Dulles Rail in the Balance

We have spent days (weeks? months?) on the biennium State Budget.  We are very close to a final agreement, as a conference report is now before us.  Some parts are good, some parts are bad, and some parts are ugly.  It’s the same from year to year.

One part is missing:

The Senate in its budget, which passed 34-5 last month, inserted $300 million in additional funding for the Dulles Rail project.  That goes with the $150 million proposed by the Governor to “buy down tolls” for northern Virginia commuters — a proffer that resulted after direct lobbying by NoVA legislators.

With the Dulles funding stripped out, a budget stalemate is in the offing.  Is this just a regional issue?  Not hardly.

Dulles Airport connects Virginia to the world.  With non-stop flights to the capitals of Asia, Europe and the Middle East, it is the nerve center of our international travel.  It has driven the unprecedented growth in western Fairfax and Loudoun Counties.

The Dulles Rail project was conceived years ago.  It was already “old news” as a regional and state objective when I joined the NoVA Regional Commission as a young City Councilman in 1998.  And  yet it languished for years, as we fought through various recessions (recessii?) and other projects took priority.

During that time, it was the focus of criticism and controversy, particularly in the failure to “tunnel” through Tysons Corner or implement a BRT system as an intermediate step.  I’m aware of these criticisms, because I made them.

But let’s not lose sight of the Big Picture.  Dulles connects Virginia to the world.  (There, I said it twice).  Along with the ports of Hampton Roads, it represents the focal point of our international trade and commerce.  That trade is growing.

That brings us to the 2012 special session.

Heretofore, the Commonwealth has done little to support this critical state project.  Instead, the project has been funded by local landowners, local governments, the Federal government and (overwhelmingly) the commuters in the Dulles Corridor.

Seeking to change this dynamic, the Senate — after significant debate — added the additional $300 million in state money.  Note that this is barely 6% of the overall project cost, which is more than $5 billion.

Yet it’s critical, especially as local governments (like Loudoun County) must decide to commit their own money to Phase II of the project, which will link the Rail Line to the Airport and into Loudoun.

Is the project perfect?  No.  Is MWAA, the operating authority, perfect?  No.  But no project ever is.  (Don’t believe me?  Read a history of the intercontinental railroad, the most important infrastructure project in U.S. history).

Where can this money come from?

Well, we’ve got $4 billion allocated in projects from the bonds approved last year.  Or we can look at projects like the widening of Rte 460, which is not supported by a single jurisdiction in southeast Virginia yet will cost $500 million.  In fact, the City of Portsmouth told us recently they don’t want “this very costly capital project.”

Why are we dumping money in a project nobody wants, and ignoring Dulles?

The biennium Budget is a unique opportunity to fix this situation.  While transportation projects are not typically itemized in a biennial budget, it’s not unprecedented.  What is unprecedented is the lack of state support for a project that will bring billions in trade and revenue to the Commonwealth.

The Governor can win this battle with a stroke of his pen, by making a firm fiscal commitment to Dulles Rail.  It’s all in his hands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • http://twitter.com/StanVNDIA R. Stanton Scott

    It’s also important to note that Dulles Airport, and the toll road connecting it with the District and Pentagon, is a key part of why Virginia hosts so many defense firm headquarters and satellite offices. The Silver Line will make the Dulles Corridor that much more attractive, and could lure high value Defense Department commands like AFRICOM, which will eventually seek a home in the US but would need good international flights to Europe and Africa.

    • Anonymous

      A proper BUS system would bring people to the airport from all over the region, not just from one little line winding through it. And it would cost a LOT less! Besides, our leaders have already told us that rail to the airport terminal was mostly for airport employees anyway. How many billion dollars do we need to spend for that?

  • DJRippert

    I am in London but, as usual, interested in the comings and goings back in the Old Dominion. As an aside, the rail transport from Heathrow to London is fabulous.

    Rumor has reached over the Atlantic that the budget has been approved without the extra $300M. If so, the General Assembly has once again failed the people of Northern Virginia. What’s new?

