Reston Spring

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Key Dulles Rail Cost Document Held Secret by MWAA; This Can Not Be Good

Update:  Below we state that a public hearing on Phase 2 has been scheduled by the Fairfax BoS for March 20.  As of today, that hearing has been dropped from the list of public meetings on the Fairfax County website.  We assume this is because the BoS has not received the toll road forecast and doesn't know when it will. 

In an article yesterday in Dr. Gridlock, Washington Post reporter Dana Hedgpeth reports on Loudoun's plans to vote in or out on Phase 2 of Dulles rail.  In that report, he notes:
The preliminary engineering study for the second phase cost roughly $45 million and was done by Parsons Brinckerhoff and Aecom. They turned in the study Wednesday to MWAA.
Pat Nowakowski, chief construction manager on the Dulles rail project at MWAA, said he is still reviewing the engineering report and expects to release it in the next several weeks to “the partners involved.”
The big question many observers want to know is — how much will it cost?
“We’re not ready to put that out there yet,” Nowakowski said.

The final preliminary engineering study was supposed to be available yesterday to the "funding partners"--Loudoun, Fairfax, and MWAA.  MWAA said it would be on time as recently as its mid-February Board meeting.  The contractors turned in their PE cost estimate two days ago, but MWAA reportedly hasn't shared it with its "partners," much less the public, despite MWAA CEO Jack Potter's pledge of cooperation with its "partners" and public transparency.

But that hasn't stopped the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.  They have already scheduled a public hearing on the issue of whether to participate in Phase 2 for March 20, 2012, possibly before they even see the consultants' "100% Preliminary Engineering" report--and more likely before the public sees the report.  Sure, go ahead hold meaningless public meetings, conduct pro forma hearings, and move on blindly with approval, no matter the projected costs; heck, we don't even need to know the estimated costs--much less their validity.  Build Dulles rail no matter what.

Apparently MWAA didn't like the answer it received from the consultants--which means the consultants probably estimated the cost of Phase 2 to be significantly higher than the $3.2 billion estimate MWAA provided to the public last spring for the above ground station option. 

The fact of the matter is that a higher Phase 2 "100% PE" cost estimate should not be a surprise; it should be expected based on the experience with Phase 1.  The cost estimates for Phase 1 ballooned as time passed.  In fact, the current $2.76 billion projected cost for Phase 1 (the reported October 2011 overruns have apparently been rolled back) is 81% higher than the FEIS 2004 estimate and 33% higher than FTA's "true 100% PE" cost estimate in April 2006--the equivalent of the estimate now buried somewhere inside MWAA.

Dulles Rail Phase 1 Cost Estimates, 2004-2011

That leaves us with the question:  Will Phase 2 cost one-third more than last April's $3.2 billion dollar MWAA estimate?  If so, that would make the cost of Phase 2 about $4.3 billion--before a financial plan is created and construction begins.  And, of course, under the current financial agreement among the "funding partners," Dulles Toll Road users would pay three-quarters (~$775 million) of the added costs, driving up total user costs by about 39% to about $2.9 billion for Phase 2 alone

Imagine what that will do to the already planned skyrocketing of tolls. . . .

A more serious concern is that MWAA will "adjust" the consultants' numbers, reducing the estimated costs on less-than-solid technical or financial grounds.  Call it "value engineering."  Certainly a lower cost number would be easier to sell to the public and facilitate approval by the two "partner" county boards of supervisors, even if it turns out to be spurious.

Indeed, the growing desperation emanating from MWAA and Fairfax County leaders is palpable.

1 comment:

  1. Oddly, for some mysterious reason the overall Phase II estimated cost stayed about the same - BUT, the estimate for the Rt 28 Metrorail station jumped upward by 22%, and the estimate for the Phase II parking garages jumped upward by 29%, between July 3, 2011 and March 6, 2012.

    A comparable Metro station in Fairfield Connecticut cost about $50 million in December 2011, after cost escalations. It actually should be more expensive than ours, because it is a side-platform design with full length canopies over platforms that can acommodate twelve-car trains. Yet our Rt 28 Metrorail station cost $83 million in July 2011 (that's 66%% higher) - and according to the new estimate in March 2012, it will cost $101 million. That's a 22% jump in less than a year, and it is more than two times what it should cost.

    The Phase II parking garage estimates are pretty bad as well. Estimates for parking garage costs in this area seem to be around $17,000 per space, but the July 2011 MWAA estimates were all in a narrow range of $26,394 per space - and then in March 2012, they jumped 29% to $34,015 per space That is two times what they should cost.

    How can it be that the overall price of the Phase II job held roughly still overall, but the prices jumped 22% and 29% for the items that Fairfax and Loudoun Counties have agreed to pay for directly and separately from the Phase II project's published cost?

    The Rt 28 station is in the "Package A" construction contract for which MWAA has selected five contractors to compete for the work. Fairfax County is expected to pay MWAA about $101 million for the station. Four of the other five Phase II stations are supposed to be very similar designs. Do all of these stations cost about the same amount? Why do the estimators think they should cost so much? Did the cost of all five of these stations jump upward by 22% ($18 million) since 2011, despite their already apparently excessive cost? If so, what costs just happened to drop by almost exactly the same $90 million? Or if not - then why is Fairfax County being so heavily charged?

    And since 2011, the Phase II parking garage cost estimates jumped upward even more: 29%. Why do the estimators think that these should cost so much? And why did the estimate jump 29% in less than a year, when their cost was already apparently high?

    The costs of these items were pushed onto Fairfax and Loudoun Counties in 2011, to make the Phase II cost look smaller. Why are these prices jumping upward an average of 26% in less than a year, when the rest of the job estimate held pretty much steady?

    Those price jumps are startling. And like many government construction jobs in this area in recent years, the whole Phase II job appears to be seriously overpriced. I really think that MWAA and their cost estimators have some explaining to do. The recent Audit Report tells us that MWAA has been directing a lot of work to one contractor that charges 130% to 330% (that's not a typo) of what other contractors charge - are the estimators basing their estimates on excessive bids like those? If so, what else is double priced?

    Our leaders - who always tell us that they are looking for ways to lower the tolls - are not demanding answers. Why not?


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