions and union lobbyists who are bummed their schemes to adopt a union monopoly on a project failed and were exposed to the public.

          1. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

            Quick question, where was Martire on Best Value during the P2 decision-making process, if “low bidder” is such a bad thing?

            Did he spend all of his political juice pushing the PLA?

            What happened with P1? Was it best value?

            How does best value stop the use of change orders?

          2. construction for dummies Avatar
            construction for dummies

            But Phase 2 is a design build contract. So MWAA will be excepting the contractors design. So if the contractor changes the design why should MWAA pay for a change order if its the contractor who is changing the approved design ? Again, I guaranteed price should have been used here. Anything over the guaranteed bid price is on the contractor, not the toll road users. What good is low bid if its not the price paid for the project?

  15. larryg Avatar

    the idea that _any_ public authority in Va is essentially immune from even basis transparency and accountability AND appointed, not elected is troublesome to me.

    Troublesome for any/all projects conducted that way to include roads and other public partnership projects where fundamental information the public is due is denied with the reason being the information is “proprietary” and could harm the business(es) if revealed.

    If that is the price that has to be paid for public-private partnerships – then perhaps we should not have them at all as they can be and as show by practice be subterfuge for activities counter to the public interest.

    I’m conflicted by the union issue. I think workers rights are better protected when they can bargain as a group and are undermined if they cannot be a representative of all the workers because then companies can just find out who is union and get rid of them and/or not hire those who would join.

    Unions came about for very good reasons and yes they proceeded to become nasty abusive and coercive.. but at the same time – there are countless examples of employees wrongly treated with almost no protection from really bad actors.

    and if unions are so bad – how come the airlines seem to thrive even though unionized? If Va law took precedence over Fed law – there would be no union pilots in Va airports, right? What would be the justification for that? the ticket prices and operational costs would be too high because of the union?

    so I think the union thing has some ideological issues and that troubles me also. Last thing I’d want to see if Va telling Delta that they cannot have union pilots or UPS cannot operate with union drivers. the right-to-work laws need to be better balanced in my view. right now – they are basically an ideological weapon.

    1. I don’t think there was an obligatory PLA agreement in the Phase 1 contract with Dulles Tansit Partners. The PLA there was voluntarily made, and such an agreement can also be made in Phase 2. Of course, if MWAA manages the Phase 2 contracts badly, there could be a lot of problems. That is a definite cause for concern.

      Federal airports may or may not generally have an agreement to follow the laws of the states in which they are located. However, MWAA is running the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, and its Airport Lease Agreement does contain such an agreement. I would say that it may not apply to an interstate airline’s union agreements, but it should apply to the hiring practices that MWAA enforces in the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project.
      Metropolitan Washington Airports Lease, March 2, 1987
      Article 28. Law of Agreement.
      This lease shall be governed by and construed in accordance with federal law. To the extent that the application of federal law requires or permits the application or consideration of state law, the parties agree that the law of the Commonwealth of Virginia is most relevant to this lease and shall be applied or considered. The powers of the Secretary with respect to this lease shall be construed in accordance with and governed by Federal law, and the powers of the Airports Authority with respect to this lease shall be construed in accordance with and governed by Virginia law.

  16. larryg Avatar

    If Bob Bruhns/others are still listening, I have a question about how METRO should be extended.

    The Smart Growth folks (and others) will tell you that growth will follow newly built transportation infrastructure – whether it be roads or rail.

    So my question is – by expanding METRO west ahead of growth – by doing that would we be essentially directing growth to that new corridor?

    or should we wait until growth occurs organically then try to coalesce and concentrate it with a after-the-fact corridor?

    is the reason that Loudoun has grown where it has , at least partially due to the DTR and Greenway?

    1. larryg, surely the Greenway (despite its God-awful tolls) and the Dulles Toll Road (MUCH better planned way back when) helped Loudoun develop, but there are other roads there too, such as the heavily used Rt 7, Rt 50 and Rt 66. And the idea of Smart Growth may be valid, but in the future it needs to be done with our brains actually engaged. I submit that the financial disaster that is unfolding in the Dulles Rail / Silver Line project, that will go on for generations, says that something really isn’t smart about the way we went about Smart Growth this time. Rail is seriously premature here, and overpriced rail makes things that much worse.

      Did you know that the Dulles Greenway failed in the late 1990s because it was premature? As a result, its tolls were disgusting – and they remain disgusting, fifteen years after it failed.

      This Dulles Rail / Silver Line rail project will be the same kind of mess, only bigger. Without huge, ongoing, taxpayer-funded bailouts, the Dulles Toll Road tolls will rise even higher than the Greenway tolls! Hence taxpayers are paying $300 million in FY2014 to bail out the Dulles Rail / Silver Line – so that the DTR tolls rise a little less than previously planned, for a few years. And many more bailouts will be needed. And worse things are on the horizon – now WMATA has its foot in the door, and it’s talking about $26 Billion in expenses by 2040. So here come The Hits That Keep On Coming! (When these hits happen, you’ll see me say “SURPRISE!!!”)

      Our project SHOULD have been Rail to Tysons, and Bus Rural Transit, in a dedicated right of way, to Leesburg or Purcelville. This would have established a transit corridor and built up a business and population base to PAY for rail, when it became appropriate. Rail would then gradually replace the BRT in something like one to three mile steps, as population and business developed, and we wouldn’t be paying finance charges for generations.

      THAT is what I recommend in the future.

      But instead, we have Rail to Pretty Much Nowhere, financed by Borrowed Money with attendant Finance Costs, and generations of repayments. There is not enough business base to pay for this money-hungry rail monster we have created, taxpayers are already bailing the project out before it even opens, and guess what? The ‘wide tax base’ that we heard about, wants more rail to serve IT. Hence we have Connolly and Moran looking at Rail to Woodbridge and Rail to Centreville. Soon we will also need Rail to Prince William! Using what for money? Who knows.

      See the problem? This disaster spreads like a cancer.

      In the Dulles Rail / Silver Line rail extension, I think that there will be too much competition for business in the rail corridor. MWAA plans to add to this problem by leasing its federal tax-advantaged land at the Dulles Airport, and possibly also building over the stations and the Toll Road and Access Road, taking the very most prime locations for itself in competition with Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. The supply and demand result is going to be much less benefit to the Counties, without any relief from the excessive costs.

      This is a Very Bad Business Plan. Here comes a gold-rush overdevelopment mess, followed by lackluster business development, and another economic disaster to leave to future generations to pay.

