Sunday, July 29, 2007

Dulles Rail Project May Not Rate High Enough for Federal Funds

According to a report by the Federal Transit Administration, the project to build a rail line (Dulles Rail) in the median of the Dulles Toll Road is unlikely to get a high enough cost-effectiveness rating to be eligible for federal funds, throwing into doubt a proposed takeover of the Dulles Toll Road by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

A report from the USDOT's Inspector General's Office (PDF) says the rail project's first 18.7 km (11.6mi) phase was already near an unacceptable cost-effectiveness rating of "low" when its estimated cost was $2.07 Billion. The cost has since ballooned to a range of $2.4 Billion to $2.7 Billion. The project must achieve a final cost-effectiveness rating of at least medium-low or it will not be eligible for New Starts funding, and achieving this rating may prove difficult with the current cost increases according to the FTA report.

Further, the report says that "even at this early stage, Phase I of the Dulles Project has experienced substantial growth in estimated costs of approximately $1 billion since 2004. The project has also had schedule slippages of about 4 years. In past reviews of major projects, rapid cost growth and schedule slippages so early in the project were clear signs of risk. The reliability of the current cost estimate is unknown."

And the report says that "over the past year, the project has generated a great deal of attention and controversy. Most prominently, there have been debates over whether or not to proceed with the project’s current design, which runs almost entirely above ground, or to substitute this design with a large tunnel through the Tysons Corner, Virginia, area. "

The Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project proposes a 23.1 mile extension of Metrorail in the Commonwealth of Virginia, including 11 additional Metrorail stations. It would also add a new Metrorail line — the Silver Line — to the existing mass transit system operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The Dulles Metrorail extension is almost entirely above ground. The project is segmented into two distinct phases, which are essentially separate transit projects.
  • Phase I is the first 11.6-mile segment that would run from near the existing West Falls Church Metrorail Station and through the Tysons Corner area to Wiehle Avenue in Reston. As currently envisioned, Phase I would run largely above ground with a short tunnel section under the Route 7 and Route 123 interchange.
  • Phase II would continue Metrorail service through the Dulles International Airport to Loudoun County.

The report concluded with its recommendations that the Federal Transit Administrator:

  1. Conduct all of the reviews involved in the New Starts process per FTA regulations with extra vigilance and consider going beyond those reviews regarding the sufficiency of local funding sources, the contractual and associated arrangements that deal with WMATA, and MWAA’s project management plan.
  2. Consider reevaluating the transportation user benefits for the Dulles Project in accordance with current FTA policy and use this updated figure to make any decisions regarding New Starts funding for the project.
  3. Closely coordinate with the TIFIA Credit Council to share information about the project.

The report also recommend that when reviewing the TIFIA loan application, the TIFIA Credit Council conduct an independent rigorous review of the Dulles Project that takes into account all of the unusual risks associated with the project.

More info can also be found in this WJLA TV-7 news story.

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