By Peter Galuszka

It has always been supremely puzzling to me why this blog has taken such a strident and shrill anti-union attitude. The shining example is the smear campaign against project labor agreements (PLAs) and Phase Two of the Silver Line of Metro to Dulles airport. The attacks extend to attempts to liquidate personally Dennis L. Martire, a union leader and member of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, whose crimes against the people I cannot understand.

This McCarthy-esque anti-union campaign has become dogma among the harder right Republicans in Virginia. It’s as if we’re standing up and saying there are 50 Communists in the State Department, but no one bothers to ask that the list of names be read because there aren’t any. Ditto the supposed vulnerability of the state’s anti-union Right to Work law, which has been around for decades and is in no serious jeopardy whatsoever.

So, after paddling through all the Bacons Rebellion blather regarding the MWAA and the PLA, I find it refreshing to have a moment of clarity. It comes in today’s Post in a column written by Steve Pearlstein, whose hard-nosed sensibility has caught my eyes before.

Pearstein zeroes in on the all-Republican Loudoun County Board of Supervisors who are throwing big wrenches into long-standing plans to bring public rail transit to Dulles and bring the official airport of the nation’s capital into the 21st century. Gee, I even lived in the DC area when Dulles was opened in the early 1960s and it still doesn’t have the transit links that most of the major airports of the world have.

Here are some points from Pearlstein’s piece:

  • Loudoun’s new board is suddenly sticking its nose into something that county officials generally don’t. That is a $5 billion project managed by a regional agency representing three states and dozens of local jurisdictions.
  • Previous Loudoun boards have long ago committed to Dulles Rail. Only 4.8 percent of the Silver extension and half of the cost of the Loudoun stations and track work are being financed by Loudoun taxpayers.
  • The point of the PLA is not to kiss Big Labor’s butt, but to get enough skilled workers to do the job. The first PLA on Phase One involved a no-strike pledge and flexibility on work rules, Pearlstein says.
  • Despite this background in which a functional process was set up and put to work, Associated Builders and Contractors mostly non-union firms, saw some daylight to quash unions as hard right Republicans and Tea Potters can’t strength.
  • A new deal was hatched. No PLA of sorts, but bidders would get extra points in the bidding competition if they had one. Gov. Robert McDonnell and his Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton seemed OK with this but later went back on it. There’s even a new state law outlawing PLAs in the Dulles project.
  • Someone hit the “send” button on a new propaganda campaigning about the project’s supposedly exorbitant costs with organized labor somehow responsible. PLAs were alleged to come with a 10 to 15 percent cost markup.  In Phase One is was actually about 3 percent for labor and non-labor units, in effect, a wash. Little problems with the facts there.
  • Despite opponents claims that no one will use the last link of the Silver Line to Dulles, new studies show that residents within a few miles of the stations will likely start using them for their commutes to downtown DC. The added convenience of rail access should be a bump, although limited, to some housing prices.

The vicious anti-union campaign has always left me a bit dumbfounded. It would be one thing is there had been a major and crippling strike in the DC area or anywhere in Virginia, for that matter. The only big strikes that I can remember involved Verizon workers about 12 years ago, Steelworkers at the Newport News Shipyard decades ago and the United Mine Workers of America strike in the mid-1980s. There really hasn’t been anything confrontational in years.

So, why the big attack on labor and Martire and the like? The reason seems to be that the hard right (which may be damning the Romney campaign to the dustbins) has decided that collective bargaining is one the devils it must destroy. We are reeling from barrage after barrage of the evil of labor unions even though Americans have a constitutional right to organize. Unions, which fought for and won better living standards for workers years ago, have been in decline for decades.

Why are they the target? It is somewhat like undocumented aliens. They are an easy target.