      I understand that Bechtel and Washington Group International had been competitors in a Bus Rural Transit proposal some years ago, but somehow this turned into a rail plan, and the two companies partnering in Dulles Transit Partners, in some super-secret public-private agreement with VDOT, that transferred with the whole rail project when it and the Dulles Toll Road were given to the ever so wonderful MWAA.

      I really don’t see why Bus Rural Transit could not have been set up in the future planned rail right of way. Rail could then have been run out to Tysons Corner where it was really wanted, and extended gradually to Dulles Airport and beyond. It could have, and should have, been ‘Pay-As-You-Go’. But no… we had to borrow to the hilt, and overpay blindly and madly. And now, Mssrs. Connolly and Moran are in a big hurry to see about doing it some more, out to Woodbridge and Centreville. And since all of Northern Virginia will be paying for our rail mistake, they will say “Well, it’s only fair that we have overpriced rail in the REST of Northern Virginia, too!”

      This thing is a cancer! I guess people plan to sell and leave… so, our ‘leaders’ are adding an exit tax when we sell our homes and businesses and get out. I’m sure that tax will increase, too, because they know that we won’t be around to vote against them after they rob us that way. Funny it isn’t reported by the ‘news media’. (Or maybe it’s not so funny.)

      1. larryg Avatar

        I appreciate your answer… and … I guess… I’m thinking a few things.

        1. DTR/Greenway may have “failed” but they ultimately succeeded… so until they failed permanently, I think premature did work.

        2. – We built the beltway – prospectively – not to follow growth but the other way around.


        3. – I-95 south from NoVa – a road built for north/south East Coast travel but a road soon co-opted as a commuting corridor.

        4. – isn’t it likely that the outer beltway, if built, will attract and direct growth in the same way that the DTR/DGW did – and Metro west of Tysons will?

        I’m listening to your BRT thesis and here’s my thought – where would you send it, what route, and why? and why not somewhere else?

        1. larryg Avatar

          and hey.. I’ll admit from the get go that BRT is far cheaper than METRO but BRT is basically just commuter buses – and they respond to demand as opposed to directing growth.. METRO and roads would – IMHO – direct growth – like the beltway did and like I-95 has.

          we already have BRT in Fredericksburg! It consists of about 50 buses that leave various commuter lots and go straight to (usually) one destination. Isn’t that BRT?

        2. I don’t consider the Dulles Greenway to be a success, because it took so much borrowed money and so much finance cost to pay for it, that its tolls are just plain ridiculous. We can build intelligently, or our whole economy can fund banks. I vote for intelligent construction.

          There are companies that have left a trail of multiple bankrupt toll roads behind them. Try a web search on ‘ bankrupt toll roads ‘ and see what comes up. Bankrupt toll roads in Texas, Australia, California and South Carolina come to mind. Excessive prices, excessive tolls, and bogus usership projections will do that. Oh, and see if you can find the way overpriced road work in Romania. (Romania got smart and pushed back. We haven’t.) You know, if I had a track record like that, I’d have serious trouble finding work. Not these guys, though.

          The construction of beltways, interstate highways and other corridors is a visionary thing. I don’t recommend overbuilding it with borrowed money and doing it with at double prices like this rail mess, though. Establish the right of way, and build for forseeable needs,and then expand it as needed. Otherwise, the money all goes to the banks, and to friends of certain crooked agencies.

          Hey if money just fell out of the sky, we could drop everything, and build all future road and rail ad building needs for everything that will ever need to be built from now until the sun burns out in a few billion years, right now. But it turns out that money actually doesn’t fall out of the sky. The more we borrow, the longer we will need to pay it back, and the more we will pay in finance costs. If we get so far ahead of ourselves that we borrow a hundred quintillion dollars and start building Deep Space Nine next year, we are likely to lose any credit rating that our wiser elders might have earned, and then we’ll go broke in very short order.

          OK, that’s a bit beyond the things you are mentioning. But what I’m saying is that we can’t just borrow wildly as though there are no local, state or national debts to consider, and pre-build willy-nilly because we think we have a good idea.

          OK, somebody thinks they have a plan for Smart Growth. Let’s

          – see if we actually agree that it’s a good idea,

          – figure what actually makes sense,

          – reserve the rights of way for it,

          – proceed intelligently to build what we need, and not get so deep in debt that we choke on the payments and finance costs, and

          – enjoy the results of it.

          In my opinion, we are being led around by the noses by people who hope to pocket serious money from our foolish decisions, while Public Relations types are trumpeting Big Lies from every media source. We are clearly not wise like our parents generation and we are directing ourselves to disaster. We need to realize that crazed overbuilding is just going to lead us to another spending bubble – and if we learned anything from the tech bubble and the real estate bubble, we should know that’s not where we want to go.

          Where would I want to send sent BRT? I’m wondering why the rail line goes where it goes. Why Rt 606, why Ashburn? I guess because Tysons is there, and the toll roads are there. So maybe further on down the Dulles Greenway, but I think people want transit to Leesburg, and it’s in another direction And I thought Purcelville, because it’s in that general direction, and it’s big enough that I have heard of it.

          What’s wrong with responding to the communities that exist now, and serving them with transit? Are taxpayers just pawns for the self-appointed planners? Whose country is this, anyway?

          Leesburg, I think. Purcelville, probably. Something out in the stix? I’m not going to build palaces in the stix for kings yet to be born, but we can talk about possible industrial and residential development. Let’s plan logical transit routes, AND DO IT RIGHT THIS TIME. Not an arm twisting political circus this time. Decide (not by the usual agenda-driven meetings, but by real thinking), figure how to establish rights of way, reserve the rights of way with BUS ROUTES, see if it seems to be working, and adjust based on what actually happens, before locking in rail.

          No premature rail. No wild spending and borrowing. Think Pay-As-You-Go, not another 16 Trillion of debt. I will not stand for more of the nonsense I saw at the Fairfax and Loudoun BOS meetings about approving the rail project. “Oh gee, we have NO idea where the money will come from, gee the problem is that we need a source of funding, gee we’re looking at ways to lower the tolls, oh gee what a surprise, we have to TAX you… ”

          NOT THAT!!!

          1. thanks for responding Bob.

            I guess I fee that there are many more successful toll roads than not just as some transit tends to be more successful than others.

            I do think believe that growth will follow a transportation corridor – having lived south near I-95 since it was built and watched how growth got directed along it (and many other roads -and very early rail that emmanted from cities).

            tolls roads tend to be more “successful” than “free” roads in you think in terms of money received to go for maintenance and ops as well as new improvements. “Free roads” don’t really have as much transparency and accountability … most folks do not have a clue how much it costs to maintain/operate the “free” road they use getting back and forth to work.

            and so we really don’t have a workable definition for “free” roads in term of ROI – as Jim have often pointed out.

