WASHINGTON — U.S. and Virginia lawmakers are ramping up pressure on the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to reverse an April decision that approved an expensive, underground metro station at the Dulles International Airport as part of the agency’s $6.6 billion Metrorail extension project.
Meanwhile, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has offered to step in as a mediator in the dispute between the lawmakers and the MWAA.
Rep. Frank Wolf, a Republican whose district includes Dulles, on Tuesday introduced legislation to increase the MWAA’s board to 17 from 15 and gives Virginia nine of the seats instead of five.
“With both [the Dulles and Reagan National] airports located in Virginia and with northern Virginia residents and local governments providing a lion’s share of the revenue for the Dulles rail project, it is only fair that the majority of the board be Virginians,” Wolf said in a release.
A spokesman for LaHood confirmed Tuesday that the secretary is willing to host a meeting to resolve differences among stakeholders over the project. No date has been scheduled yet, he said.
In an interview Tuesday, Wolf said he welcomes LaHood’s offer to mediate.
“Ray’s an important guy, he’s a hands-on guy,” he said. LaHood’s efforts “could do some good,” he said.
Wolf has said an underground station would be a mistake.
So far, the MWAA has issued $1.3 billion of bonds in two deals for phase one of the extension project, which is more than a third completed and scheduled to open in December 2013, according to the authority.
It expects to issue a second round of bonds for the project this winter or early next year.
The controversy over the Dulles station stems from the project’s second and final phase, an 11.5 mile expansion that includes six new stations and will link Dulles with downtown Washington, D.C.
The phase-two portion was initially budgeted at $2.5 billion based on a April 2010 environmental review.
But a new cost estimate released by the MWAA in September, which included preliminary engineering costs, pushed up the price tag to $3.83 billion.
Last month, the agency’s board of directors approved an underground Metro station at Dulles that is expected to cost roughly $300 million more than an above-ground station.
The above-ground station proposal was rejected because it would have been located farther from Dulles, according to a MWAA spokesman said.
With that station, the overall price tag would be $3.2 billion price tag, he said.
Sources familiar with the matter said steps could be taken to reduce the overall cost of the project, even with the additional costs of the underground station, such as by using a private company to manage the parking garages.
But Virginia lawmakers were outraged at the decision to go with the underground station, claiming they were not consulted beforehand.
Fairfax and Loudoun counties, which are contributing 16.1% and 4.8%, respectively, of the cost for phase two, sent a letter last month to the MWAA board threatening to pull out of the project if the underground station decision is not overturned.
Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell followed with a similar letter urging the board to reconsider its decision. Virginia is contributing a fixed $275 million to the total project.
Under Wolf’s bill Virginia would get a total of nine seats. The rest of the board structure would remain the same. Maryland would keep its two seats, the District of Columbia would keep its three seats and three seats would be filled by presidential appointment.
Under current law, the U.S. government owns most of the property at the Dulles and at Reagan airports. In 1987, the Department of Transportation gave the MWAA a 50-year lease to manage the airports.
That lease was extended by 30 years in 2003.
Meanwhile, financing continues for project. The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority on Tuesday sold $205.7 million of revenue to finance part of the county’s phase-one contribution to the project.
JPMorgan underwrote the bonds. Fairfax is obligated to fund $400 million of the phase-one construction.