Guest Column

Phillip Rodokanakis



The Rail-to-Dulles Scam

Taxpayers, hang on to your wallets. Developers are lobbying for an extravagantly expensive extension of the Metro to Dulles Airport. Can you guess who stands to profit?


 

A 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 funding?

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 service.

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 financially feasible.

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 usual.

 

-- December 1, 2003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phillip Rodokanakis, a Certified Fraud Examiner and a political consultant, lives in Oak Hill. He is vice president of communications for the Virginia Club for Growth.

 

He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

 


 

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