            With tolls roads – you have a very specific bottom line – and as long as “enough” people are willing to pay to use it (enough to pay off the bonds and maintain and operate it) – then most folks would call it “successful” – even if it took 50-100 years to pay off the bonds – as is the typical arrangement.

            if you wanted a similar arrangement for “free” roads – you’d have to project out the likely costs of it – 50-100 years and then calculate the number of cars using it – and how much revenue they generate – and we know that it’s not enough given the steady erosion of funds since the last tax increase (before the latest one) was 25 years ago.

            Perhaps an interesting study would involve I-66 and how it affected/directed growth – west of NoVa – (and perhaps why the path chosen for it – and Dulles Airport – were not the same).

            I guess I’m from the school for both rail and road – that where you put them does end up directing where future growth occurs – and that if you did not have them – that growth would tend to cluster around their non-extended termini …

            Now in your corner on YOUR view – how do we pick our current termini – i.e. why did we end at Tysons and not before then – or past it?

            Also – clearly – Tysons itself grew as a result of roads put there and now that there are HOT Lanes – (that make BRT more feasible ) I wonder if that will affect projected ridership of Metro to Tysons.

            It could be that Tysons – is “too far” also… eh?

          2. Tysons Corner is a big shopping and employment center. If it is indeed too far, that would beg the question of why its inclusion in the Dulles Rail / Silver Line project was considered to be of such overwhelming importance that a whole dog-leg had to be arranged, and years of struggle had to be endured, in order to get rail into it.

            My opinion is that if any rail extension is actually appropriate at this time, it would be a relatively short rail extension from Falls Church to Tysons. For access generally from the west of there, bus would have worked just as well or better for the forseeeable future, at much lower cost, especially because that bus access can extend out to the many places where our planned rail stations will not exist. But instead, we chose rail to somewhere… anywhere… at any price. In Fairfax County, we were sold the idea that we NEEDED rail to Dulles Airport – but when MWAA played its roughly half-Billion dollar game with its underground station plan at Dulles Airport, we learned that actually very few travelers would use it, and it was really for the airport employees. That was a bit of a surprise to those of us who were paying attention. Of course at that point the story changed, and the GMU economist was rolled out to claim unbelievable economic benefits from this one little rail line.

            As for toll roads – if there are more successful toll roads than unsuccessful ones, then any companies that have a trail of price overruns, failed toll roads, etc behind them must be doing something very wrong, and should be investigated and probably shut out of future contracting in that business. No? Or at least this measure of their quality should at least be _considered_, when bids are chosen for approval. No? With Billions of dollars, and (as you suggest) entire future regional developments at stake, it seems obvious that SOME level of care should be applied to such contracting. No?

            I think that tolls make sense on limited access highways, if the tolls are used for the maintenance and operating cost of the road, and not as a sneak method of taxation to pay for various double priced pet projects. But I fear that our so-called ‘leaders’ are planning to put tollbooths ininappropriate locations all over the place, as a method of exactly such sneak taxation, to benefit their ‘friends’, in order to receive revolving-door rewards later – at our great expense.

  17. One serious issue that all of the bidders should consider is that if they do not implement a PLA, then the construction workers on Phase 1 will not gladly accept a pay cut and the loss of benefits and basic rights on the job. One of the reasons for a PLA is to avoid labor problems. Cutting wages and benefits and asking a worker to do the same work is a sure fire way to create labor problems.

    While Virginia is not a union hotbed, attacking workers’ livelihoods is one step in the direction of getting workers angry enough to make it so.

    1. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

      The wages are government-determined via prevailing wage/Davis-Bacon. They are the same with or without a PLA, unless the PLA on P1 paid workers more by deferring to union collective bargaining agreements, but I don’t believe that is the case.

      I think this is a non-issue.

  18. jimmy the mick Avatar
    jimmy the mick

    Unfortunately this article is incorrect. As a person with direct knowledge of this project I can tell you that the same 5 teams have been in the mix from the beginning and the potential use nor non use of the project labor agreement has not increeased or decreased the competition. In addition, the other teams that were looking at the project but elected not participate did not make the decision on the use or nonuse of a project labor agreement. Furthermore, the notion of the a project labor agreement will increase the cost on a prevailing wage project is absurb (the wages on this project are established by the government and must be paid by all teams). However, I hope this blog and the other opponents of the project labor agreement are going to take full credit when this project is a disaster. Due to the medling of politicians like Governor McDonnell, Congressman Wolf and Secretary LaHood this project will experience significant delays and cost overruns. The procurement of this project is pitiful and all the teams are preparing the give MWAA the absolute bare minimum that meets the specs and you can bet there are significant holes in the contract documents that will lead to significant change orders and delays.
    Regarding skilled labor for this project ( I know most people think that only their job requires skilled labor but even in construction it takes years of training and experience to perfect skils to be productive and build quality projects) this project will be competiting with other large infrastructure projects like the South Capitol Street Bridge and the WASA tunnels – to name a few – when it startys construction at the end of 2014.
    If I am Labor and if the team that is awarded the project doesnt work with you, I would have a great case study. 1st phase was a resounding success regarding productivity, quality and safety. It will be very difficult for that to be reporcuced by a nonunion contracror a project of this magnitude. You can look at the past track record in Northern Virginia such as the Mixing Bowl, the Virginia side of the Wilson Bridge and the 95 approach to the Wilson bridge. All of those projects had significant delays, cost overruns, quality concerns and safety issues.

    1. jimmy, if those same 5 teams have been in the mix from the beginning, that’s a big story. Can we get documentation of that? We were told that ‘Dulles Transit Partners’ was doing the job. Are you saying that the other groups have been subcontracting with DTP? If so, wouldn’t we expect that they would all also be subcontracting on Phase 2 as well?

      1. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

        I think what he is saying is the same 5 firms would be interested in the project with or without a PLA mandate/preference. It is essentially a non-factor with so much money on the line.

        This could be true, but I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest that is the case. They probably could have found union firms OK with the PLA to build the project, but at what cost to taxpayers? At what expense to fair opportunity?

        The PLA issue certainly makes a difference to subcontractors and nonunion workers who would have been frozen out by a PLA and deserve a fair shot to put food on the table for families and to grow their business. Wouldn’t you agree?

        1. The PLA is not excused even if these five groups would still have been interested – because until the applications came in, and these five groups were selected, it could not be known that only these five would remain – unless, of course, that decision was in fact preordained.

