Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Silver Line’s Real Problem Is The PLA

Union bashing, Davis-Bacon hating Republican politicians in Northern Virginia would rather stop construction of Silver Line mass transit service from Washington, D.C. to Dulles International, than see it seamlessly completed under a project labor agreement. What these folks see as a union labor victory in the PLA is in reality something which takes away the power of organized labor to extort concessions from contractors and material suppliers by threatening strikes which could delay completion and drive up overall project costs in these times of rapidly accelerating commodity price increases.

The first phase of building Washington, D.C.’s $5.6 billion Silver Line Metro commuter tracks into Dulles International is on schedule for completion next year, and will run from Tysons Corner to Reston, but the next leg of trackage through Loudoun County is in jeopardy before the all Republican Loudoun County Board. Loudoun County must vote its stretch of track up or down by early July. If the Loudoun portion of the Silver Line fails, the project would have to be rerouted at best and might get killed altogether at worst.

A study from George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis reports that completing the commuter line through Loudoun County will produce 40,000 jobs to the county by 2040, and drive more than $55 billion in potential economic activity. Nevertheless, Republican board members are taking their cues from Virginia Governor Robert E. McDonnell, whose tepid support for the Silver Line construction has not included more than a 5% state contribution towards the cost of building the tracks. Roadblocks thrown up by Republicans to phase two of this project – all pretexts for their desire to get rid of the PLA – include opposition to partial funding through increased highway tolls, a USDOT audit of phase one, and requested appointment of an Inspector General to monitor Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority administration of the construction.

Even if the project could survive a pull out by Loudoun County, financing for construction and operation of the commuter line would have to be renegotiated, a route redesign performed, and new right of way acquired; and the resulting loss of time would undoubtedly drive up the finished project budget by another $1 billion or so. Rather than looking to Richmond for guidance on this issue, Loudoun County should be listening to its own constituents – every major business group in the county supports Silver Line construction as presently planned.

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