Last year, board members and employees of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority were cited by auditors for the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general for treating themselves to luxury travel accommodations and engaging in egregious violations of MWAA's own no-bid and anti-nepotism rules.
It was bad enough when former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine gave this untrustworthy bunch direct access to the pockets of Northern Virginia commuters, handing over the revenue-producing Dulles Toll Road in March 2006. But MWAA is now seeking to amend its 80-year federal lease so it can also develop commercial real estate projects on public land.
As The Examiner's Liz Essley reported, there is an ongoing FBI investigation of former MWAA Vice President Arl Williams, who in 2004 allegedly gave a no-bid contract worth $432,000 to a company that employed his wife and daughter. This scandal is just the latest, but by no means the smallest reason why this preposterous proposal should not see the light of day.
The Federal Transit Administration prophetically warned that MWAA had no experience managing mass transit projects. Sure enough, the price tag of the Silver Line is now more than a billion dollars over initial estimates. MWAA can't even competently manage its own employees or the $6 billion Metrorail extension. So managing a massive development project near the airport station should be out of the question.
MWAA was specifically limited to aviation-related activities in its 1986 charter. Its mismanagement will only be compounded if it is allowed to engage in any "business or activity not inconsistent with the needs of aviation" -- lawyerly language that would expand MWAA's scope to cover practically anything. And as NoTollIncrease.com's David LaRock points out, it would create "a huge incentive for businesses to move onto MWAA's property-tax-exempt land, leaving Loudoun [County] high (in debt) and dry (of revenue)."
Phase 2 financing completely collapses if investors balk at buying its toll revenue bonds, which are based on ever-escalating toll road revenue. They are already demanding near junk-bond interest rates of 6 percent or more due to the high level of risk. When round-trip tolls hit $9 in two years, toll avoidance behavior will likely depress revenue, leaving MWAA in a financial bind of its own making with no way out.