Cost Estimates Endanger Rail

Cost Estimates Endanger Rail

FTA formula shows added funding problems.

The dream of extending the Orange Metro line to Dulles International Airport could be evaporating, said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-11) in a Tuesday interview.

"RAIL TO DULLES may die in the next month or so," Davis said. "It won't fail because of a lack of federal funding but it will fail because of a lack a matching funds from the local level."

Davis said that conclusion is based on new figures from the Federal Transit Administration raising the price tag of the 11.6-mile rail extension from the initial $1.6 billion to between $1.7 billion or $2.4 billion. The FTA, in a November 2004 report, set up guidelines for the project's cost, breaking down the benefits in terms of dollars spent compared to hours saved by commuters. Old projections stated the project would cost $21.08 to save Metro riders one hour — a figure the FTA considers a "medium low" in terms of efficiency. If that climbs to $25 to save one hour, the project will be labeled "low" and could be scrapped. The new FTA projections bring the proposed extension's hourly efficiency closer to that threshold.

"Even with the jack-ups in totals, the state has the option of taking the difference out of other monies," said Davis. "The local governments don't have that option."

The death of rail to Dulles, Davis said, brings some serious consequences for transit planners on I-66.

"A lot of major lane use decisions are being made on this rail plan," he said.

Davis added that Metro's capacity isn't enough to meet the needs of riders in Fairfax County, pointing to reports from commuters that many have to back-track from the West Falls Church Metro to Dunn Loring or Vienna just to get a seat on eastbound trains.

But Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) said although the new cost projections do present a much greater funding problem, rail to Dulles must become a reality.

"I CERTAINLY would not even think of giving up on Dulles rail," said Moran. "We always knew that running it through Tysons Corner would be hard both in terms of engineering and financing. This just means a tougher haul. We knew we'd be swimming upstream, now we just have to do it against a stronger current."

Moran added that more than $600 million has been marked for the project in Congress' latest transportation bill and $60 in federal funding was pulled into the project for planning and design. Rumors of rail to Dulles' death, Moran said, have been greatly exaggerated.

"I think that conclusion is a bit harsh," he said.

On the question of I-66, Moran said the highway cannot make up for the loss of the rail system.