Another Delay for Rail to Dulles

Now comes word that construction of the Rail-to-Dulles project will be delayed a year. Fairfax County officials are blaming the Kaine administration, citing the five months it took to study the option of running the heavy rail line underneath Tysons Corner. Writes Lisa Rein with the Washington Post:

Exploring the tunnel no doubt cost planners and engineers valuable time, county supervisors agreed. But they also blamed the delays on what they called the state’s sluggish management.

“The tunnel was a valiant effort,” said Fairfax Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee). “But the state is visibly trying to blame someone other than itself for its delays in setting the terms and conditions of the project.” …

[Fairfax board chairman Gerald E.] Connolly and other supervisors also attributed the delays to a change in leadership at the Federal Transit Administration, where the top job was vacant for several months this year. They also said it took the state longer than expected to put in place a system to oversee the preliminary engineering.

Unstated in the article is a discussion of how much the delay will cost, given inflation in the construction industry. The commonly cited price tag of $4 billion for the project is based on estimates originally made in 2002. Another year’s delay could conceivably bump the project cost up to $5 billion. It’s not clear where that money would come from.

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9 responses to “Another Delay for Rail to Dulles”

  1. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    I had the privilege this week of talking with some business interests that favor, not only the Silver Line as proposed, but also making another push for the tunnel. Some seem to believe that the tunnel could be added quite cheaply because of the new boaring technology. They also believe that a combination of the MWAA’s project management skills (which are fairly good) and competitive bidding would address the inflation problems.

    I am not persuaded. First, that presumes that Bechtel and its partner roll over and agree to competitive bidding instead of arguing that they are in the best position to build the Silver Line. Why would Bechtel not engage in a pitched battle to save the project for itself? Wouldn’t a political and/or court fight push out the project even further? Absent a major recession that curtails building worldwide, won’t construction costs continue to escalate?

    Second, I wonder whether the FTA will even pass the existing project under the old, grandfathered,liberal cost/benefit guidelines? We need to know the new costs. The State should consider putting the Silver Line back into the median of the Dulles Toll Road for the entire route.

  2. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Considering how much each rider costs us, the delay is probably saving us money.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    You know.. what would be good would be to figure how much each “rider” on a highway costs… and how much each “rider” actually pays

    Say.. someone in NoVa commutes 40 miles a day – 20 in each direction.

    Say.. they get 20 miles per gallon.

    2 gallons of gas x 36 cents = 72 cents
    per day…

    …times 5(days) x 52(weeks) = $465 a year. (we’ll exclude weekends)

    So.. NoVa has about 1.5 million registered vehicles… paying 72 cents per day to use the roads.

    This works out to about 700 million a year.

    The financial plan for 2006 for NoVa is about 1.2 Billion dollars. This is roads-only, separate from WMATA.

    so.. let’s see .. 700 million from the gas tax and road costs of 1.5 Billion.

    One might wonder where the rest of the money is coming from – if not from gas taxes.

    And of course.. everyone knows that we subsidize METRO but never roads – which pay for themselves – correct?



  4. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Larry, the roads are getting paid for. Maybe we ar not getting new ones as fast as some would like, but the roads we have are getting paid for. Almost everyone uses the roads even if they never leave the house.

    The only conclusion I can reach is that the roads are paid for by people who use the roads. Metro, however is Also paid for by people who never ride Metro.

    The gas tax is not the only thing that supports road use. People own their own vehicle and pay tax on that, but people don’t own their own Metro cars.

    The best analysis I can find shows that if you count ALL costs, including pollution, accidents, disposal, etc. that auto drivers pay a higher share of their own costs than transit riders. In most cases transit barely ekes out an improvement over cars in tems of cost per passenger mile.

    I don’t think your calculations are adequate, and I don;t think we should even be making that argument: we need both cars and transit. The question is how much of each and where. Then you have to figure the entire system cost, including the cost of housing.

    Nobody, to my knowledge, has attempted that.

