A breakthrough in the stalemate that threatened to kill metro rail to Dulles. Wednesday the agency that oversees the project agreed to remove preferences for union labor from its plans. Virginia's governor and Loudoun County supervisors had refused to fund the project if it wasn't removed. With the biggest obstacle gone, Loudoun County holds the fate of the project in its hands.
"It's a monumental decision and I think Loudoun will make the right decision," said Tom Davis, Vice Chairman and Virginia representative to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
The board voted 11-1 to drop the union friendly incentives for contractors. These project labor agreements (PLA) provide things such as certain wages, safety requirements and no strike clause and are commonly used on state and federal projects.
Under pressure for months by Virginia's Republican Governor and the Republican led Loudoun County supervisors, MWAA's board buckled. When it came down to it, Davis said "you don't say no to the whole project, just because you don't get your way."
Virginia didn't always oppose the incentives for union labor or a voluntary PLA. Both Davis and Chairman Michael Curto say the Commonwealth was on board, during earlier MWAA votes to approve the language.
"When we voted on it in November, with the Commonwealth's agreement it was unanimous," Curto said.
According to a report in the Washington Post, e-mails between the board, Virginia Transportation Sean Connaughton and Governor Bob McDonnell show the Commonwealth was negotiating with the board over the language for a PLA and had agreed on the terms before the board took its votes.
"The Commonwealth at that point had said 'yeah we're fine with it'," said Davis without explaining the reason for the about face.
The first phase of the Silver Line through Tysons Corner to Reston has a voluntary PLA. The ideological divide over a similar agreement for phase two of the Silver Line led to months of wrangling and the involvement of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. In a letter this week, Governor Bob McDonnell, agreed to the $150 million in promised funding, if the PLA was removed.
"I think with the board's decision today we are comfortable that the commitment for the $150 million contribution is now locked in without any conditions. That's very important," said Curto.
That leaves Loudoun County which must decide by July 4th whether to commit its more than $200 million share for the construction plus ongoing funding. Scott York, (R) Loudoun County Chairman said MWAA's decision improves the chances for approval but isn't giving any guarantees.
"If we stay with the project, it is still anticipated rail will be to Loudoun County by 2018. If we opt out of the project, it will probably be on hold, at least two years," York said.
Without Loudoun County, the current deal falls apart and the other jurisdictions would have to renegotiate the funding and redesign the project without Loudoun before being able to move forward. With MWAA's decision, the authority's board members are hoping it doesn't get to that point.
"We're just looking ahead for a new day for everyone. We think today is a giant start, the fact he (Chairman Curto) delivered an 11-1 vote, given the hard feelings we had," Davis said.
Loudoun County held a work session Wednesday night on the rail project, but did not take a vote. The decision could come as early as the board's next meeting, June 19th or as late as July 3rd, the day before the deadline. Even with MWAA's decision to remove the labor incentives, that doesn't mean there won't be a PLA. The contractor chosen for the project could opt to use union workers and negotiate its own labor agreement.
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