The new call for proposals to build the three parking garages needed to serve the county’s two Metro stations hit the streets Tuesday, but the Board of Supervisors and county staff members are going to have to work aggressively to meet a new deadline imposed by the federal government.
During August meetings with the U.S. Department of Transportation to discuss the potential for funding through the federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, or TIFIA, to help offset the overall costs of the Metro construction project, the federal agency told county leaders the issue of how the parking garages will be paid for must be decided by the end of 2013. That is a year earlier than the county thought that decision would be required.
“We will have to make a decision one way or another whether we are doing [a] public-private [project] by December,” County Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) confirmed last week.
During 2011 negotiations on the Memorandum of Agreement between local and federal entities on the Metrorail project, the cost of constructing the parking garages was taken out of the Phase 2 construction program in an effort to drop the project’s overall price tag. Loudoun and Fairfax counties agreed to seek alternative funding for the parking garages, including forming public-private partnerships with area landowners and developers, or paying for them through local capital project budgets. If the funding could not be found, the costs would revert to the overall Metro project.
Loudoun’s leaders—on two Boards of Supervisors—have remained committed to the idea of public-private partnerships. But, in July, supervisors voted to reject the initial submissions from Comstock Partners, TC606 and WestDulles Properties because there were too many conditions on the plans—including one that called for a special tax district. Supervisors said they believed casting a wider net for submissions would bring in better results.
“Staff didn’t blast a lot of potential firms that maybe could enter into the bidding process,” York said of the previous RFP. “We are hoping we’ll be able to get it to more folks this time.”
Discussions have continued with the companies who provided submissions and Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said they may even be encouraged by the accelerated timeline because it will let them know the county’s plans earlier.
“It is clearly understood we want to do this as a public-private partnership, but I think some of them were getting spooked that we would throw it back in the project or do it ourselves,” he said. “That is not our preference.”
Any submissions for the parking garages must be in by Oct. 30, which does not leave county staff a lot of time for review nor supervisors with a lot of time to make a decision by the end of the year.
“We’re looking at a fairly aggressive turn around,” County CFO Ben Mays said, noting that the federal agency’s request was not completely unexpected. “We knew they wanted to close the TIFIA loan by the end of the year… Their big push was to get everything as clear as possible by the closing.”
The county does not want to miss out on TIFIA funding because it could lower the amount of money Loudoun taxpayers—at least those owning land in a newly created tax district along the rail line—ultimately have to pay for Metro’s extension to Ashburn. While it is not known exactly how much money Loudoun stands to receive, Mays said the general TIFIA rule is a project is collectively eligible for 33 percent of the total cost, which could mean billions of dollars for the overall Metro project.
“What [Loudoun is] looking for is enough to really diminish the amount we’d have to borrow,” Mays said. “The real advantage is there is the potential to delay repayment until after substantial completion.”
The new timeline does not mean that Loudoun must have a contract with one developer or another by the close of 2013, but it does mean enough information must be known so supervisors are comfortable moving forward.
“To go forward with the public-private partnership, we are going to have to have some numbers from one or more entities that makes it attractive,” York said. “What doesn’t have to happen by December is a contract with all the details nailed down. But we do have to get a sense of where the numbers are in this second round.”