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  1. Peter, give me a break. Pearlstein is working for the Hiatt-Hockenberry award for ignorance in journalism.
    The “rail at any price” crowd won. We got rail and we need to finish it, at least to the Airport. But that doesn’t change the fact that the project did not meet federal funding requirements. Only John Warner’s efforts that legislatively grandfathered the project under the old rules and massive lobbying by Democrats and Republicans to get the Bush Administration to cave on funding saved the project. Of course, Pearlstein didn’t address this.
    The project does NOT reduce traffic congestion, according to the Final EIS prepared by the then Mark Warner administration. See Table 6-2.2. Pearlstein didn’t address this either. The project was designed to give massive density to landowners at Tysons. It worked, just not as well as the landowners wanted. Gerry Connolly got elected to Congress, and Sharon Bulova insisted on a more sensible plan that gave high levels of density only at the station.
    The landowners’ liability for Phase I is capped at $400 M. Pearlstein didn’t address that either.
    In August 2009, the MWAA CEO Jim Bennett stated at McLean High School that MWAA’s consultants calculated that tolls could be raised to $7 and change before their would be significant drop-off of drivers to the point where a price increase would bring in less money. Pearlstein didn’t address this because the Post didn’t even cover the MWAA public meeting.
    It is a fundamental principle of American constitutional law that one legislative body cannot bind future legislative bodies. Pearlstein didn’t address that.
    The point of the mandatory PLA is to steer money to labor unions. Organized labor owns the Democratic Party and is so worthless that few American private sector workers want to join them. Full disclosure, I hate labor unions because I got screwed by the Teamsters and Minnesota’s law requiring workers in a union shop either to join or pay dues. The unions were probably fearful that they could not get a voluntary PLA so Democrats do what Democrats best, steal other peoples money for the public sector.
    The objection has been to a mandatory PLA or a bidding credit for a PLA. No one objected to the voluntary PLA. Pearlstein did not address this either.
    Most Virginia workers don’t belong to union. Bringing unions into Phase II means there will be more jobs for D.C. and Maryland workers and fewer for Virginia workers. Neither D.C. nor Maryland sets aside any jobs for non-union workers from Virginia. But liberals are used to one-way streets. We need to protect only union workers. Pearlstein did not address this issue either.
    Peter, you keep forgetting that the PLA for Phase I was voluntary.
    Back in 2010, the FTA revised its ridership estimates, as follows, “The extension is projected to serve 85,700 daily riders by 2030, including an estimated 10,000 new daily transit riders.” In the December 2004 Final EIS, the estimate of new riders was 29,100.
    The Obama Administration has projected that the new line will only serve 10,000 new transit users by 2030. The rest of the 85,700 daily riders already take transit. Pearlstein didn’t address this either.
    In sum, a high school journalism student could have written a better piece than Pearlstein did.

  2. Peter to the people: Shut up, do what your betters tell you, and cough up the money.

  3. larryg Avatar

    I think Peter is right about the anti-union stuff. It’s just another extension of the culture war…

    but TMT cracks me up.. He essentially AGREEs the project is a gran maul CF but then he says “but we must finish it”.

    If it is really that bad – shouldn’t it die?

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    TMT’s and Bacon’s views are very amusing although Jim’s is slightly shy on substance. I wonder what Don the Ripper (aka Groveton) will say.
    In any event, I am outta here, on vacation for about 10 days. My golden prose and penetrating logic (constantly smashed by wary commentators such as yourselves) will not be available for a while unless you want to follow me to the Bahamas for some Kalik beer and conch fritters.

    1. Have fun diving in the Bahamas. Don’t get the bends!

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    Northern Virginia is infested with people who ran away from economic decline in their own hometowns. They came here to line their pockets at the expense of the federal government and they will soon be gone to greener pastures. These sad examples loathe anything that smacks of progress because progress might cost them a slightly higher tax rate.

    Their selfish attitude is what cost their former hometowns a vibrant future (at least, while they lived there) and their attitude is what will cost our area any chance at a vibrant future. They exhibit “the Richmond attitude” but can’t re-locate to Richmond since there are too few over-paid federal jobs in Richmond for these “locality parasites”.

    The good news is two-fold: Some of the cities abandoned by these “locality parasites” have staged something of a comeback in their absence. Pittsburgh, for example, has revived itself since the “screw the future” runaways departed. The second bit of good news is that there are still enough long term Northern Virginians to defeat the loud-mouthed “come latelys” who could care less about the region’s future. As always, we will endure the shrill cries of those tooling around our homes with Steelers, Browns and Lions bumper stickers. As always, we will prevail.