          I think that the right-to-work laws of Virginia are supposed to apply to the hiring practices that MWAA enforces in the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project.
          Metropolitan Washington Airports Lease, March 2, 1987
          Article 28. Law of Agreement.
          This lease shall be governed by and construed in accordance with federal law. To the extent that the application of federal law requires or permits the application or consideration of state law, the parties agree that the law of the Commonwealth of Virginia is most relevant to this lease and shall be applied or considered. The powers of the Secretary with respect to this lease shall be construed in accordance with and governed by Federal law, and the powers of the Airports Authority with respect to this lease shall be construed in accordance with and governed by Virginia law.

  19. sickandtired Avatar

    The project is covered under the Davis Bacon Act so the prevailing wage is the same whether a PLA is used or not. The difference is that under a PLA the fringe portion of the prevailing wage would be used to pay for health insurance and retirement for the worker instead of the worker being paid the fringe on his check and the taxpayers picking up the tab for the non-insured worker’s and his family’s health issues.

    1. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

      It is a huge myth the fringe amounts are paid in cash ONLY to nonunion workers. Many firms take the prevailing wage fringes and apply it to benefit programs that meet or exceed union programs.

      Ask any reputable nonunion contractor and they will tell you taking care of employees is the best way to attract and retain a skilled workforce, which is a competitive advantage.

  20. According to this article, you would have to believe that the previous PLA on this project would mean there was no competition allowed but the truth was the PLA just guaranteed that the work would stay with the current LOCAL labor workforce that kept the cost on budget. This was reiterated by MWAA officials across the board:


    This article was clearly written by the ABC and its supporters who would rather bring in cheap outside construction workers on this job instead of keeping the job with hard working qualified Virginia construction workers. So the argument is made that somehow, not keeping the PLA would drive cost down in a Prevailing Wage job? Really?

    The reality is that ANYONE can bid on a PLA project, the PLA just guarantees that the labor goes to the same local workers who are doing a great job and that the project stay on time and on budget. This campaign by the ABC and their allies only undermines the work already done on this project because they fear that Union workers would’ve demanded that they be treated fairly on the project. Not having the PLA just empowers these construction firms to grab any person off the street, regardless of their experience, and put them on the job. Fear that if the PLA was kept on Phase 2 would show to the public that Union labor exists and flourishes in VA, would’ve been one of the biggest problems for the ABC and their Corporate friends.

    In addition, this nonsense of competitive bidding doesn’t mean a thing if you believe that hiring the lowest bid on the project will save taxpayers money. Usually the bid will come in low by the non-union contract firm to get the contract, then the company will jack up cost due to unforeseen circumstances listed in the contract. The PLA would have kept these things in check; the same style PLA started by Corporations years ago to keep costs down.

    As citizens regardless of political affiliations, we need to look past the rhetoric and the fear of workers represented by Unions to make sure our local construction projects are not only ON budget but also being built by qualified personnel. I say keep the current workforce intact, regardless of their union representation and the lies being told about the PLA. Anyone who is smart enough to look at the project would see that the PLA is not the problem, but rather folks playing politics with taxpayer money.

    1. Local workers. Since Virginia has much fewer union contractors than Maryland and D.C., a very likely result of a PLA is fewer jobs going to Virginia companies and workers. For Phase 1, there were more Maryland and District contractors and workers than ones from Virginia. This was posted last summer on this blog.

      The use of more non-union contractors will mean more dollars going to Virginia companies and workers. That seems only right since most of the Phase 2 costs will be paid by Virginians. Does anyone really think that either Maryland or the District would set aside jobs for Virginia non-union contractors and workers? Of course not. So why should the Commonwealth do it for our neighbors across the Potomac?

      Let the winning bidder decide whether it wants a PLA or not.

      1. construction for dummies Avatar
        construction for dummies

        I really don’t know where to begin because you have no clue what you’re talking about. The Pla was the same Agreement used on phase 1 except that it was first mandatory instead of voluntary. Again, MWAA has well documented evidence it saved the project millions. This came from CEO Jack Potter and Chairman Curto. So MWAA decided not to make saving millions voluntary. That vote was 11-2. Check the minutes of MWAA meetings if you need verification. Then Virginia Governor McDonnell and Congressman Frank Wolf started the campaign that Mwaa was dysfunctional. Funny when a long standing member of Congress calls another agency dysfunctional but I digress . They started to hold up the $150 million from he state until MWAA dropped the mandatory PLA. Still the subcontractors were never subject to the PLA. So MWAA staff came up with the idea of offering a preference of 10 points if a bidder chose to use the PLA. That was voted on as well and it passed 12-0 with Martire abstaining. Congressman Davis asked if Virginia is ok with this? Potter replied, yes it was approved by Virginia. The MWAA minutes are a wonderful thing. You should read them sometime. So the PLA fight continued because all those political donors were very upset that Sean Cannaughton and Gov Ultrasound caved in and allowed this to happen. At this time it’s important to mention, MWAA had 5 teams wanting to bid Phase 2. All were ok with doing a Pla except really one team. You probably know who they are. So the Rfqi was delayed from hitting the streets again until MWAA agreed to make it voluntary again. Tolls would go up a little but more importantly Loudoun County may not have been able to secure the votes. So MWAA was getting big pressure from Va state and local politicians. Potter who is one of those guys who puts his finger to the wind to see which way the political wind is blowing decided he better try to make this PLA thing go away. I know he said it saved the project millions but this is politics and he needed to not do the right thing for the toll road users but the politically correct thing. Keep in mind while all this was going on, Wolf was passing legislation to change the Board and get rid of some democrats. What was really ironic was Potter fired the Mwaa lobbyist who was responsible for defending the Wolf legislation while the bill was going through Congress. That firm was never replaced. So Frank was given the green light with no road blocks. At around the same time they were trying to get rid of the labor guy because he was still a problem. LaHood even pressured the Mayor and Governor of Maryland to write that letter after the Mame Reiley hiring to obtain another Board seat for the republicans in Virginia. Because they can’t tick off theSec of Transportation, they all had to sign off on the letter. They did not write the letter it was given to them to sign by Sec LaHood. No pressure, just sign it or else. So they took the labor guy off the Board and he was not allowed to vote. I’m not sure why MWAA would not let him participate but they did. Probably to make his life a little more miserable. The mandatory pla and points were all removed but a voluntary PLA is still acceptable. This is what the MWAA minutes show minus my political comments. Is it strange that now MWAA is not dysfunctional. Frank Wolf has lost his voice. Gov Ultrasound now is ok with Mwaa, Secretary LaHood is now saying MWAA is now good. Washington Post stopped doing editorials. Does this seem strange to anyone? MWAA is healed.

