Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: Silver Line figures don't add up

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Opinion,Virginia,Transportation,Local Editorial,Metro

Last week, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority opened five design-build bids for construction of the second phase of the Silver Line Metrorail extension. The contact award, to be announced in May, will likely go to the lowest bidder: Capital Rail Constructors — a group that includes Bethesda-based Clark Construction, which offered to build 11.4 miles of track and six stations for $1.177 billion. Phase 1 winner, Bechtel Transit Partners, came in second at $1.19 billion.

Both bids were considerably lower than MWAA's own inflated estimates. Bob Bruhns, an electrical engineer from Herndon who has been warning for years that the Silver Line is "massively overpriced," believes that MWAA built huge price escalations into its estimates so that it can later claim that the overpriced project came in "on budget."

That explains why the estimated cost of Metro parking garages in suburban Northern Virginia is nearly twice the national average, Bruhns told The Washington Examiner. One Metro parking spot in Loudoun County is estimated at $34,014, while one space in Fairfax County is $26,600. Both estimates are considerably higher than the $20,000 it costs to build one parking space in high-density New York City.

Consider also that the new Metrorail station planned for Route 28 — the only station for which actual estimates have been publicly released — will supposedly cost $101 million. But, as Bruhns points out, this is more than twice what it cost to build a comparable transit station in Fairfield, Conn., complete with two extra express tracks and two platforms capable of handling 12-car trains. MWAA's numbers simply do not add up.

Likewise, the estimated price tags of the Metrorail stations and parking garages that were shifted to Loudoun and Fairfax taxpayers supposedly jumped 27 percent in the year between July 2011 and July 2012. This is clearly a shell game intended to hide the real costs of this transit boondoggle from the public.

MWAA has played this game before. In its final audit released in November, the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general made special note of MWAA's failure to properly manage contracts. Since 2004, MWAA has awarded up to 90 percent of supposedly competitive contracts to just one preferred vendor (the mysterious "Contractor A") — which then turned around and charged "between 28 and 234 percent" more than its competitors. Expect more of the same when construction finally begins.

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