    The PLA is a nit. A minor issue that did not derail Phase I and will not derail Phase II.

  6. larryg Avatar

    the PLA is truly a “nit” but not to card-carrying Conservatives who see it as something that needs to be squashed.

    In terms of “forward thinking” and “progress”, Bus Rapid Transit is a far less expensive way to get people to/from Dulles and when you think about it that way, you realize that building a Subway to Dulles is not really about transportation but about land development.

    I actually do support subway in concept but the expense is awful… and appears to be something, that if it is indeed that expensive.. needs to have a 100 year horizon on the debt (as some toll roads do).

    Subways at rush hour is how to view their utility in my view. Take away the subways and see what happens are rush hour. Put all those folks on the subway into cars and rush hour and prove that it does not reduce congestion. It defies common sense to say this IMHO.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Yes, it is about land development. Funny how the theory of human settlement evolution died on this blog at the time Ed Risse stopped posting.

      Then, there is the perpetual disinformation. Metro is the second busiest subway system in the United States, after New York City. But … nobody will ride on Rail to Dulles. Spare me.

      People dig up analyses from the Warner Administration and wave them as proof of the futility of the project. If anyone would have suggested that there would be a $1/mi toll road as the answer to Beltway congestion during the Warner Administration they would have been laughed out of the room.

      The Clown Show in Richmond is like compound interest. The negative effect of their incompetence is not linear. It is a curve of doom increasing at an increasing rate. At the time Mark Warner took office the frozen gas tax was a mere adolescent of 16. Today, that wretched icon of Clown Show incompetence is a young adult of 26. Back in 2002 people assumed that the state legislature would find a reasonable way to address Virginia’s transportation mess. After all, every politician running for every state-wide office promised to do just that. Now, 10 years after, few believe that the Clown Show in Richmond will ever do anything material to address the transportation crisis. So, we are left to extraordinary measures.

      I think a reasonable assumption for all new transportation projects is that the gas tax in Virginia will never be raised. We should view the Clown Show like insects trapped in amber – incapable and unwilling to change. Given that, how do some of the projects look?

  7. larryg Avatar

    if the stated goal of HOT lanes is to maintain congestion-free travel and they are willing to increase tolls to make it happen, then why would it not happen?

    HOT Lanes are proving to be success across the country.

    the bigger question is how many folks going to/from the airport would use a train (or BRT) verses how many folks will use it to go to their new homes in western Loudoun?

    I’d be willing to bet that the numbers will be lopsided as heck and that the busiest METRO trains on Phase II are going to be commuters not airline travelers.

    you continue to blame the Clown Show when this is a NoVa “want”.

    why should Richmond and RoVa fund a “want” that is outrageously priced?

    why should the fellow making 35K a year in SW Va be paying for METRO as well as a “cost of living” supplement for NoVa teachers?

    Virginia collects a sales tax state-wide to proportionally allocate to ensue that each child, regardless of geography has an equitable opportunity and NoVa insists this tax is theirs and that because of this… RoVa has to help pay for their metro and give pay supplements to people making 100K a year?