        1. The vast majority of the fight over this project is indeed Democrat vs Republican, bcause both parties are fighting over Billions of dollars of stolen money. Notice that NOBODY is able to explain why the Rt 28 Metro station is estimated at 2.4X what a more capable station cost, that was completed in December 2011 in Fairfield Connecticut (a wealthy NYC suburb), or why the Phase 2 parking garages are estimated at 2 times what above-ground parking garages should cost. The reason is that they should NOT be nearly so expensive, and the overcost is entirely typical of the Dulles Rail / Silver Line project, and the parties are simply fighting for control so that they can kick the excesses to their chosed buddies, and get revolving-door rewards later – so the last thing they want is any public attention on their little financial game.

  21. buckmelanoma Avatar

    The PLA has been nothing but an ideological battle around Phase 2 from day one. As for the claims that it would exclude any worker or firm from participating in the project, well that’s just unadulterated bulls**it. But most Virginians, like me, recognize that this is all such inside baseball and only serves to distract from the fact that a project touted as an economic development driver for the region will in fact be a magnet for a transient workforce, straining public services in NoVA and leaving workers living and raising families here with an empty farecard.

  22. I dont understand what the problem is? The facts are clear. The project came in on time, it stayed within budget. Seems to me that a PLA is the way to go. A PLA ensures contractors who not only can handle the work, but are also capable of fulfilling a PLA guidelines. Why wouldn’t we want a PLA on a project of this magnitude. Seems like common sense to me!! And not to mention a PLA ensures that workers on that project earn a decent wage. Is that to much to ask? I dont think so.

  23. dumb question.. PLAs don’t require unions…per se , right?

    1. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

      A PLA is a master union collective bargaining agreement for one project. When mandated by a government entity like MWAA, contractors must obey the terms of the PLA. The PLA terms vary, but they often require firms to hire union labor and hire a limited number of nonunion workers (such as existing employees of nonunion firms) through union hiring halls. It forces union repreaentation on nonunion workers. PLAs also require workers to pay union dues and fees and follow union work rules and trade classifications, among other things.

    2. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

      Some PLAs explicitly say you have to use ALL union labor.

      Some say you have to use union labor and and SOME nonunion labor. But nonunion labor must be dispatched through union hiring halls and they have to join a union within 7 days. Other PLAs allow two nonunion workers for every 8 union workers. It all depends on the PLA language.

      Some PLAs do not explicitly say you have to use union labor. They say all workers have to be hired through union hiring halls (even a nonunion contractor’s existing workforce). PLA advocates claim union hiring halls cannot discriminate who gets dispatched to jobsites based on their union status. But they fail to mention union hiring halls dispatch workers based on who has been out of work the longest on the out of work bench. So nonunion workers are at the end of the bench and realistically won’t get dispatched to the jobsite ahead of union workers during a bad construction economy (today’s market).

      So PLAs can explicitly and implicitly require contractors to use union labor.

      1. re: ” So PLAs can explicitly and implicitly require contractors to use union labor.”

        and that is the case with the METRO project?

        1. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

          I believe so. I will try to track down links to the voluntary P1 PLA vs. the proposed P2 PLA mandate/preference.

          1. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

            Here is the proposed P2 PLA circulated by Martire and MWAA that was going to be MANDATED on all P2 prime contractors and subcontractors:

            Here is a link to a letter providing analysis of the proposed Phase 2 PLA mandate: http://tinyurl.com/antoldf

            Here is the P1 PLA VOLUNTARILY adopted by DTP, the P1 prime contractor, which was NOT mandated on P1 subcontractors and applied only to DTP:

          2. construction for dummies Avatar
            construction for dummies

            Nice try but this was not the Agreement the Mwaa Board was working from. This was a draft Heavy and Highway Agreement. This was not being considered by Mwaa. So maybe all this fight over ideology was all for the wrong reasons. You have been looking at the wrong documents all along. So you would be ok with the Phase 1 PLA if it was mandatory?

          3. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

            ConstructionfordummiWrong again. These docs were constructionfordummies at 8:45:

            Wrong again.

            These PLAs were distributed by MWAA staff to media. They specifically address the respective Silver Line phases in the addendums. Try reading them instead of only the first page.

  24. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Jimmy the Mick said: ‘The procurement of this project is pitiful and all the teams are preparing the give MWAA the absolute bare minimum that meets the specs and you can bet there are significant holes in the contract documents that will lead to significant change orders and delays.”

    Jimmy’s comment reminded me of Joe. Joe had started in the NYC building trades, hanging off skyscraper steel. 35 years later he was running the “Big Urban Division” of a large international construction company, when his first heart attack made him quite smoking. His 2nd convinced Joe to retire. Six months later, bored witless, he took up Owner’s construction Rep. work to “earn a few shekels on the side”. That’s Joe talking.

    I first met Joe on the redevelopment of an urban city block. Phase 1 of this multi – phased project included a 400 car underground garage, heavy utilities work on and off site beneath an elaborate hard-scape pad, and the base building elements of the projects first highrise building.

    Joe arrived early 1st morning with architectural/engineering plans, specs, drawings, surveys and the like. First hour he gave me a “schematic overview of what ya got here.” Topics included “soft spots, holes, fuzziness, dis-joints, fantasy designs, vanity treatments, ‘have these people ever designed a big garage before’, and questions, observations, stories and suggestions on other topics like value engineering . Joe’s words again.

    One thing was obvious quick. Joe’d been round the block. Learned the hard way how big construction always wants to go wrong, whether by ego driven design, impractical drawings, lack of knowledge of field construction, imprecise drawings open to change order artistry, general confusion, bad managements, endless needless complexities, built in formulas for troubles and failures that cascade delays and cost over runs, add infinitude.

    In short Joe knew where snakes lay in the woodpile, how to rattle them out, and chop off their heads before they bit the owner in the ass.

    So that first hour set the agenda for the next day and half meeting with the Architects, engineers, and other functionaries, who’d created or had input into those documents that earlier were declared fit for bid. Joe was their morning surprise. They hadn’t expected old Joe.

    To be continued.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Joe could command a room. He could rattle cages, knock heads, then turn a quarrelsome group of people around and march them off lock-step in another direction. He was that good. I witnessed it several times.

      But, however rough and tumble or cooperative, his treatment was always finely calibrated to the needs of the hour. Architects don’t like having their work criticized. Especially by the unexpected “who is this guy” seemed to be doing what architects are paid to do, be the Owner’s Rep. on the job.

      So Joe started off doing the old soft shoe. Asking questions. Wondering if “this might be of concern? Or how about that? Or maybe this will work? Or that? Or let’s think about it and revisit it this afternoon.”

