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Is an above-ground Dulles Metro stop enough?

Wednesday - 7/6/2011, 7:23pm  ET

Adam Tuss,

WASHINGTON -- Even if the decision to build a more expensive underground Metro station at Dulles Airport is scrapped in favor of a less expensive above-ground station, it may do nothing to offset the major concern of the project: Keeping the tolls on the Dulles Toll Road in check.

That point was driven home Wednesday by Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board Chair Charles Snelling.

"What we are saying is we are very concerned at the toll road cost, but we want to make sure that the various suggestions that are made actually do something for the toll payers," he said.

Members of the MWAA Board met in private to discuss the escalating cost of the second phase of the Dulles Rail Project, which will run from Reston to Dulles International Airport and continue into Loudoun County. The meeting came after U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood -- who has been trying to broker a cost-cutting deal between the project stakeholders -- floated the idea of reversing the decision to go underground as a way to slash the ballooning budget of the project, which now stands above $3 billion.

"We are considering if we do what they ask us to do, does that reduce the tolls? And if it doesn't, what are they going to do to reduce the tolls?" Snelling said.

When the numbers are broken down, the decision to go under or over at Dulles -- a difference of $330 million -- really has no effect on the projected rising costs of the toll road in years to come.

For instance, MWAA figures show that LaHood's proposal would put the cost of a trip on the toll road at $9.01 by 2023. But the same trip in 2023, even if an underground station is built, could actually cost $8.84 depending on federal funding.

Snelling said the MWAA board will continue to look for ways to cut the cost of the project and not put a huge burden on commuters, but he also hinted that the only way to do that could be for the state of Virginia and the federal government to bring more funding to the table.

"We are going to insist that those commitments, which have not been made by others and need to be made by others, are made by others," Snelling says.

Figures provided by MWAA show that the federal government is not kicking in any money for the second phase of the project, and Virginia is only contributing about 1 percent of the estimated $3 billion price tag.

The case for an above ground station gained more support Wednesday as D.C. Mayor Vince Gray reversed course, saying he is now in support of the above ground option.

Gray made the announcement at his weekly press conference, saying he changed his mind after meeting recently with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. McDonnell has been adamantly against the underground choice.

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