Abolish MWAA, Return Dulles Toll Road to the State, Says Radtke

Someone is finally going to bat for the much-abused users of the Dulles Toll Road. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-10th, took the first step by introducing legislation that would increase Virginia’s representation on the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), which oversees the toll road, and make it easier to replace directors serving on the board. But that’s a half measure, argues Jamie Radtke, Republican candidate for Jim Webb’s U.S. Senate seat.

If she were elected, Radtke announced today, she would introduce a bill that would: (1) Abolish MWAA, (2) return the Dulles Toll Road to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and (3) give the commonwealth the option to manage Dulles International airport, Reagan National Airport, the Dulles airport access highway and construction of the Rail-to-Dulles Metrorail project.

The issue is all about accountability, says Radtke. MWAA, created by federal legislation in 1986, is governed by board members from Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Wolf’s legislation would increase Virginians’ representation from a minority to a majority. But Radtke contends that Maryland and D.C., shouldn’t have any representation over decisions affecting users of the Dulles Toll Road. The lack of accountability to Virginians or their elected representatives, she said in a prepared statement, is “unacceptable and unconstitutional.”

In 2005, Gov. Tim Kaine sealed an agreement in which MWAA would take over management of the Rail-to-Dulles project along with the Dulles Toll Road, which would be tapped to help pay for the project. In January 2006, Phase 1 of the metrorail project was projected to cost $1.8 billion. Sixteen months later, the estimated cost had risen to $2.8 billion and it was decided that Dulles Toll Road users would pay the extra $1 billion. Meanwhile, the cost of Phase 2 escalated by more than $1 billion, no thanks to MWAA board decisions to build an expensive underground rail station and to mandate the use of union labor. At present, toll roads are the only available revenue source to cover that overrun.

MWAA consultants have warned that Dulles Toll Road users, who currently pay a top charge of $4 for a round trip, could be paying $40 (that’s not a typo) for a round trip by 2040. “This mismanagement has the potential for devastating financial repercussions on Northern Virginia residents and businesses,” said Radtke. “Virginians are paying hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs incurred by MWAA, but these decisions are being made by a board where a majority of the members are non-Virginians.”

Characterizing the MWAA experiment as a “financial disaster” for Virginians, Radtke blasted Kaine for giving MWAA “unfettered power and control” over the toll road and its revenues without General Assembly or Congressional approval.

Abolishing MWAA might strike some as using a sledge hammer to drive home a nail. Sure, the state should take back control of Rail-to-Dulles and the Dulles Toll Road, but what’s wrong with having an independent airports authority? Here’s the problem: Once the state has contractually committed to giving MWAA control of the rail project and the toll road, it can’t readily back out. The only solution, then, is abolishing MWAA through federal legislation.Think of MWAA as collateral damage.

Radtke’s proposal would not require the state to take control of Dulles and Reagan airports, only give it the option to. If the state chooses not to exercise the option, the airports presumably could refashion an independent authority to do what MWAA was doing before it got entangled in the Rail-to-Dulles project.

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5 responses to “Abolish MWAA, Return Dulles Toll Road to the State, Says Radtke”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    No we said ‘rational’ apes. Those are the ones who can balance land use generated travel demand with mobility and access systems that are sustainable.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Saying it doesn't make it so is one of the first lessons a child learns.

    Self-financing toll roads are sustainable. Heavy rail systems that have to be taxpayer subsidized forever are not sustainable no matter how many times you say it.

    The Space Shuttle was supposed to save money because it was reusable. Originally it was going to cost $7 million per flight, it ended up costing $1 billion per flight.

    Metro to Dulles is no different. It is a pork hole you can drive a RINO and a RISSE through.

  3. James A. Bacon Avatar
    James A. Bacon

    Anonymous, I agree with you that Dulles Toll Road is financially self supporting, in contrast to Rail-to-Dulles, which, as currently envisioned, will be a money-draining white elephant. But I'd like to make two points regarding your comment:

    First, Ed Risse has been a fierce critic of Rail-to-Dulles on the grounds (a) that the above-ground stations are being poorly integrated with the surrounding land use and (b) that the requisite balance of jobs, housing and amenities does not exist in each of the station service areas. So, it's not fair to tar him with the Rail-to-Dulles brush.

    Second, mass transit does not necessarily have to be subsidized by taxpayers forever… if we did things right. On the revenue side, Arlington County has shown how mass transit can generate high ridership. On the cost side, I would refer you to a paper just published by the Heritage Foundation that shows how mass transit could save huge sums of money through competitive contracting (thus bypassing the costs of union featherbedding, work rules, pensions,etc.)

    If we could get the land use and station design right, if we could run mass transit companies efficiently, and if we could capture for public benefit some of the increase in property values made possible by the existence of Metro stations, I do believe that we could make mass transit an economically viable proposition. What's discouraging is that, except in rare instances, we are making little progress on any of those fronts. The history of mass transit operated as government -owned, monopolistic enterprises offers little reason for optimism.

  4. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Thank you Jim, a very good summary.

    Now if Ms. Radtke would put in a bill that codifies your summary she would have something going for herself.

    By the way what is she running for? I do not recall seeing anything about her.


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