      So however soft the voice and approach, there was no getting around Joe. He was too good. So before long there was squirming in the chairs round the table and reddened faces as Joe’s review progressed. Slowly the dynamic changed. Resistance began to crack. So did the tempo. By the early afternoon relays of engineers, planners, schedulers, and architects were coming in and out, working in tandem, reporting or this and that to old Joe, sitting in his chair, orchestrating his own show.

      By middle afternoon of the next day Joe was flying back to New York, and the “experts” were busy reworking papers, drawing out solutions, refining.

      How much money was saved in that first day and a half one can never know. Losses come from so many pots. Little things can unravel into big things, and big things can stand alone, so you never know. But in private construction what Joe did in a day and a half may well have made the different between success and failure of the entire project financially.

      And Joe had only started. Next came Joe’s bid preparation, analysis, negotiation and award. How he kept moving forward killing snakes.

      (To be continued.)

    2. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      I’ve reread all this wonderful commentary on Jim’s article a 2nd time. A few observations might be pertinent before the next installment of Joe’s quaint story about construction during a not so long ago simpler time.

      The technology that goes into building standup parking structures and overhead walkways is at base “Dog Stupid.” That capability has been around since at least Roman Times. People have been building train stations along rail lines since the first half of the 19th century in England.

      Light urban rail is 19th century technology. In the 1890’s, light rail opened up NW Washington DC, and nearby Maryland. This revolutionized the Nations Capital. It created the city’s middle class, and changed most everything else, too. It was funded by private developers. Using pick axe manual labor and horse drawn wagons for most of the work, the project was accomplished at lightening speed by today’s Northern Virginia standards.

      Surely, given what we’ve become, we’re the laughing stock of generations.

      Thanks go to Bob Bruhns for his comments and insights.

      1. ( ^ smiles and waves)

        Mr. Fawell, whoever you are, you sure can WRITE.

        1. reed fawell III Avatar
          reed fawell III

          Thanks Bob!

  25. As some who at one time was in the construction business in the Northeast, I can honestly say that Project Labor Agreements work. I worked for a construction manager on major heavy construction jobs. There were several non-union contractors that we worked with from time to time. When these contractors did these projects on their own they almost always never came in on time, often times the project came in over budget. When these same contractor were low bidders on jobs requiring PLA’s they were like totally different companies. The projects were always finished early and under budget and with less mistakes.

    Although I myself never belonged to a union I definitely saw the difference between union and non union construction workers. The non union construction workers were often times not dressed appropriately for construction. They often times seemed lost as to what they were doing and there was always a foreman watching them at all times. They also seemed to have more accidents, while the union workers were always in hard hats, boots and safety glasses. The union workers were able to be told what was expected of them for the day and left to to their work without someone standing over them all day. They always seemed professional and well trained. which allowed the company to complete jobs on time under budget and make the company profitable. Just my 2 cents worth.

    1. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

      I have heard contractors say negative things about nonunion workers and negative things about union workers. Same for union and nonunion contractors. There are good and bad apples in every bunch. No need to exclude either groups intentionally or unintentionally.. Let the cream rise to the top.

  26. I dunno. Listening to the various voices commenting on this, it appears that a non-union shop can compete utilizing a PLA and in turn hire Va workers.

    I’m just trying to separate out what are the facts verses the philosophical preferences.

    and I’m not clear yet on why unions would have an advantage over non-unions in a PLA environment.

    can we lay down 2 or 3 bullet points that are the basic facts – not ideology?

  27. Not sure Bob B answered my question about how much is too much to pay for METRO – existing and new.

    It seems he is more focused on the current costs – independent of the overall cost/benefit proposition of METRO as a transportation mode.

    So I’ll try again.

    How much is too much and why?

    Second, he focuses a lot on parking – which, truthfully, I see as the key to METRO use in the suburbs.

    Bob – are you opposed to any/all parking structures? or do you have a price that you consider correct and METRO is high-balling them?

    Next – shouldn’t the parking structures pay for themselves with fees?

    are they?

    but my biggest question here is do you support any METRO that is not cost-self-sufficient or do you support a subsidized METRO (as it is) and where do you draw the line between “too much subsidy” and “okay”?

    1. Larryg, offhand I don’t have a preferred price estimate prepared for a proper BRT system. Certainly it would be far less expensive than a double-priced heavy rail system. Arguments, true or false, about shorter maintenance lifespan are moot, because BRT only needs to be active until the corridor develops to the point where rail can replace it. If that doesn’t happen in the lifespan of a decent BRT bus system when people know that rail will come, and where it will be, then I think we know that heavy rail would have incurred even worse losses, had it been prematurely inserted with enormous amounts of borrowed money and the attendant dunning finance costs. And if the corridor never develops to the extent that would make rail appropriate, then the BRT ought then to simply be rebuilt and renewed, if it is needed and useful. People would have a basis to know if that is the case.

      Rail is just too expensive to install in a premature, willy-nilly frenzy of borrowing and spending, especially if the spending is double priced overspending, weeds notwithstanding. I submit that lower cost transit would be good, especially if people can get from Point A to Point B in some reasonable time, in some reasonable comfort, with good reliability, so cost effectiveness needs to be considered. And certainly anything with a century level payback time horizon will be too questionable to pursue. So people need to use their heads, and there should be a voter referendum on the project. And if people vote for $2 Billion rail, and the price estimate proceeds to ‘MWAA’ up to $4 Billion, then certainly a new referendum, and probably a new managing agency, are required.

      I am concerned that the Dulles Rail / Silver Line project is double priced; you say that’s ‘in the weeds’. I suppose I could ask for your definition of ‘in the weeds’, and how much of a ripoff, in dollars or in percentage, would rise above those weeds and become unacceptable to you. That might be fair turnaround and fair play. But, it would take the discussion off-subject.

      Subsidies are not fair if a project is overpriced. We do subsidize roads, and it seems to me that’s appropriate where tollbooths are not fitting, like on the local streets. A Metro would be like a school system, I guess – something we might want, even if we don’t use it ourselves. But a double price for a premature rail project, leading to 35 years of crippling payments? I think we should stay with bus, thanks. Either BRT, if appropriate, or just a decent on-street bus system.

      I’m not sure what would be too much subsidy. I can say with certainty that any subsidy that supports, funds and encourages hidden, double priced dirty deals would not be acceptable. As for exactly how much deliberate overprice should be acceptable, I think that’s beyond the scope of this discussion.

      Certainly, potential Metro riders think that more Metro is great. But did they consider the cost? Did they look to see if it was a ripoff? Would they care? In the Dulles Rail / Silver Line saga, the answers are no, no and no. Whether yes-no-no, no-yes-no, yes-yes-no, etc, would be OK, is beyond the scope of the discussion.