  8. People will ride the Silver Line. The best estimate is, by 2030, there will be 85,700 daily riders. That is not be ignored. But also not to be ignored is that only 10,000 of these riders (11.6%) will be new transit riders. The rest of these passengers (88.4%) are already riding transit. These are figures no one ever discusses. But they are likely one of the major reasons the federal government was not going to fund Dulles Rail.
    BRT was a more viable option. Toll Road News 3/8/08. “Actually bus has potentially greater capacity than rail because bus headways can be much closer allowing 800 buses per hour per lane x 40 seats (32,000 seats) compared to trains at 2 minute headways – 30 trains of 8 cars with say 80 seats (19,200 seats). The Exclusive Bus Lane at the Lincoln Tunnel NY-NJ has been running the numbers cited for BRT potential for many years.”
    Moreover, as we all know, there will not be 2 minute rail headways on the Silver Line because of the limited capacity of the Potomac Tunnel. BRT would not have permitted Fairfax County to grant massive increases in density. Rail is the density god. But we need to deal with what we have today.
    Adding density at Tysons or anywhere else in the world adds automobile traffic and a need for supplemental roads. Rail does NOT reduce traffic congestion. It enables more traffic congestion. Besides the Silver Line, Fairfax County believes the following are necessary by 2051.
    Tysons-wide road improvements $1,592 M
    Grid of streets within Tysons $1,534 M
    Neighborhood road improvements $103 M (This figure is grossly underestimated as it includes only selected intersections studied by Fairfax County at the request of Supervisors Smyth and Foust. Many more outside of Tysons roads will need improvement.)
    Other transit $2,133 M. All figures include inflation but no interest or financing costs.
    A $100 M project was recently eliminated, bringing the 39-year price tag down to $5.36 B. And, of course, no one in the rest of the county would vote for bonds unless there were projects in their areas too. So we probably need a couple billion more.
    The traffic problem in Fairfax County was caused by the Board of Supervisors approving more real estate development than could be handled by the transportation infrastructure. There is no law that would require the County to have approved amendments to the Comp Plan that added all of the growth that caused the traffic gridlock. Absent a citizen-enforceable adequate public facilities law, the supervisors will continue their historic behavior. Raise the gas tax by 50 cents a gallon and we will not see free-flowing traffic.

  9. In Peter World, fighting for a level playing field between unions and open shop constitutes a “vicious anti-union” campaign.

    In Peter World, unions are noble, stalwart defenders of the working class. They aren’t corrupt. They aren’t run for the benefit of the union executives. They don’t siphon union dues in order to support ideological causes hostile to many of their members. They aren’t joined at the hip with the Democratic Party.

  10. John Foust, Dranesville Supervisor, conducted a scientific poll in the summer of 2007 when he was running for office as a challenger. One of the questions asked was: If the choice were between building an elevated line through Tysons or not building the Silver Line, what would you prefer? A majority said “don’t build it.” This was common knowledge. Yet, nothing from Pearlstein.

  11. HardHatMommy Avatar

    In my world, all workers, those who are affiliated with a union and those who are not, bring value to the marketplace and the jobsite. And all should have equal opportunity to bid work. It’s really that damn simple. But the issue is now a loaded one. The people who should count in this issue (the workforce) get brushed off as if they don’t matter. It all turns my stomach. But that won’t be news to anyone.

  12. larryg Avatar

    how many people will ride the silver line to/from the airport verses how many people will be riding it between their homes and their work?

    is that in the study?

    I’m highly skeptical that the Silver Line will primarily consist of only airport travelers.

    I think the Silver Line is not only about Fairfax Density but sprawl west of Dulles.

    am I wrong?

    re: PLAs – I think if the PLA issue was part of the bigger issue of transparency and accountability – it would not be viewed as a partisan issue.

    When you have multiple problems with the governance of MWAA to INCLUDE in addition to the PLAs, crony capitalism and one is ignored and the other one chewed like a bone – it gives a strong partisan flavor – which I think is a disservice to the bigger issue.

  13. Ridership, the FTA estimated in 2010 there would be 85,700 daily riders on the Silver Line by 2030. Of those, 10,000 would be people giving up driving their cars for rail. The rest will simply switch from some other from of transit (which is likely to be discontinued) to rail. I believe MWAA has estimated some 6-7 percent of airport passengers will take rail. I don’t know that number.
    No one has complained about the voluntary PLA governing Phase I. No one has complained about the use of union contractors and workers on Phase I. And had MWAA left it voluntary, no one would be complaining about PLAs for Phase II. It’s just one more example of crony capitalism.

  14. larryg Avatar

    TMT – are you saying that 60,000+ people in western Loudoun ALREADY ride transit?

    what kind of transit are the folks who will ride the silver line riding right now?

    re: AN example of crony capitalism. There are others… also… and yet the focus is on one…. and the real issue is an unelected authority doing business pretty much outside of the purview of the public which is a far bigger my view.