    But, even if I accept your argument, what I hear is that we need to double the gas tax. Since the roads are presently being paid for anyway, if we doubled the gas tax, presumably we could lower some other taxes.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    ou can separate housing or include it but if you include it, then you need to address the mortgage subsidy because that subsidy distorts the housing market favoring certain kinds of housing over others and is the driving force behind people commuting long distances. If that subsidy were removed – decisions about where to live and especially how far to live from work would change dramatically – in turn – having huge impacts on how we do transportation to start with.

    The “BIG” hit on METRO is that it can not operate without a subsidy – that if you charged the fare actually required for it to pay for itself that the fare would be so high that people would not ride it.

    Even folks who “appreciate” METRO would not agree that it is a cost-effective way to move people and oppose expansion of it – and, in fact, would have opposed it years ago so even the existing part today that is “appreciated” would not be here if the same critics were around when it began.

    Then folks believe that the gas tax pays completely for roads and that they operate without subsidies and would be fine today if the gas tax had kept pace with inflation.

    So, I believe, the FIRST step is to have the cost data for both BEFORE we have any discussion about which one is “better” or more appropriate.

    Without understanding the actual costs – we are reduced to subjective judgements about when/where METRO is appropriate and when/where roads are appropriate.

    Broad generalizations such as “you need a certain amount of density for Metro to “work”.


    Do we count VRE and other similiar heavy rail in that equation also as part of an intermodal network where METRO links with VRE and both link with roads and all three have functional intermodal facilities?

    OR… as road advocates claim .. dump METRO and VRE and use roads solely as the most cost effective means to move people?

    So – what we end up with – is METRO advocates, Road Advocates and separate – SEPARATE state agencies who essentially complete against each other – not on cost-effectiveness measures but arbitrary political measures. Note the Silver Line – apparently FAILS most measures of cost-effectiveness but because it has some committed Fed money and political supporters – it goes forward – not because it’s proven to be the right answer at all.

    Would,,, indeed the money for the Silver Line – diverted to road construction provide a “better” solution?

    My point here is that there are so many unanswered questions that going forward .. becomes the priority – just go forward… and see what happens.

    This is our public policy apparently.

    At the end of the day – those who oppose METRO are not only not convinced of it’s utility, they are more than ever believing that METRO is sucking up scarce road money for a frivolous and wasteful purpose.

    Until… we get the facts.. and the public understands the criteria for siting rail and road – they really don’t want more money taken from them because they fear it will never produce anything that will serve them.

    This is exactly what energizes those in the GA who are opposed to more transportation funding from higher taxes – no matter the source – gasoline or otherwise.

    They’ve lost confidence in the process.

  6. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Right. We all pay for roads through both gas taxes and real estate taxes and income taxes. And we all elected the people who put this in place.

    You make a good point about the mortgage deduction. It probably does have some bearing on whether Metro or roads is worth while. What that bearing is is anybodys guess. Does the mortgage deduction make more people own larger homes and increase their wealth, on which they pay taxes over and above their gas tas compensate for the fact taht we need more roads to reach these far flung places?

    I sure don’t know. But the fact reamins that this is the system we have, we wlected the people who put it there, and as you point out, life isn’t fair.

    Probably, the mortgage deduction is small change compared to everything else it does. (I gather your mortgage is paid off?)

    The fact remains, the roads are paid for (one way or another) and everybody (or nearly everybody) uses the roads, even those who use transit. Metro is paid for one way or another, too, but a large part of that is paid for by those who don’t ride Metro. The only conclusion you can make is that auto users pay for roads and part of Metro.

    What the mix is is open to question, and so is the extent to which auto users also benefit from metro, just as Metro users benefit from roads.

    You ar right. “Until… we get the facts.. and the public understands the criteria for siting rail and road – they really don’t want more money taken from them because they fear it will never produce anything that will serve them.”