      Parking garages – I don’t like double priced construction costs for public subsidized parking garages. Whether 10%, 20%, 25,%, etc overprice might be acceptable is beyond the scope of the discussion. I would welcome parking garages and Metro if it was appropriate, appropriately priced, and if business and population were built up and able to pay for it. But premature and overpriced nonsense like the Dulles Rail / Silver Line project need to be sent back to the kitchen, so to speak – for ten or twenty years, while we build up the corridor with BRT.

      It would be good if Metro and roads and parking structures could pay for themselves in user fees. I think that they need to justified somehow, or else why are we building and maintaining and operating them at all? Does the Metro make it possible for residents, visitors, customers and employees to get around and make good use of the locale, at a price that is not a ripoff, and further does not make life difficult? Then it’s good. But if it drives users off of toll roads in fear of bankruptcy, and causes worse traffic congestion than we had before, and requires surprise, expensive bailout after surprise, expensive bailout, then no.

      1. let me address each –

        BRT vs heavy rail – some of this depends on whether you think BRT, Heavy rail – and roads – FOLLOW growth or they DIRECT it.

        Think of it in terms of land-use planning where some land is designated for growth and other land – not but the public provisioning of infrastructure to support denser growth to include things like water/sewer, etc.

        BRT in my mind follows growth that is directed by roads rather than BRT defining where growth will go next.

        You say rail is to expensive to be done prematurely but I have to ask you about the initial phases of METRO – choices were made about where to put it and where not to put it – at great up-front costs – METRO did not follow growth as much as it helped to direct it – because if you look where METRO is now and where is is not – what do you see? If METRO followed growth – it sure looks like a big coincidence, eh?

        On “payback” – I still ask – since METRO is subsidized for both capital expenditures and operations – what is your benchmark threshold for “acceptable” losses?

        with respect to voter referenda – what that does is permit the issue to be politicized by those opposed and defended by those in favor but do we do that with roads or BRT either? If the referenda included cost data – would the average person really understand the costs or would they be “in the weeds” (for the average person). Like if I asked you how much a toll road should cost – per mile… would you know off the top of your head? That’s sorta what I mean about in the weeds. Your argument is like arguing whether the ICC should have cost 100 million a mile or not. Was it more expensive than it should have been? How about the DTR or Greenway?

        re: ” and it seems to me that’s appropriate where tollbooths are not fitting, like on the local streets” – just FYI – no more tollbooths – it’s all electronic transponder and you can put the sensors anywhere and the fall back is electronic license plate readers. I’m not arguing that local streets to electronically tolled – only that the technology exists to do so and in other countries that technology is used to implement cordon tolling – essentially circle boundaries around congested areas where the tolls vary by congestion levels. They’even more unpopular than toll roads but they are a legitimate way to manage congestion and likely will be used.

        re: METRO is like a school in terms of public infrastructure

        okay – we’re on the same page… and yes I’ll buy the analogy about how expensive a school should be – and how we know – we look for comparisons , right? do we have some? 30 years of crippling payments? well.. I guess until I hear or see 30 years of “we’re not going to use it because it’s too damned expensive” I’ll consider the “crippling” as opinion.

        they say that about DTR and the ICC but in both cases.. I don’t see either one shut down for lack of business!!!! Ditto with METRO if you think about it. Isn’t this sort of like arguing that schools are “crippled” by their costs also? I see what you are getting at – but there has to be something more objective than just opinion.

        re: garages – are they not going to charge? are they not going to ultimately pay for themselves? You mention BRT in that context – do you consider parking a legitimate cost of BRT also? How would people use BRT? Would it need stations and parking also? Would people be willing to pay for what it costs to capitalize and operate BRT or would it also have to be subsidized?

        For the record, down our way 50 miles away – we have what I would characterize as Ad Hoc BRT in that we have a pile of commuter buses leaving from various commuter lots on dedicated routes to usually one or two NoVa work destinations then back to that one (or possibly 2) commuter lots. How would you say that what I describe to you is different from what you would think of as BRT?

        commuter lots and VRE parking. Are you familar with what an uncovered commuter lot costs – per spot? how about covered parking, i.e. parking garages? we have one down this way near a VRE station. My recollection was that it is easily twice as expensive per parking spot as an one level uncovered commuter lot – which..by the way.. do follow growth rather than direct it. commuter lots are built in response to existing development. Agree?

        I’m trying to think about VDOT commuter lots and how much each slot would cost if they had a policy of having the lots pay for themselves – at I think somewhere around 12K per spot. What’s the logic behind commuter lots and parking garages – for commuting? Are both..essentially trading the costs for the parking spot for the costs of adding network capacity to the road system or in this day and time – the costs of even heavier congestion and gridlock especially at rush hour?

        re: double pricing.. I do appreciate your in-depth polite response but would tweak you just a bit by asking if you were ever concerned with double pricing of other transportation infrastructure – like the ICC which easily costs twice or 3 times what many non-urban roads cost per mile. Was it “double-pricing” or was it the costs associated with that particular road? How would you know unless you went in depth to the costs?

        were you concerned about PLAs with the ICC or the HOT Lanes?

        why does this seem specific only to METRO?

        these are questions – by the way – that I’d actually pose to myself also in trying to construct my own attitudes.. of which I eventually arrived at a similar view to you that METRO and transit and rail are more like schools in terms of “subsidy’ than they are like “free market” solutions.

        Again, I appreciate your willingness to discuss – the good, bad and ugly of it.

        1. Metro riders who use the Silver Line will be maybe 10% of the taxpayers, and not a big percentage of the tollpayers, who pay for it. So they might say “Hey, the ticket prices are too high, so I’ll just drive.” Or, they might not. But either way, that does not justify a double price to design and build the Metro extension.

          Nor do double or triple priced roads justify double rail prices. But roads are so much less expensive than rail, that overpriced roads are not as bad of a situation. I didn’t see the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors running around saying that they didn’t know where the money would come from. I didn’t see the US DOT come to town to push costs onto local municipalities in order to make the project cost look lower than it really was. But with the Dulles Rail / Silver Line, I DID see that. I noticed something was very wrong. And I looked into it.

          But even if an overpriced road didn’t rise to the level of a regional crisis like this overpriced rail project did, why would you suggest that I would not care about it?

          I’m against ALL corruption, waste and overspending.

