WASHINGTON — The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is considering options to trim the new $3.83 billion estimated cost of the Metrorail extension project’s second phase in order to reduce the amount of debt that will be needed.
The updated price tag, which is much higher than the $2.5 billion estimate published by Moody’s Investors Service in April, was provided to project participants and MWAA board members last week.
The authority is analyzing a phase-two design change that would save $640 million in costs by connecting Dulles International Airport to the Metro above ground, rather than via an underground tunnel.
Lynn Hampton, president and chief executive of the MWAA, said in a statement that she is hopeful the competitive bidding process with contractors “will result in lower costs than are currently reflected in these preliminary engineering estimates.”
The first phase of construction, which is underway and incudes new stations in Tysons Corner, Va., is estimated to cost $2.75 billion. The authority has issued $1.30 billion of bonds for the project already and expects to issue another $1.5 billion.
Funding for phase two will consist of contributions from the MWAA, Loudoun and Fairfax counties, and the Dulles Toll Road, with most of the funds coming from bonds backed by toll revenue. The percentages of the parties’ contributions will stay intact, meaning there can be “more debt leveraged on the toll road to cover its percentage cost,” according to MWAA chief financial officer Andrew Rountree.
If the authority can find savings for the project, it can lower the overall debt needed to be issued. It is issuing debt for the project on a cash-flow basis. The only debt issued for phase two covered the cost of the preliminary estimates, Rountree said.
Phase two is scheduled to be finished in December 2016. The MWAA plans “early next year” to issue the next round of bonds for the project, he said.
Separately, the agency on Wednesday will issue $170 million of variable-rate refunding bonds based on a favorable letter of credit from Barclays Capital.
The debt offering shows how some higher-rated issues are beginning to tap the variable-rate market again after months of being shunned in favor of fixed-rate bonds because of the high cost of letters of credit.
The MWAA requested bids for the LOC and received about five offers at “surprisingly good” rates, Rountree said. The agency had been paying more than 100 basis points on its previous LOC and the new deal is about half that, he said.
With the Barclays LOC in hand, the authority was able to negotiate a lower LOC cost with its other letter of credit provider, Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
“We were going to use the quote that we got from Barclays to replace” the Bank of America LOC, Rountree said. But to continue its business with the MWAA, Bank of America “volunteered” to renegotiate the LOC cost.
About $66.75 million of the Subseries 1 variable-rate bonds will be subject to the alternative-minimum tax and $103.25 million will not.
The bonds are rated AAA by Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s based on the Barclays LOC. Moody’s rates the bonds Aa3.
The MWAA has an underlying rating of Aa3 from Moody’s, AA from Fitch, and AA-minus from Standard & Poor’s. Moody’s and Fitch put the authority on negative outlook earlier this summer as airline flight volume has dropped amid the recession.
Hogan Lowells LLP and Lewis, Munday, Harrell & Chambliss are co-bond counsel.
Simultaneously, the MWAA plans to sell $170 million of variable-rate bonds directly to Wells Fargo Bank NA. The bonds will refinance about $130 million of outstanding commercial paper notes.