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D.C. OKs changes to Dulles Rail board

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Photo - The under-construction Silver Line. (Examiner file photo)
The under-construction Silver Line. (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

The D.C. Council on Tuesday voted to change the makeup of the troubled airports authority in charge of the $6 billion Dulles Rail project.

The council voted to increase the number of board members at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority from 13 to 17, giving two extra seats to Virginia, and one each to Maryland and the District. The council vote allows the changes to be imposed because they've already been approved by Congress and Virginia.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., pushed for the changes after Northern Virginia leaders complained that the board was unresponsive to their concerns about the rail project's cost.

Some D.C. Council members questioned whether the District should be supporting changes that clearly benefit Virginia most. But officials said the deal was a compromise and a better deal for the District than Wolf's other reform proposal, one that would reduce the board to nine members and give Virginia control of it.

"I think what we get out of this [bill] is we get back to regional cooperation," said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. "[Under this bill], the District and Maryland combined continue to have more votes than Virginia does on the authority. This is a solution. It is a compromise."

Council member Marion Barry opposed the move, saying it weakened D.C.'s influence on the board and that there was no guarantee that the more severe reforms proposed by Wolf would pass Congress.

"The District does not have the kind of weight that it ought to have," Barry said. "Seven Virginians to three or four District residents. Percentage-wise, that's not a good deal."

A spokesman for Wolf said he would continue to push for a Virginia majority on the board, while other Virginia officials charged that the expansion enacted Tuesday wouldn't solve all of the board's problems.

The D.C. Council also voted to appoint Barbara Lang, president of the DC Chamber of Commerce, to the new airports board seat.

Even as federal, state and local officials were imposing change on the troubled authority, the board has been making changes of its own. The board responded to revelations of insider hiring, extravagant travel expenses and lax contracting policies by approving new ethics and travel rules.

Also on Tuesday, airports authority officials appeared in federal court seeking to kill a lawsuit that challenges the authority's use of revenues from the Dulles Toll Road to build Metro's Silver Line to Washington Dulles International Airport.

The lawsuit asserts that the tolls constitute an illegal tax. An authority lawyer argued the tolls benefit the drivers because the rail line will eventually reduce toll road congestion. A decision isn't expected for several months.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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