    Chap, I know you try your best. However, just trying may not be enough. It’s time for a new approach. The good people of Tidewater are about to get socked with a series of absurdly high tolls just to get around their region. From the Greenway to the DTR to the Beltway HOT lanes the same is happening in NoVa. Soon, $100, $200, $300 monthly EZPass statements will be coming in the mail. Meanwhile, the residents of Richmond drive 75 mph around a four lane beltway (I295 / VA288) that never seems to be congested. Since Richmond (MSA) with its 1.5M population is 25% the size of Washington (MSA) with a 5.8M population I guess it’s pretty easy to understand why one four lane beltway is always clear and the other is always clogged. What’s harder to understand is how two vastly different sized metropolitan areas came to have the same size beltways going around them.

    However, there is good news. The Republiclowns have failed to heed the lessons of history and opened a “two front war”. No longer content to visit the effects of their transportation and economic incompetence on NoVa alone they have now started extracting their ransom from Tidewater as well. This should be the fatal flaw that lets the state’s Democrats put a beat down on the GOP.

    It’s time for the state Democratic Party, up and down the eastern side of the state, to rally the people against the simple minded policies of the Republican Party of Virginia. While transportation needs to be the main course of this effort, there are plenty of appetizers and side dishes that should be served. From the tax breaks for orbiting funeral urns to setting a pull up minimum women must perform before getting an abortion to adoption of drive through, buy ‘em by the case, handgun sales at the local Shoot and Save – the Republicalowns have really started to screw the pooch. The pending dumb-off between Ken Cuccinelli and Bill Bolling as they appeal to the state’s far right lunatic fringe in the upcoming gubernatorial primary should be epic theater.

    Don’t waste this opportunity.

    Every state in the nation has raised their gas tax since 1986 except Virginia and Alaska. And, unlike Bob McDonnell’s hallucinations of Virginia being the “energy capital of the East Coast” Alaska really is the energy capital of the West Coast. They have the money from oil exploration that pervades McDonnell’s twisted dreams. So, removing an obvious outlier, Virginia is the last state to understand that inflation affects transportation.

    You and your colleagues have tried to index the gas tax to inflation. You have tried to being a high schooler’s level of economic sense to transportation funding in the Commonwealth. However, you have been stymied at every turn by the F Troop of the state GOP.

    Now, sky high tolls are becoming the norm for drivers in NoVa and Tidewater while Richmond has a grand total of 16 miles of tolls roads with a maximum toll of $1.50.

    The simple fact is that the Republicans in this state are more than happy to sell NoVa and Tidewater down the river. I think it’s high tie that NoVa and Tidewater returned the favor.

    This year’s session is over. It’s time for you and your fellow Democrats to get together and open a six pack of whoop ass on the Republicans in the eastern side of this state.

    • Anonymous

      Amazing how interested some pen-name poster in England supposedly is about a little local rail line in Northern Virginia. Why, he’s even using old English terms that went out in Eisenhower’s day. People really need to get wise.

  • isophoroneblog

    MWAA not perfect? NO, it’s badly flawed to the point that their incompetence and mismanagement should be no longer rewarded. How many billions more in cost overruns are you willing to tolerate? I mean, is there a limit to your patience?

    Quo usque tandem . . .

  • Concerned Fairfax Voter

    I’m originally from San Francisco, CA. With our similar BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) system, which Metrorail is patterned after, we made the mistake in the early 1970′s in not running BART to San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Years later, they’re now doing it, and it’s costing a lot more. We should not repeat the San Francisco Bay Area’s mistake here in NoVA; a Metrorail line to Dulles (IAD) is one of our better capital-project ideas. We need it.

    However, we also need to get rid of the Fraud, Waste, and Abuse in this project and many others. Isophoroneblog’s comments are correct in that cost overruns, incompetence, and mismanagement must no longer be rewarded. Do something to stop this, and then I believe this important project will get more support.

  • Lgross

    What are you going to do? Government! Can’t live with it. Can’t live without it!

    your choice – Rail to Dulles with waste and incompetence or no rail.

    place your bets….

    • Anonymous

      The failure of this argument is that it is a false choice. Chicken Little would approve, though.. “OHHH you MUST approve this ripoff, or, or, or there will NEVERRR be any rail!!!!”

      DO NOT make a panic decision of such a magnitude. The sky is NOT falling, and you really need to use your heads. Dulles Rail Phase II costs TWO TIMES what it should cost, based on the cost of comparable projects. Don’t be robbed, don’t let your children be robbed, and don’t let your grandchildren be robbed, because you fell for these tired old tricks. Instead, PUSH BACK! There is no justification for these bloated costs, so reject the proposal until the costs come down to earth. Why fall for their lies? They don’t even use their names!