    As I said.. if the folks who oppose the PLA cite IT as an example of the bad stuff that can happen when an authority is unelected, not transparent and not accountable.. it would carry much my import.

    everybody and their dog knows what the anti PLA people are about and they don’t seem to have any other concerns other than that one issue.

  15. Larry, many of the Silver Line riders will come from D.C., Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax County. They will be traveling to Tysons, Reston and the Airport — but mainly Tysons. According to the studies, many of these riders are already transit users (rail and bus), who will shift to the Silver Line. Another large contingent are express bus riders from western Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. As I understand it, there are a significant number of express bus routes that today go to West Falls Church and Vienna/Fairfax that will be going to Silver Line stations instead.
    Crony Capitalism I have complained about all sorts of crony capitalism – from the failure of MWAA and the Commonwealth to demand Silver Line investment from Bechtel, while demanding it from Transurban; to the refusal of MWAA to seek a competitive bid on a tunnel option; to the capping of the Tysons landowners’ liability for rail cost overruns; to forcing taxpayers to fund all of Fairfax County Economic Development Authority when Chambers of Commerce typically fund those costs in most parts of the country.
    If MWAA said, “We hope their is a PLA, but we will leave that to the market as was done in Phase I,” you’d wouldn’t hear a peep.

  16. larryg Avatar

    TMT – the Phase II… WHO will ride that line? How many and what percent will be air travelers.

    Do you not see the extension as a enabler of Loudoun sprawl?

    re: PLA… if I saw a list of things of concern … an PLA was ONE of them but the concern was over HOW things like PLA AND OTHER crony capitalism gets embedded… then we’d be focusing on the bigger picture of an agency running amok on all manner of things.

    I note that in the end, THIS issue is EXACTLY what did in the 2002 transportation referendum. Correct?

    why were people so astute about that and so detached on this except for the PLA?

  17. Larry, I’m not sure there is any separate data for Phase I versus Phase II ridership. The Final EIS from 2004 addresses the entire rail project, although recognizing it would occur in two phases. From everything I’ve read and heard over the years, I don’t think service to the Airport will be a major function of the rail line. It sounds to me as if it’s more of a “Gee all the other capitals have a rail line to their airports, why don’t we?” “Gee, all my friends have new cars, why don’t I?”
    I have heard criticism of the extension of the rail line into Loudoun County as an enabler of sprawl, but others argue the opposite. I don’t know what the answer is.
    The entire Dulles Rail project is crony capitalism. The PLA portion is more of the same. MWAA needs to be regulated by state and federal law. It should be subject to Virginia open meeting and FOIA laws. Lobbying before the board should be reported and posted on the Internet. You get no argument from me against any form of crony capitalism.

  18. larryg Avatar

    TMT you said people are going to ride transit from Arlington to Tysons.

    who besides airport folk are headed west from Tysons?

    or this…. would the folks using cars on the DTR switch to METRO once it is built?

    why would Loudoun County want Phase II if it accelerated growth and sprawl in the county?

  19. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Ya gotta love bacon, wishes you adieu and then trashes you. Jim, the web is everywhere even 90 feet down

  20. Hydra Avatar

    Larry is both right and wrong about metro reducing congestion.

    The DC area now has the worst congestion in the nation, bar none. How can METRO be said to have reduced congestion?

    As for the alternative, what WOULD happen if the 800,000 METRO riders decided to drive one day?

    For one thing, there would be a surge in car sales. A lot of people would go someplace else because the situation here would be impossible. Land development in other places would go up.

    The only question is whether the alternative would cost more or less than Metro, and offer more or less freedom and opportunity.

    Considering the enormous cost and substantial limitations of METRO I this k the answer is clear.

    Unpopular, but clear.

  21. Hydra Avatar

    It is hard to imagine a cluster of high rise offi e buildings around the airport metro station, but maybe it could be done.

  22. Hydra Avatar

    Why would loudoun want phase 2 if it accelerated growth and sprawl?

    Because it generates more money than conservation and agriculture.

