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Column: Get on Board, Virginia

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) dropped a provision last week from its procurement documents for construction of Phase 2 of the Silver Line that would have rewarded bonus points to bidders who included a project labor agreement (PLA) in their proposals. The bonus point incentives provision replaced an earlier requirement that a PLA would have to be used. The Governor of Virginia and some state legislators and Loudoun County officials had been stamping their feet insisting that such a provision be removed. It was a requirement that the Governor had told U.S. Secretary of Transportation LaHood must be removed in order for the state to make available $150 million in cash for the project. All of the opponents of the PLA pointed out that Virginia is a right to work state ignoring the consensus opinion of lawyers that the PLA does not violate the state’s right to work law.

Ironically, after all the temper tantrums that have been thrown by the opponents of the PLA requirement, there is a high likelihood that the contractor chosen to build Phase 2 will voluntarily use a PLA. That’s what happened on Phase 1. Those who are more knowledgeable about PLAs than Virginia officials point out that federal construction contracts require or incentivize the use of PLAs because they help ensure that a qualified work force can be recruited, that safety training and rules will be enforced, that there will not be work slowdowns or strikes, and that projects are much more likely to be completed on time.

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is doing its due diligence about its future involvement. The benefits to the County are so significant that I believe the Board is likely to approve the extension into the County. The ball is back in the court of the Commonwealth. The $150 million promised for Phase 2 needs to be released in a timely way to keep the procurement process going forward. Budget amendments introduced in the House by me and Delegate Tom Rust and Senators Howell and Herring this year to add an additional $300 million would lighten the load on toll payers and keep the Commonwealth as a major participant in the largest economic development effort underway in the Commonwealth. The Governor needs to get behind this increased state funding for Phase 2. As much as the $150 million the Commonwealth is providing is needed, it should be a downpayment on future investment.

Issues remain about MWAA board membership, but these need to be worked out with the District of Columbia outside the building of Phase 2. They do not relate to the Phase 2 project and should have no impact on it. The big sticking point on the PLA has been resolved. Time now for Virginia to get on board with the project. Time now for the Commonwealth to show the same level of support for the project as has been shown by Northern Virginia jurisdictions.