The Wolf at MWAA’s Door

The stakes are increasing in the Rail-to-Dulles controversy. In light of recent decisions made by the board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) that could potentially add hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of the heavy rail line, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-10, has introduced legislation to give Virginia a bigger representation on the 13-person board.

Wolf’s bill would amend the 1986 legislation that established the regional operating authority for Dulles and Reagan National airports by increasing Virginia’s representation from five to nine. (The other seats are appointed by the president of the United States, the governor of Maryland and the mayor of Washington, D.C.) It also would allow board members to be replaced at any time by the respective executives who appoint the board. By way of explanation, the congressman said, “My primary interest is to see the project completed on time and at or under budget and I believe the board’s decision to opt for an underground station at Dulles airport would be disastrous.” (Read Wolf’s press release.)

The project is threatening to unravel as key funding partners Fairfax County and Loudoun County have indicated that they would not assume the extra costs of the underground station. Meanwhile, said Wolf, “airport authorities nationwide have been placed on notice that bond ratings could be lowered in the future. And an additional $300 million or more for Dulles Rail could be a troublesome sign for the bond markets. I fear an increase in borrowing costs could effectively kill the project in the design phase.”

Wolf is playing hardball, and Gov. Bob McDonell is backing him up. “I applaud Congressman Wolf’s efforts to expand Virginia’s oversight of the MWAA board decision making process,” the governor said in a prepared statement this afternoon.

Meanwhile, two users of the Dulles Toll Road have filed a suit challenging the legality of the decision by former Gov. Tim Kaine to put MWAA in charge of the Rail-to-Dulles project. By giving MWAA power to raise Dulles Toll Road tariffs and divert revenue to the heavy rail project, the transfer of authority granted taxing power to an unelected board in violation of the U.S. and Virginia constitution, the suit contends.

That suit makes a very strong case. I’ll have more tomorrow.

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