Virginia votes to cut Dulles funding in union dispute

Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

The Dulles rail project is poised to lose millions in funding from Virginia as punishment for encouraging the use of union labor on the $6 billion project.

The Republican-dominated General Assembly passed a bill Thursday prohibiting the state from giving money to any project that discriminates against contractors who don't want to use union labor. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling used his tie-breaking vote to pass the bill in the Senate.

Gov. Bob McDonnell already promised $150 million to the Dulles rail project, but that funding would be in jeopardy under the bill.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is overseeing construction, had planned to require contractors bidding on the second phase of the rail line to use union labor. The authority backed away from that position after Virginia officials threatened to cut off funding because it violated the state's right-to-work law.

The authority now plans to give a bidding advantage to any contractor that voluntarily agrees to use union labor on the second phase, although Del. Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, said that plan, too, violates state law and is reason enough to cut off funding.

"What our bill makes clear is that you can't discriminate against non-union workers," said Comstock, the bill's chief sponsor. "So that's whether it's a mandate or a preference. The governor and Secretary [of Transportation Sean] Connaughton and the General Assembly, as well as Loudoun County, have all made clear that they want to have fair and open competition on this so we can get more bang for our transportation buck."

The airports authority insists that its labor plan won't discriminate against non-union companies and will help ensure that the project is completed correctly and on schedule. Similar labor arrangements are used on federal public works projects, board members said.

Authority spokesman Rob Yingling said the authority's latest plan wouldn't prevent any contractor from bidding.

"It is the board's hope that its action will preclude any legislation in the General Assembly that may jeopardize the Phase 2 project," he said in an email.

The airports authority has pressed the state to increase its funding for the project. Earlier this month the authority predicted that round-trip tolls on the Dulles Toll Road may have to double to $9 by 2013 to pay for the project if Virginia doesn't kick in more money.

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