Wes Vernon Commentary
June 2012

Dulles Rail: Community Service or Special Interest Gravy Train

All aboard! The Good Train Lollipop is leaving the station!

You want "Dulles" trains that actually go to, well, to Dulles? Take your place in the cattle car!

You want assurance that your share of the cost overrun for the "Dulles" rail project won't be siphoned off for $4800 to feed some obviously hungry people at three Hawaiian gourmet dinners? Your seat is in the cattle car, 50 cars to the rear, and carry your own luggage. We can't afford redcaps, Grandma! You some kind of greedy nerd?

You! Hey, you taxpayer! Yes, I mean you! You're standing there and telling me you want honest level-playing-field bidding on the construction of Dulles Rail/Phase 2 just to make sure you don't get unfairly soaked for anything above your "fair share" of the tab? Off the cattle car with you, peasant! You know the rules: Just shut up and pay the bill.

Put up or shut-up time

This column takes a back seat to no one in the fervent desire to see the Dulles Rail project completed. We have been beating that drum in this space for years. But the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) has given a worthy project a bad name.

We have even lacked sympathy for the Dulles Toll Road users and their specious wailing that they shouldn't pay for a penny toward construction of the Silver Line because, "I won't ride that thing." Never mind that they're getting an extra lane each way to take "not me, just that other guy" off the road so the remaining drivers can navigate rush hour traffic more easily.

There's another element to the "plight" of Dulles Toll Road users, and it comes down to this: Duh! Highways are not free either.

You mean to say that... (fill the blanks)?

Let me see if I have this right:

You say you need to build the "Dulles Airport" station a good hike from the actual airport because it costs too much money to take Dulles trains to Dulles?

Well, okay. I think we'll all regret it 20 years from now and will then have to pay much more to make the trains more readily accessible. But as the same routine at Reagan National has clearly indicated, no mistake is too ridiculous to be repeated. It's a "here and now" political thing. Kick the can down the road. Okay, I get it.

But you're telling me it's also a "political thing" to use taxpayer dollars to buy two bottles of wine for $238? I can't wait for the taxpayers to rush to the polling booths to reward that kind of "political" largesse. (Thank you, sir. I'll have another!)

Or how about a last-minute flight to Prague for a measly $9200? What working stiff hasn't been caught in that terrible bind?

And then there's the board member who gave $100,000 sole-source contract to a law firm where his wife works. That is what an Inspector General found.

As these abuses pile up, somehow it's hard to shake the nagging question: What else is there under the rocks? Oh, yes, the executive session behind closed doors to discuss "transparency." You can't make this stuff up.

Then the sticking points

1) It is hard to disagree with the argument that the Commonwealth of Virginia should pay a large share of the costs of this project. We also share the state's insistence that two more Virginia members be added to the Metropolitan Airports Authority (MWAA) Board of Directors.

If completed, the entire Washington area and the entire nation will benefit. But because of its location, Virginia will benefit the most. Therefore, Virginia should expect to shell out a healthy portion of the cost and also gain the two additional members the state has requested so as to strengthen its input on strategy and policies as Dulles Rail goes forward.

2) One of the slams against the MWAA is that it has awarded $6 billion worth of no-bid contracts. I'm sorry, that won't do. I'm not a lawyer, but I do know that under some scenarios, people can be sent to jail for that.

Therefore, in this one union member's not-always-to-be-humble opinion, the authority's insistence on a 10% advantage for union-friendly contracts is unfair to the overwhelming majority of construction workers in the state who do not belong to a union (in many if not most cases, through no fault of their own).

It is also unfair to another segment of the population: the taxpayers. (Oh, you mean, those people. Remember them? Well, yeah, you're not negotiating with Scrooge McDuck here.)

MWAA member Bob Brown tried to introduce a resolution righting that wrong, only to have his colleague former Congressman Tom Davis accuse him of "throwing a grenade into the debate." That's what happens when you've been drinking the Capitol Hill water for too many years. After a while, you come to view concern for the taxpayers as the exclusive province of radical bomb-throwers.

Wes Vernon is a Washington-based writer and veteran broadcast journalist.