  23. Hydra Avatar

    Maybe Winchester and Purcellville, and berryville should get metro. Ought to cheap to build out there.

  24. larryg Avatar

    I do not think Metro is about reducing overall congestion on roads.

    It’s about mitigating rush hour congestion.

    I’m pretty shocked that TMT does not seem to know what the projected non-airport passenger load is west of Tysons.

    how did they go about developing those numbers in the EIS?

    normally in an EIS – you include the so-called base case – the “no-build” option which details what happens if no project is built.

    one might think that a new rail to a less developed area would work much like a new road would in terms of opening up that area to commuting heretofore not really viable.

    one also might wonder how a new rail would affect an existing toll road the Greenway…..

    in some respects this sounds a lot like VDOT and their EIS process for roads.

  25. Larry – here’s what the Final EIS had to say about the Dulles Airport station & transit use.
    “J. Dulles Airport Station
    A formal traffic analysis for the full LPA was not performed for the Dulles Airport station area because the proposed station at the airport would not have any project-related park-and-ride or Kiss & Ride activity.” Page 6-34
    Table 6.3-2 shows rail ridership for Reagan & Marshall BWI at 4% and 1% of total airport passenger orginations respectively.
    On page 6-40, the EIS reads
    “ Air Transportation The Dulles Corridor Rapid Transit Project would have no impact on air transportation at Dulles Airport. However, the project would provide improved transit access to and from Dulles Airport for most of the metropolitan area. Specifically, the full LPA will provide seamless transit access to and from anywhere on the existing Metrorail system, including downtown Washington, D.C.; regional employment and activity centers such as Reston, Tysons Corner, Ballston, Rosslyn, Crystal City, Pentagon City, Alexandria, Bethesda, Rockville, and Silver Spring; and National Airport. The project would also provide a connection to MARC Commuter Rail services at the Union Station and New Carrollton Metrorail stations. MARC provides a rail link from the Metrorail system to BWI Airport in Maryland.”

  26. larryg Avatar

    TMT – how many stations west of Tysons? how many projected passengers (that are not Dulles travelers)?

    why would you build a project that will handle more passengers than Dulles will generate?

    is the EIS online?

  27. Larry, Google “Dulles Metro” and you will find the website that has all of the key documents online, under Project Resources. It doesn’t have the 2010 US DOT report as best as I can tell.
    There are 7 possible stations west of Tysons.
    The rail trip from downtown D.C. to Dulles will take at least an hour. From Metro Center to IAD is 18 stops. MWAA has recently been downplaying the number of air travelers using rail to get to and from the Airport, in favor of an argument that airport workers will take rail. I am still skeptical that Jose and Maria will drive from Route 1 or PW County, park and take rail.
    Of significant interest is that the US DOT Inspector General will release an interim report on MWAA and Dulles Rail on May 15. I am told by a friend who works in another agency’s IG office that the issuance of an interim report generally means serious problems have been identified which cannot wait for a full IG report. Scuttlebutt has it there are serious problems with MWAA’s procurement, including a failure to follow congressional purchasing requirements, conflicts of interests among certain board members, and a general failure to manage the agreement with Bechtel.
    Ten-to-one, the Bozos at the WaPo’s editorial board will spin it into a need for tax increases in Virginia.
    I’ve also learned MWAA staff visited the Loudoun County BoS and threatened to sue if the County pulls out of the project. A great way to win friends. Also, McDonnell has supposedly stated MWAA needs to prove the coveted $300 M goes to buy down tolls and not wind up in Bechtel’s pockets for change orders and overruns.

  28. larryg Avatar

    thanks TMT. Sounds like big trouble ahead.

    so the stations that are west of Tysons and East of the Airport.

    what is the justification for them? why are they needed and what problem will they solve?

    it would (also) seem that the more stations that Dulles air travelers have to stop at en-route to and from the less of a convenience it will be.

    a non-stop shuttle BRT would seem to easily best the Metro time unless there are going to be METRO express trains to/from the airport.

    re: threatening to sue – that kind of behavior down this way pretty much wears out your welcome.

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