Plans for an envisioned 23-mile rail transit extension to northern Virginia’s Dulles International Airport have taken a step forward, with the Federal Transit Administration’s Dec. 3 approval of a $900-million, multiyear commitment for the project’s $2.6-billion first phase. The deal isn’t done yet, however. The proposed funding commitment needs approval by U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters as well as the Office of Management and Budget and would be subject to a 60-day congressional review. In addition, it would be up to congressional appropriations committees to provide annual installments of the $900 million.

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Federal Share for First Phase: $900 million.

FTA Acting Administrator Sherry E. Little’s sign-off on the $900-million “full-funding grant agreement” is a turnabout for the agency. In January, then-Administrator James Simpson said the project’s rating “would render it ineligible to advance to final design.”

Virginia officials and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the project manager, went to work to address items FTA raised and cut phase one’s cost by $242 million, or 9%. FTA then agreed to let the job move to final design and released $159 million. A team of Bechtel Infrastructure Inc. and URS Corp.’s Washington division has a $1.6-billion phase-one design-build contract.

The project would be an extension of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Orange Line. The 11.6-mile first stage would have five stations. A spokesperson says MWAA has no estimate yet for the 11.5-mile, six-station phase two, which would go to Dulles airport and beyond.