The Club for Growth

Phillip Rodokanakis


Bottomless Pit

The Washington Metro is losing money and needs more than $1 billion in repairs. Why should anyone believe the Rail-to-Dulles project will perform any better? 

"All governments survive on theft and extortion, called taxation." -- Fred Woodworth, American journalist and author

More than 30 years ago, the Washington Metro subway system was envisioned as the solution to the Washington Metropolitan area’s traffic gridlock—yes, contrary to popular belief, traffic gridlock in this area is not a unique phenomenon of the 21st century. The subway was seen as a way to connect the suburbs with downtown Washington, D.C., where most of the jobs were located.

The subway promoters envisioned an efficient transportation network that would move commuters fast and in comfort. But more importantly, the entire system was sold to the public as the ultimate example of sound public financing. With federal and local governments investing initially in building the subway rail network, Metro was predicted to become profitable and self-sustaining by the mid- to late-1980s.

Based on the prevailing commuting patterns of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Metro was built to ferry daily commuters from collector locations in the outer suburbs into the heart of downtown Washington, D.C. As it turned out, the “outer” suburbs of four years ago, located just outside the Washington Capital Beltway, now qualify as “inner” suburbs.

Contrast the early predictions for the Metro system to today’s reality: Metro never achieved self-sufficiency, never mind making a profit. Metro’s 2005 budget is $1.29 billion, but only $459 million of that comes from fares. Contrary to assertions made by rabid Metro proponents like Gerry Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, that 70 percent of Metro’s operating costs come from fares, the meager amounts raised through fares cover barely 35 percent of Metro’s operating costs.

The repetition of such errant statistics by Connolly and other Metro proponents gives credence to the old adage about the ability of figures to lie. Worse, Metro is now asking local governments to foot the bill for infrastructure improvements to its aging rail network that will require additional investments exceeding $1 billion to $2 billion dollars.

Besides the fact that Metro will never become a financially viable enterprise — meaning that it will have to continue relying on taxpayer subsidies — our commuting patterns have changed drastically over the last three decades. Population projections in the late 1960s were generally accurate in estimating the population growth for the closing days of the 20th century in the Washington Metropolitan area. But the projections went haywire in forecasting future development patterns. The projections envisioned that population growth would take place in and around the capital beltway, where population densities would increase greatly.

The plan envisioned that most of us would be living in the condos that would litter the close-in suburbs like Arlington County. And the commuting patterns would stay pretty much the same, meaning that commuters from outside the beltway would continue seeking employment inside the city of Washington.

That’s a strange thing about projections: Reality tends to defy the predictions, no matter how studious their underlying assumptions. No one foresaw either the sprawl to the outer suburbs—a sprawl that has turned outlying counties like Loudoun and Prince Williams into bedroom communities for commuters—or the development of major employment centers along the Washington Dulles corridor.

The development of employment centers in the outer suburbs has transformed the area’s employment industry from a single-government and defense oriented employment center to a high-tech metropolis. The growth has been phenomenal. Even with the setback caused by the recession, Northern Virginia has become a major data and telecommunications center, controlling more than 70 percent of today’s Internet traffic.

So, while Metro with its inflexible rail tracks continues ferrying commuters from the close-in suburbs into the center of downtown Washington, commuters employed in employment centers in the outer suburbs have no choice but to drive to work. The new commuting patterns have added tremendous pressure to an already overburdened highway system.

Instead of proposing new solutions to tackle our 21st century problems, politicians like Connolly and newly elected Gov. Timothy M. Kaine propose sinking billions more into expanding the Metro white elephant. They and the Metropolitan Washington Metro Authority (MWAA), the federal managers of the Dulles Airport, want to extend the failing Metro system, ostensibly to connect the airport with downtown.

Never mind the fact that extending Metro will do nothing to alleviate the traffic gridlock or provide for Metro’s crumbling infrastructure needs. Heavy rail subway systems are a 19th century solution developed to address commuting patters of BIG cities.

It makes little sense in this day and age to build such mass-transit dinosaurs in suburbia, because they are expensive and inflexible. Today’s technology offers us Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) alternatives that can be built at a fraction of the cost and which are extremely flexible in meeting the shifting demands of 21st century commuters.

The folly of the MWAA’s single-minded preoccupation for bringing rail to Dulles was exposed in a recent study conducted by the Metro Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG)—keep in mind that the MWCOG is generally staffed by reliable supporters of the Metro subway system. The MWCOG study concluded that a mere 1,300 passengers per day would use a Dulles airport rail station in 2030, out of a total of 238,000 daily trips to the airport. In percentage terms this represents a miniscule one half of one percent of the projected daily trips to the airport. Alternatively put, 1,300 passengers translate to 1 of 200 daily trips to the airport.

At an estimated cost of $4 billion to $5 billion to bring rail to Dulles, taxpayers would be better off if the MWAA provided free curb-side limo service to those 1,300 passengers. But bureaucracies like the MWAA do not sweat the funding details, since they know that in the end the unsuspecting taxpayers will have to foot the final bill, no matter how frivolous or irresponsible the funding outlays.

As long as irresponsible politicians beholden to special interests continue to promote fiscally irresponsible ideas, commuters in Northern Virginia will continue being stuck in gridlock and paying for a subway system that does very little in meeting today’s commuting needs. In other words, we will continue throwing good money after bad, trying to feed a bottomless pit’s insatiable appetite for taxpayer dollars.   

-- March 20, 2006








Phillip Rodokanakis, a Certified Fraud Examiner, lives in Oak Hill. He is the managing partner of U.S. Data Forensics, LLC, a company specializing in Computer Forensics, Fraud Investigations, and Litigation Support. He is also the President of the Virginia Club for Growth.


He can be reached by e-mail at


Read his profile here.



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