Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project
When did discussion of a $4.5 billion public works project become a state secret? A code of silence has descended over the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project. The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation refuses to release for public review its memorandum of understanding with Dulles Transit Partners for the first phase of construction, even though key elements of the project are still being negotiated.
Under the current Freedom of Information Act, state officials only have to release the no-bid contract after it's been signed by both parties Ã¢â‚¬" when it will be too late for further public input. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which will take over the project, likewise declines to disclose details of the deal even though the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council says MWAA is, contrary to the authority's self-serving interpretation, subject to the FOIA.
Now the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is also meeting in secret to discuss Dulles rail. When challenged, the county cited two provisions in the state's FOIA law to justify barring the door: a clause that allows public officials to meet in closed session to discuss Ã¢â‚¬Å›actual or probableÃ¢â‚¬Å¥ litigation, and another that allows them to protect their negotiating position. But the Fairfax board isn't negotiating with Dulles Transit Partners, and, if the supervisors expect to sue or be sued as a result of this misbegotten project, their constituents deserve to know why.
Virginia's FOIA lacks the teeth to force such publicly financed projects out into the open where they belong. The public's only recourse now is to file a lawsuit against the very same officials they elected to protect their interests. That's reason enough for the General Assembly to give the FOIA some genuine muscle.
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