          I see transportation as a proven money extractor, a known means of regional ripoff, and I assert that multi-Bilion dollar companies are cashing in as we speak, at our great present and future expense. These guys are international sharks; our small-time political hacks are comic book characters to them. The big international companies chew up and spit out jokers like Connolly, Moran, Bulova and York all the time.

          Do you think they care? They don’t care, and our local government ‘overseers’ are, at best, asleep at the switch. Look what happened in Silver Spring.

          Silver Spring transit center is unsafe; everyone’s to blame
          Greater Greater Washington, March 20, 2013

          Silver Spring Transit Center unsafe and unusable without major repairs, officials say
          Washington Post, March 19, 2013

          Metro could walk away from taking over Silver Spring Transit Center
          Washington Post, March 20, 2013

          AS for directing future growth, when you don’t seem to want The People involved for fear of political intervention – Well, whose country IS this? You don’t think that the motivation of Billions of dollars of overcharge won’t make the planning political and crooked? Of course it will, and it has been… but the level of the ripoff is growing beyond the belief and even the comprehension of the parties and of almost everybody.

          If The People are unqualified to manage the growth of their own region, then who is the King who will do it for them? Who is the ruling class who will make the decisions? MWAA? WMATA? NVTA? I hope not. But Governor Kaine tossed the Dulles Corridor to MWAA. And now, Virginia seems to be tossing all of Virginia Planning District 8 (not to be confused with Congressional District 8) – tossing Prince William County, Loudoun County, Fairfax County, Arlington and Alexandria, to NVTA… and I expect the same bad results we saw with MWAA, times ten.

          We are draining all of this region’s resources just for the Silver Line. So where will the money come from, for transit in the rest of Virginia Planning District 8? This entire district will pay for the Dulles Disaster – will the Dulles Corridor then say “Oh, well that’s all well and good, but we are certainly not going to pay for YOUR overpriced rail!”

          Unfortunately, I have to advocate saying almost exactly that. Use the Dulles Disaster as an example, and DO IT RIGHT fom now on. No more double prices, no more premature rail, no more 50 year borrowing, no more skyrocketing bailouts before the rail lines even open. Develop a transit corridor – start with bus, and upgrade it to rail as that becomes appropriate.

          If the idea of a ruling-class directed growth and development is so good – then borrow the money privately, build the thing yourself, and then talk about how great the idea was, when it blossoms into the greatest community ever. Don’t take over my government to force me to pay double prices for it. Don’t say “Oh, well we aren’t going to let those lowly TAXPAYERS decide anything, this has to be taken out of their hands.” Looks to me like it’s just a proven moneymaker where the taxpayers take all the risk, and the international companies get all the money, the banks get all the interest, and our so-called ‘leaders’ get all the revolving-door rewards. Sorry, but I’m not going along with that.

  28. construction for dummies Avatar
    construction for dummies

    Facts matter and the PLA protest cost this project million over nothing. Ideology cost this project not the unions. Please read this article. The PLA was only on the prime contractor only. Construction and labor guys post is wrong as usual. Typical ABC person who caused this project millions….thanks.Labor pact for Dulles Metrorail opposed
    Lawmaker aims to thwart MWAA
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    By David Sherfinski-The Washington Times Tuesday, February 21, 2012

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    Virginia Delegate Tim Hugo, Fairfax Republican (Associated Press) more >
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    RICHMOND — A Northern Virginia delegate has inserted language into the House’s proposed budget to effectively negate a proposed incentive for firms bidding on Phase 2 of the Dulles Metrorail project to use a labor agreement that many say favors unions.

    The move was made by Delegate Timothy D. Hugo, a Fairfax Republican helping lead the charge against the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board of directors’ efforts to mandate the so-called project labor agreement. The agreements set the terms and conditions between contractors and labor groups.

    The state has conditionally agreed to provide an additional $150 million for Phase 2 of the project. Absent that contribution, a $2.25 toll on the Dulles Toll Road for a one-way trip could jump to $4.50, according to a recent report prepared for the airports authority. Mr. Hugo’s amendment would prohibit state funds from being used on projects that are subject to the labor agreements or union contractor preference.

    “I think we’ve had grave concerns,” Mr. Hugo said. “And we’ve expressed it repeatedly that we want a level playing field. I think, point blank, that the actions of the … authority are on the verge of killing this project.”

    Mr. Hugo added he supports the project, but “thinks the board’s actions are going to kill it.”

    A bill in the Virginia House from Delegate Barbara J. Comstock, Fairfax Republican, that would bar state-funded projects from either requiring or prohibiting labor agreements has already passed the body. Its Senate equivalent, introduced by Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, has cleared both chambers.

    In response to the General Assembly concerns, the MWAA board last weekscrapped its plans to require contractors to use an agreement. Members instead voted to offer a 10 percent credit in its evaluation for bidders who elect to use one.

    MWAA spokeswoman Tara Hamilton said that the voluntary approach is similar to one taken by the General Services Administration for major federal construction projects.

    “Unlike the mandatory approach, the new approach will not eliminate any contractor from the Phase 2 procurement based solely on its decision not to provide a PLA,” she said.

    “Any [agreement] on Phase 2, which extends Metrorail service to Washington Dulles International Airport, would apply only to the prime contractor, and no subcontractor would be required to be a party to the agreement.”

    But Mr. Hugo likened the scenario to a batter starting with a runner on third base every time he comes up, or a football game in which a team starts every series near midfield.

    Critics argue the agreements can drive up construction costs and scare away nonunion contractors from bidding on projects. Proponents say the agreements ensure a steady supply of reliable labor and deliver projects on time and on budget.

    Dulles Transit Partners, the lead contractor for the 13.5-mile first leg of the $6 billion project, voluntarily adopted one after winning the bid.

    “I’m mystified by the hatred that some people have for labor to the degree that it overrides facts, and in this particular instance, the track record of PLAs,” said Delegate Robert H. Brink, Arlington Democrat. “Supposedly what [opponents] were concerned about was mandatory PLAs. But this isn’t good enough for them. I think they’re just using labor as a whipping boy.”

    The board has already scaled back the $2.8 billion second leg, replacing an underground Metro station with a less-expensive aboveground one following public uproar over costs, among other changes. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stepped in last year and helped broker a plan among the board, Metro, the state of Virginia, and Fairfax and Loudoun counties to outline how to pay for it.

    Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, inserted language into an appropriations bill last year that expands the board of directors from 13 to 17 members, allows them to be more easily removed and prevents them from serving beyond their terms.

    Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, appointed two new members in November, but MWAA said D.C. and Virginia must approve the change before the law can take effect. Legislation that would conform Virginia to the federal law is currently working its way through the legislature.

    © Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

    David Sherfinski

    David Sherfinski covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.
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