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.What?
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.