Board admits Dulles Rail behind schedule

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Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley
Officials overseeing the construction of the Dulles Rail project publicly admitted for the first time Wednesday that there are "issues" that have put the $6 billion project behind schedule, but insisted that its first phase would open as scheduled by January 2014.

"We are continuing to work very hard to make our expected completion date," said Jack Potter, president and Cheif Executive Officer of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Project leaders "have assured me that this project can be brought in on time if we work through some issues."

Documents obtained last week by The Washington Examiner showed that the project was as much as six months behind schedule as of July. After first denying that there were delays, authority members acknowledged the problems but insisted that the contractor, Dulles Transit Partners, would be able to make up the lost time over the final two years of construction.

Authority members at their meeting Wednesday said delays were caused by poor weather and difficulty securing necessary work permits.

But a progress report prepared this summer and obtained by The Examiner shows that problems with the first phase of construction may be much more significant than the authority acknowledges.

The contractor discovered a Washington Gas line in the project's path and must move it. Contractors are also asking for more time to install communications systems, including sensors along the track, among other setbacks.

Authority members said they worked with the contractor during the first two years of construction to make up for lost time and will be able to do so again to help ensure a timely opening for the first phase of the project, which will extend Metrorail from East Falls Church to Reston. And while the authority complained in the July progress report that the contractor was ignoring the authority's instructions on how to make up the time, officials said they expect both sides to work together to meet the current deadline.

"While the language [of the report] still implies we don't see eye to eye, I think overall the relationship is actually very good," project manager Pat Nowakowski said. "We've got a history of resolving these things."

Officials have offered no estimate of how much the construction delays will cost, though the proect is costing about $40 million a month. A $300 million contingency fund, which would pay for such cost overruns, now has only about $84 million left in it.

MWAA board member Mame Reiley expressed concern Wednesday that a delay in finishing the first phase could undermine efforts to secure financing for the second phase, which would extend Metrorail to Washington Dulles International Airport. Federal, state and local officials are still debating how to pay for that phase, which had been expected to cost $3.5 billion but has been reduced to about $2.8 billion. Phase One cost $2.7 billion.

"I think lending institutions would look better on us later down the road if we are on budget, on time," she said.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner