By Peter Galuszka

The convoluted schemes of Virginia state politicians to avoid paying for rail service to Dulles International Airport are as frustrating as they are self-defeating and unfair.

Just a few days ago, it seemed that the General Assembly would consider adding $300 million to extend Metrorail to Dulles on the Silver Line when the legislature meets to approve an $85 billion budget April 18.

Thanks in part to last minute opposition by Democratic deal-maker State Senator Charles J. Colgan of Prince William County, the $300 million went “puff.” No deal. No money.

The $300 million cut underscores what seems to be Richmond’s ancient philosophy on expanding Dulles Rail: stick as much of the cost as possible on taxpayers and tollpayers in Northern Virginia.

Days after the $300 million in state funds for Dulles Rail disappeared, the Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County confirmed its buy-in for Phase Two of the Dulles Rail project, whose ultimate costs will top $2.7 billion. The county says that while it is looking for alternate funding sources, it may pay up to $965 million for the project. About $730 million – or 80 percent – will be paid for by “voluntary” special tax districts created by landowners.

Once again, Northern Virginia, which provides more state tax revenue than any other region of the Old Dominion, gets stuck with most of the bill for Dulles Rail. That is the criticism of the Coalition for Smarter Growth which was quick to note the bizarre budget cut. They point out that, at the same time, the administration of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is proposing at least $750 million in state funding for a new superhighway near U.S. 460 in the rural peanut country of Southeast Virginia and diverting $200 million for a controversial bypass in Charlottesville.

It’s hard to fathom why providing Dulles rail with state money is such anathema. The new U.S. 460 tollroad project, for instance, raises many questions. It is being billed as a necessity for Virginia’s economic future since the port of Hampton Roads needs better transportation access to handle bigger, deeper-draft cargo ships when the Panama Canal is expanded in 2014.

Yet, Norfolk Southern railway which serves the port has already finished a $321 million public-private project to raise mountain tunnels to handle more double-stack rail shipments from Hampton Roads to the Midwest. The chief executive of the Panama Canal Authority says that thanks to rail improvements, Hampton Roads is already prepared to handle the expanded trade the canal project will bring. If he’s right, then why is there urgency for the new road?

There have been other peculiar impediments to the state paying for Dulles rail, such as Knee-jerk anti-unionism. Right-wing Atty. Gen. Kenneth Cuccinelli and others are crying foul at any attempt by the airports authority to use the a similar but somewhat tougher project labor agreement that helped move Phase One forward. A more deep-rooted issue is Virginia’s traditional philosophy, dating back to the one-party system of Harry F. Byrd 100 years ago, that public projects must be funded on a “pay as you go” basis.

That might have worked for building a two-lane bridge in bucolic Virginia when TV’s John Boy Walton, attired in bib overalls, might have been around. Today, the fact remains that Washington is the only capital in the advanced industrialized world not to have public rail service to its leading international airport.

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  1. Peter, You raise a number of legitimate points regarding the funding of the Rail-to-Dulles project. People of good will could disagree with you, but the points are still worth making. However, you make one factually inaccurate assertion: that right wingers are opposed to “the same kind of voluntary project labor agreement that helped move Phase One forward.”

    No one is opposed to voluntary PLAs. Let me repeat that in capital letters so you don’t miss the point. NO ONE IS OPPOSED TO VOLUNTARY PLAs. Should I add some exclamation marks as well?


    The opposition is to *mandatory* PLAs, MWAA’s first ploy, and to stacking the deck in favor of PLAs during the bid-approval process, MWAA’s second ploy.

    I’m not sure whether you are deliberately fudging the difference for ideological reasons or whether you simply cannot discern the distinction. Either way it appears that you are engaging in — to borrow a word you use to describe your ideological foes — “kneejerk” pro unionism.

  2. DJRippert Avatar


    Thank you. You have eloquently summarized what many of us “born heres” in NoVa have been saying for years – if you want to have a first class metropolitan locale (and the tax revenues that go with it) then you have to build infrastructure.

    The PLAs are a major red herring used by the Party of No to say No to a critical project. That fact has been proven in the latest budget debates. The disappearing $300M was not a consequence of PLAs. McDonnell already signed a bill forbidding VA funding for projects with mandatory PLAs. No, the $300M disappeared via “the Richmond attitude”. The Richmond attitude is found in the pinhead political elite throughout the state. It is essentially an extension of the Mississippi Mindset – progress is bad.

    Your point about railroads and port freight are also right one. Had Virginia’s politicians or the conservative bloggers in Virginia who faun over he post Panamax opportunity bothered to read the available articles, they would have found:

    1. Baltimore will be completely ready to take the large ships by Aug 2012. Their channel is already deep enough despite the willful misinformation belched by the Republiclowns.

    2. The two ports in Los Angeles base their defense of their market share from the widened canal almost entirely on their ability to off-load ships directly to rail. Funny how the guys with the huge market share see this advantage while the Clown Show in Richmond sees a container at a time being shipped to Chicago by truck.

    3. There was never a moments’ discusion of a P3 in Charlottesville. No tools, not private enterprise, nothing.

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    The Washington Times, your favorite newspaper, says that Virginia and the MWAA, have reached agreement that Virginia’s right to work laws will prevail if there is a PLA and no non-union workers would be fired.
    It could be that DJRippert is correct. You are beating a horse that has already been beaten and is dead.
    Please correct me if I am wrong.

  4. The whole game is just to get governments to spend, spend, spend, to make a few lucky people very rich indeed. Don’t think about its double price, don’t think about the impossible financing that results from its double price, just spend.

    First we were handed the line “Oh, well we have to spend spend spend, because Washington DC needs a rail line to its international airport.”

    Then, when the argument was about above ground vs below ground station at Dulles Airport, we were suddenly told, “Oh, well it doesn’t matter that the rail station is 1/4 mile from the air terminal, because hardly anybody is going to USE it but the airport employees anyway.” Former Fairfax County Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn said that, Fairfax County BOS Chair Sharon Bulova said that, and Sean Connaughton (head of VA DOT) said that too.

    And now, we are once again handed the line “Oh, well we have to spend spend spend, because Washington DC needs a rail line to its international airport.”

    Regarding the double price of Dulles Rail Phase II – it sure is strange that our business and political leaders, and our media, flatly refuse to report that a FINANCIAL audit of Dulles Rail Phase II has been going on for weeks now. You have to do a web search on ‘Audit Initiated of Phase 2 of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project’ to find it. It’s on the DOT website. The other hits are my posts about it in comments for weeks, and a couple of legal sites posting it. Very odd.

  5. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Using the same logic as the previous commenter, there would be NO rail or public transit to big airports anywhere — London, Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow.

    As for others constantly bringing up the Big Dig, let me add that I went to college int he Boston area many years ago and I remember what it was like trying to make a flight at Logan on a bad day.

    Once again, the logic seems to be, let’s not spend anything. Besides it’s all corrupt. If there is criminal activity, by all means investigate. But don’t use it as an excuse to stop all public transit. That’s nonsense.

  6. Hillsboro Avatar

    I’m curious about the selective outrage from PG and DJR.

    You are expecting Virginia to step up to relieve MWAA of a portion of their funding commitment. This project is so worthy of funding that Virginia should pony up more than their agreed to $150 mil share.

    Yet you guys are silent about the federal share on Phase II: $0.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      The feds paid a fortune for Phase I. The localities will pay the vast majority for Phase II – either through greatly increased land taxes or astronomical tolls.

      What do we get from our Betters in Richmond (who are only too happy to take oceans of tax money OUT of the region)? Almost nothing. $200M+ for a 6 mile bypass in Charlottesville? No problem. $500M for a wider highway through peanut fields. Maybe. $300M for a massive infrastructure project in the state’s most populous area? Oh no! Oh no! Run away.

      The feds put, I believe, $900M into Phase 1. The state, I believe, put in $75M.

      Here’s what I have for funding for both phases:

      Fairfax County, Loudoun County and Airports Authority contribution is 25%.

      Federal contribution is 17.1%, which is based upon a fixed FTA grant for Phase 1 of $900M.

      The Commonwealth contribution is 5.2%, which is based upon a fixed contribution of $275M consisting of non-toll road funding.

      The DTR contribution provides the remaining amount, and is 52.6%.

      As usual, the weak link in this whole program is the Clown Show in Richmond. Those jack-asses spend $85B every two years but can only pony up 5.2% of the costs of the project.

      1. Hillsboro Avatar

        You’re seriously trying to suggest that the fed’s decision not to fund Phase II had anything to do with their funding levels on Phase I ? That is complete BS.

        Phase II simply didn’t meet the passenger warrants to qualify for an FTA grant… even using rosy pre-recession growth projections. Phase II just doesn’t make any sense as a heavy rail line, and even the Obama administration couldn’t justify funding it.

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          What I am saying is that the feds have already contributed heavily to the overall Virginia-based expansion of Metro.

          The question I am asking is why the state government contributes so little and whines so much.

          Based on the tiny contribution of Richmond to this program I am predisposed to ignore their complaints.

  7. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    But isn’t there a tremendous federal debt and deficit?

  8. DJRippert Avatar

    Let’s start with a bit of background. I am one of those “job creators” that Republican candidates like Newt Gingrich talk about but don’t really understand. My fast growing company has offices in Cambridge, MA – SanFrancisco, CA – Reston, VA and (just opening this month) London. Of these four locations, Virginia is clearly the least effective from both a talent and entrepreneurship basis. I mean miles behind the other three. If I hadn’t lived here all my life there in no chance there would be an office here.

    Observation #1 for Republicans – None of these are in low tax areas. The only one that could be arguably called mid tax is Reston and it is the least attractive of the four.

    Observation #2 for Republicans – All of these locations except Reston have mass transit access. In fact, all of the actual offices are within walking distance to mass transit. Obviously, the neighboring companies are near mass transit as well – like Twitter in SF and Akamai in Cambridge. Mass transit is a recruiting tool.

    Observation #3 for Republicans – I am in the process of securing expanded space in Reston. Guess where the people I recruit want me to rent space? Downtown DC. They can’t stand suburban Virginia with the traffic jams and un-walkable communities. I agree with them. The only problem is that office space in Chinatown is going for $50 per sq ft while space in Reston goes for $25 – $32. I can recruit better in the Ballston area. Space there goes for $35 – $40. Why is Ballston more favored and, therefore, commanding higher rents? Because it’s on the metro and the metro has created a high density live – work – play environment that highly skilled people (young and old) like. I lived in Arlington when the Metro was just getting started. What is now Ballston Mall was a run down Hecht’s. Trust me – metro changed everything.

    Observation #4 for Republicans – The Big Dig. The big dig has improved everything in Boston and Cambridge. The influx of companies from out of the suburbs and exurbs into the city, the number of conventions and conferences now held in Boston, the level of urban renewal being undertaken. Everything is better.

    The funniest thing in American politics today is to listen to a bunch of “heads up their butts” Republicans talk about job creation – especially the Virginia variety like Bill Bolling. Let me tell you what creates jobs – good universities in cities with good infrastructure. Not universities in the middle of nowhere. Not endless traffic jams as the local politicos mumble about “low taxes” and the joys of Dillo’s Rule.

    If you want low taxes in rural and small town areas but economic success in the state’s urban areas, you must kill Dillon’s Rule. The half assed clowns of the CLown Show in Richmond are slowly but surely ruining what limited chances Virginia has for future success.

  9. Now we are being told “Oh, well if you object to 2:1 overcosts, then you aren’t willing to build anything or spend anything.”

    Wrong. We just aren’t in love with paying twice for something that costs an awful lot even if you only pay ONCE for it. Especially when we will ALSO be paying back the money we need to borrow in order to PAY twice for it – with interest – for generations!

    And hey, if busses were set up better, they could do it for even less – so why would we need trains? What is it about rail, that it is the only way to move people? Because we still won’t be moving anybody from Herndon to Fairfax by rail for a long, long time, until we can afford to pay twice for more rail, etc, etc, etc.

    And why do our business and political leaders, and our media, refuse to acknowledge the existence of a certain gorilla in the room: the FINANCIAL audit of Dulles Rail Phase II being conducted by the Inspector General of the US DOT? Why is it that you still need to do a web search on ‘Audit Initiated of Phase 2 of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project’ to see it? (It’s on the DOT website.) This audit has been going on for weeks, you know. Why is it being so studiously ignored? Is somebody worried that taxpayers might see it, and ask questions, before this particularly overpriced plan can be made into a done deal?

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Bob – you may be right. Maybe this audit will uncover some real hanky – panky. Or, maybe it’s just something that happens from time to time – like especially before a major funding commitment is made. Your worry that, ” … somebody worried that taxpayers might see it, and ask questions, before this particularly overpriced plan can be made into a done deal?” sounds a bit paranoid. Why do an audit if you are trying to pull the wool over the taxpayers’ eyes?

      As for Phase I – how is that going from a budget and schedule perspective? Any major problems? Say, 20% or more over budget? 20% or more behind schedule?

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      “And hey, if busses were set up better, they could do it for even less – so why would we need trains?”.

      And if bicycles were set up better (along with public showers), they would be cheaper than busses – so why do we need busses?

  10. DJ – I don’t know about you, but I find the apparently deliberate omission of this rather important financial audit from the news, to be somewhat disturbing. Although yes, this audit also might turn out to be a whitewash, like the July 3, 2011 FTA White Paper plan that bungles the cost estimate for the Rt 28 station by $53 million, ignored some remarkably high prices, and hid a few hundred million of cost by dumping it on Fairfax and Loudoun Counties.

    Dulles Rail Phase I? Expensive, and unfortunately a done deal, and well under way at this point – but it is worthy of note that it was not planned by MWAA, as Phase II was. You ought to know that.

    I think we all know that bus is a viable transit alternative to rail, particularly where population density does not support heavy rail. But bicycles? Please.

    If at any point you have any actual ideas, please do make them known, though.

    1. DJRippert Avatar


      Re: bicycles. Please accept my apologies. I didn’t realize that you suffer from the affliction of being born without a sense of humor. Or, did you have yours removed when you became a Republican?

    2. DJRippert Avatar


      Perhaps you should direct you ire over the non-reporting on the Phase II financial audit to Jim “Progress Sucks” Bacon. To his credit, Jim does a very meticulous job of reporting on transportation in Virginia. And, true to the “Richmond Attitude” he espouses, the editorial side of his writing is geared toward a litany of problems with any forward progress in the state.

      It seems highly unlikely that Jim “1952 was my favorite year” Bacon would pass up the opportunity for some good ole fashioned progress bashing by ignoring the smoking gun of a financial audit.

    3. DJRippert Avatar


      One final thought – have you considered contacting either the Piedmont Environmental Group or the Southern Environmental Law Center? They are two of Yesterday Bacon’s favorite was to find some inane way to block any and all progress in Virginia. No doubt they can help you with your jihad against Phase II.

  11. Galuzka and Rppert have show what is fatally wrong with “user pays ” plans.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Virginia doesn’t have “user pays” only “NoVa pays”. And, maybe, coming soon – “Tidewater pays”.

  12. Mass transit at this price is unsustainable. It costs so much that it can not be supported by the local region. The answer, supposedly, is to make people all across the nation pay for a little local rail line in northern Virginia.

    If northern Virginia can not pay for a little 11.4 mile local rail extension – that should be relatively LOW cost, because it is being built in an established right of way and mostly on-ground – then how can other regions pay this kind of price for mass transit, when they are also paying for ours? And how can we help pay for theirs, when we need their help to pay for ours?

    One company wants to expand in Reston instead of DC. Why? Because space in Reston costs less than DC. Ballston has Metro, and its space cost is higher than Reston. But despite the space cost issue, this company is building in Reston. Why? The lower cost, I suppose.

    Consider these two scenarios. Scenario one, rail costs two times what it should (given that it is mostly on-ground heavy rail in an established right of way) , and the region struggles to pay the bloated price. Scenario two, rail cost is reasonable (reasonable for mostly on-ground heavy rail in an established right of way, at least), and the region struggles much less to pay for the rail. What do you suppose might happen to costs, taxes and quality of life in these two scenarios?

    Progress is one thing. Financial irresponsibility is another. And the apparent cover-up of the existence of the highly significant FINANCIAL audit of Dulles Rail Phase II, at a time when the supervisors of Fairfax County and Loudoun County purport to be considering whether to agree to Phase II, points to some very serious issues, in my view.

    This is not the first financial issue that has been strangely unreported in Dulles Rail Phase II. Back in july 3, 2011, the FTA bungled the cost estimate for the Rt 28 station by $53 million. They said it would cost $136 million.

    Later in July 2011, the FTA quietly corrected that, and said that the Rt 28 station would cost $83 million. The phantom $53 million was the cost of the Rt 28 parking garage, but that cost was already listed with the other four parking garages in Phase II. So the FTA double-counted the Rt 28 parking garage cost in its July 3, 2011 White Paper. Hmmm.

    To this date, no news source has ever mentioned that $53 million blunder. It was kept very quiet by our leaders and our news media. The Fairfax County government was informed – but strangely, the public was left completely in the dark. Why was that $53 million blunder not a news item?

    And now, strangely, the public is once again being left completely in the dark, regarding this financial audit of Dulles Rail Phase II. It is interesting that money is central in both instances, isn’t it.

    People should do a web search on ‘Audit Initiated of Phase 2 of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project’. This financial audit of Dulles Rail Phase II is reported on the DOT website. It has been going on for several weeks now. Why is this audit not a news item? Oh, that’s right, our leaders have been pretending to hem and haw about agreeing to an unaffordable, bungled plan to build a little 11.4 mile local rail extension, complete with double priced rail, staggering road tolls, and bad toll revenue projections. We wouldn’t want people finding out about the audit, and asking any questions, would we.

  13. Oops, paragraph 3 should be:

    One company wants to expand in Reston instead of DC. Why? Because space in Reston costs less than DC. Ballston has Metro, and its space cost is lower than DC. But despite the space cost issue, this company is building in Reston. Why? The lower cost, I suppose.

    1. Sigh. No, it should read:

      One company wants to expand in Reston instead of DC. Why? Because space in Reston costs less than DC. Ballston has Metro, and its space cost is lower than DC. But this company is expanding in Reston. Why? The lower cost, I suppose.

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