big scam is in the works here in Fairfax County.
And I'm not talking about the anticipated $9.5
million raised through new cell phones fees, or the
$1.9 million raised by increasing the 911 dispatch
fees, both of which were enacted earlier this year
when the board of supervisors thought that the
county was running a deficit.
We later found out that the county actually ran a
surplus, which was promptly spent without
considering a rollback of the new taxes.
Some of the same forces that pushed for an 11
percent increase of the sales tax last year are
again partnering with the board. But they are
attempting a new swindle that stands to make
millions for a few well-placed individuals.
This new scam is called Rail to Dulles. It was a
sleeper of an issue in the last general election.
Only Sup. Gerald Connolly,
D-Providence, who was elected chairman of the
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors,
has said that he would make it his No. 1 priority.
During the election,
Connolly was caught in an apparent conflict of
interest. He had performed paid consulting work
for a company closely aligned with the West Group, a
major developer in Tysons Corner. Then earlier this
year, while serving as a supervisor, lobbied the board to approve major
zoning exceptions permitting the West Group to build
four 19-story luxury high-rises. (For details, see "Bad
Company," November 3, 2003).
A formidable group of real estate developers,
including the West Group and other business
interests, are solidly behind the Rail to Dulles
proposal. Parenthetically, real estate and
construction interests contributed generously to
Connolly's campaign, donating more than $100,000.
Rail to Dulles has been under discussion for more
than two decades. But what are the chances of this
project becoming a reality?
Last August, the Federal Transit Administration
recommended that Northern Virginia officials
relinquish their grandiose $4 billion idea -- the
largest proposed public works project in Virginia's
history. The FTA suggested that designers come up
with a more practical approach.
In response, the Warner Administration broke down
the project into two phases. The first phase -
projected to cost close to $2 billion - will extend
Metro to Wiehle Avenue in Reston. Rail advocates say
that this is less than the original estimate. In
reality, this is half the cost of the original
proposal for about half the distance. In other
words, a wash.
Rail proponents are looking for at least a $100
million-per-year federal subsidy. But the FTA is
cutting back on funding rail projects. The current
funding level for new projects is around $2 billion
annually, but there are about $75 billion worth of
new projects already in the pipeline.
Worse, the current proposal purports to carry about
20,000 new riders at a cost of $75,000 per new
rider. That is at least 20 times more expensive than
comparable bus rapid transit systems. When the FTA
doles out its limited federal dollars, the cheaper
transportation projects will win long before Rail to
Dulles gets any consideration.
So why are Connolly and the other rail
proponents promoting a proposal that makes no
economic sense and is unlikely to receive federal
Because certain business interests stand to make
millions regardless of whether Rail to Dulles ever
comes to fruition. Sole-source contracts have
already been awarded for engineering studies, which
could reach as much as $100 million.
The real winners, however, will be the landowners
and real estate developers. They stand to make
millions as building densities in Tysons Corner and
Reston are increased in anticipation of rail
The zoning changes approved by the Board of
Supervisors earlier this year on behalf of the West
Group are just the tip of the iceberg.
In order for this scheme to work, the Rail to Dulles
proposal must be kept in play. That's why its
promoters continue to maintain that the project is
If you wonder why our transportation problems do not
get solved, you can easily surmise the cause. The
system is set to allow the plunder of scarce tax
resources by those who have made the
"correct" political contributions.
Incidentally, a recent poll conducted by CC
Advertising, Inc. in Chantilly found that 69 percent
of the people who live close to the Dulles Toll Road
oppose higher tolls and new taxes required to
finance Rail to Dulles.
These folks will have an opportunity to voice their
opinion: The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
will hold a public hearing on Dec. 8 at 4 p.m.
Unfortunately, given the political apathy
demonstrated in the last election, it is unlikely
that people are paying close attention. In the end,
taxpayers will likely be left holding the bag, as
December 1, 2003