    I think that they both serve them, but we don;t know what the extent is. Instead of arguing over which is better we should continue to seek out the truth, and we should continue to jigger the system to make it more fair.

    And while you are at it, you can throw in land use.

    For the record, I’m not convinced that Metro is totally frivolous and wasteful, but I’m leaning that way. Certainly its true value is somewhat less that its true supporters would have us believe. Overselling is a good way to generate disbelief.

    I’m not sure what the GA’s problem is. Clearly you are not going to get more transportation funding from lower taxes, whatever the source. Maybe they are paralyzed by the uneccessary an unproductive polarization, partly between transit supporters and road supporters, and partly between urban areas and rural areas.

    But, hey, that’s why they get the big bucks. If they can’t make a decision one way or the other, then we need to fire them.

  7. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Virginia could start by addressing the cost & benefit issues associated with transportation. It’s time to put away the hollow PR crap about “fixing transportation.” Let’s talk realities. What are the best estimates of what it would cost to build the Silver Line as proposed? What rate of inflation are we likely to see for construction costs before the project is completed?

    Who is going to pay the excess costs? Why aren’t we going to see any reduction in traffic congestion despite spending buckets of money? What would it take to improve traffic congestion? Hint: It probably has something to do with rejecting the requested density at Tysons or conditioning it on the virtual elimination of extra parking space. Turn parking into a commodity at Tysons and buy and sell spaces. Tax the heck out of additional parking spaces. One space per condo.

    But, at this stage, I settle for firing the PR firms and dealing with reality.

  8. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Well, that’s right. Just look at 66. 66 is backed up well west of where Metro even starts, to Centreville, and it is a matter of sheer volume. Even if you doubled the capacity of the Orange line, 66 would still be backed up trying to get to the Vienna station.

    Never mind the problem at 29 and 66, which VRE cannot hope to relieve.

    And part of the 66 problem is that it was restricted inside the Beltway, partly to increase Metro ridership. That problem has long since passed, and now we face the problem of increasing both Metro and 66 capacity inside the Beltway.

    Even if you widen 66 inside the Beltway and put congestion tolling on it, it will still be a bottleneck because 66 outside the beltway has more lanes. And increasing capacity on the Orange line is limited. Without more capacity there is no reason to extend it to Centreville to try to relieve congestion on 66.

    And besides we already know that latent demand applies to the system, not just the roads, so even if you extended Metro to CEntreville, it wouldn’t make anydifference.

    And if you have the Silver line as well, then you just doubled the capacity problems of the Orange line east of where they join.

    Looking at 95 and 270, the situation is even worse because there is no complementary Metro line to offer relief.

    The situation is far worse the the GA and the rest of the state already doesn’t realize. We simply cannot move the number of people that are needed for the jobs we have with the system we have. And whether we build any more system or not, it is costing us a fortune, and it will continue to cost a fortune. Suggesting that we start restricting commuter parking is just another way of saying we can’t acommodate the load.

    Restricting local parking for residents is just throwing in the towel. Developments in California have tried this, and just wouldn’t sell. The developers had to go back and get the restrictions eased. And then of course there is the New Guy problem: the new guys get the restrictions on their condo while the previous guy has four cars in his driveway.

    It is going to have to mean more jobs in Fburg, Manassas, Warrenton, Leesburg, and Winchester, and fewer jobs where we refuse to, or can’t afford to, provide the support they need. And that’s not going to be cheap either, so we still have to figure out who will pay the additional (not excess)costs.

  9. adron_bh Avatar

    Pay for play, pay for use, pay per use. All concepts that don’t seem to apply to transportation these days.

    What really needs to be done is a un-subsidization AND a decrease in Government involvement at ALL levels.

    If a form can’t pay for itself, then let it die. It would be amazing how fast things would start turning around.

    Because when the REAL price of car ownership comes around, lotsa people would be riding “privately operated” mass transit trains n such. But dammit, I’d be on my roads then! ๐Ÿ™‚ Travelling at a nice 100+mph.

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