Two groups are calling for "greater public oversight and accountability" on a planned deal to hand the Dulles Toll Road and the Dulles Metrorail project over to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
The heads of the D.C.-based Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club both say they want to see public hearings held on the pending transition. Under the proposal, the Commonwealth of Virginia would cede to MWAA operations of the toll road — and eventually the $4 billion rail extension the tolls would help pay for. Both groups are also urging officials to put the Metrorail project out for competitive bidding.
"Are we getting the proper oversight from elected officials, the proper level of input from local government officials?" said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "Before we take this big step, it’s perfectly appropriate to have public scrutiny."
MWAA, which oversees Dulles International and Reagan National airports, is not an elected body, nor is it a particularly high-profile group. Its membership is selected by the governors of Maryland and Virginia; D.C.’s mayor, and the President of the United States.
The Airports Authority and the commonwealth plan to ink an agreement on Dec. 29 to turn over the operations of the road next year, which would pave the way for the transfer of the rail extension. The groups want that agreement forestalled until hearings can be held in January.
But Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer said the process was, in fact, transparent, pointing to recent briefings at the Commonwealth Transportation Board and Airports Authority meetings, and public information on the agreement posted online.
"There has been plenty of transparency and oversight exercises, we certainly welcome public comments," he said. "And we’ll encourage that commentary as this process moves forward."
The call for public hearings comes during a period of heavy public scrutiny over how the 23-mile rail extension will take shape. The Commonwealth, which is now handling the project planning, appears on track to award a contract to design and build the first half of the rail in a "public-private partnership" that some have blasted as a "no-bid" contract, but others — including Homer — say was competitive.