DC: Dulles Rail Project May Tap Private Investors

Dec. 1, 2011

The airports authority in charge of building the Dulles Metro rail project is now considering letting private investors help finance the nearly $6 billion project.

The announcement comes after months of negotiations in which the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority pressed the federal government and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnells office for hundreds of millions in aid and loans to help pay for the projects second phase, which would extend the rail line from Reston to just past Dulles International Airport.

Airports authority CEO Jack Potter told the Dulles Corridor Advisory Committee Monday that the authority will ask private firms to suggest ways they could participate in the project. The authority plans to issue a request for information asking private firms to suggest how a public-private partnership would work. Officials issued the request after an unidentified private interest contacted the authority about the possibility of investing.

It might be a little bit of a fishing expedition, but wed like to know if there are opportunities for folks to bring some financing to the table that could lower our costs, Potter said.

But the authority worries that those funds wont be sufficient to avoid a major increase on the Dulles Toll Road, revenues from which will help finance the project. Financial projections show tolls going as high was $20 round trip in less than 10 years.

Potter said the Dulles rail line would still be part of the Metrorail system and that it was not yet clear how exactly the public-private partnership would work.

MWAA board member Dennis Martire supported the move, saying the authority should do whatever it could to keep tolls low.

If there is a cheaper way to do this, to save the taxpayers and toll-road riders more money, we need to explore it, Martire said. If there are some big entities out there that are saying, I could not only build it, but I could finance it, we have to explore that, he said.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova said her board would be interested in a public-private partnership.

Were interested in anything that could help make the project most cost-effective, she said, and were interested in looking at innovations.

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