Kaine Has Stuck his Hand in the Hornet’s Nest

This story is big, very big. It may well reach media-frenzy status. On March 27, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine signed a memorandum of understanding handing over responsibility for the Dulles Toll Road and the Rail-to-Dulles Metro extension to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. The import of that decision eluded me at the time, and I let it pass without comment. Truth be told, I have no idea whether the decision was sound or unsound. The issues are incredibly complex, and they need to be aired thoroughly before anyone rushes to judgment.

But I will say this: House Speaker William J. Howell and Del. David B. Albo, R-Springfield, today made some troubling criticisms of the deal. Today’s press conference did not consist of the kind of rhetorical mud wrestling we’ve seen so much of during the General Assembly session. The delegates leveled substantive charges.

I list the charges here not to endorse them but simply to emphasize the immensely serious nature of a deal with a multi-billion impact on Northern Virginia commuters:

  • The Administration failed to comprehensively analyze the long-term value of the Dulles Toll Road.
  • The Administration cut off the PPTA process and stopped private-sector competition that would have ensured top value to the state for the long-term rights to Dulles Toll Road revenues.
  • The agreement does not assure commuters will receive timely relief from traffic congestion.
  • The agreement forfeits entirely a half billion dollars or more in up-front cash payment to the Commonwealth.
  • The agreement fails to protect Dulles Toll Road commuters from high tolls.
  • Opportunities to receive additional federal funding were abandoned by the Administration.
  • The Administration failed to consult with the General Assembly before giving away the Dulles Toll Road, a state asset worth billions.

Because the Speaker does not post his press releases online, I will load them on Bacon’s Rebellion and make them accessible as soon as possible. They are worth close reading. I await a detailed response from the Governor’s Office.

Key Documents:

Gov. Kaine’s March 27, 2006, press release

Speaker Howell’s March 30, 2006, press release

Remarks by Speaker Howell, Del. Albo, March 30, 2006

Washington Post article, “Opposition Building Over Toll Road Deal,” March 30, 2006.


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6 responses to “Kaine Has Stuck his Hand in the Hornet’s Nest”

  1. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    The agreement does not assure commuters will receive timely relief from traffic congestion.

    That sounds like the pot calling the kettle black if you ask me.

  2. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Jim:

    Good balance in your post.

    This is a complex issue.

    One point from my recent post on Vienna / Fairfax / GMU METRO Staion area development:

    “A lot of the “public opposition” to the Airport Authority taking over METRO to Dulles is created by the contributions from adjacent land owners who know that there is enough land over 500-foot wide right-of-way of the Dulles Toll Road to adsorb all the employment land uses for the northern part of Virginia for decades. If the Authority is as smart as we think they are, they will build platforms at the three Reston stations because they already own the land.”

    This will cut into the windfall that Tysons land owners will get from the public expense and why they have avoided talk of platforms over public land at the Tysons stations which would more than pay for any tunneling needed.

    In addition, the Authority will favor long distance trips from Airport to Core, not commuters.

    That is not a bad thing. We should be trying to create Balanced Communites focused on Reston, Tysons Corner, etc., not spending public dollars to subsidize commuters other that to help “commuters” “non-commuters.”

    EMR

  3. Charles Avatar

    It seems odd that the Governor has the power to make deals like this without approval.

    Although I guess the legislature could have given the governor the authority in a previous bill or something.

    I think this is a bad deal. I just can’t imagine that the airport authority could do a better job of this than a private company that has to make money to stay in business.

    and if it’s true that we lost federal dollars because of this, it would be ironic that Kaine is arguing we have to increase taxes a billion dollars because the house bill would cause us to lose federal dollars.

  4. Toomanytaxes Avatar
    Toomanytaxes

    It was quite telling that Gerry Connolly was livid about the potential impacts on toll road users, especially since he’s been pushing the Silver Line boondoggle. The extension of Metro to Dulles and beyond may well become Virginia’s own “Big Dig,” as cost overruns abound. Connolly certainly is both smart and knowledgeable enough to know that the MWAA will be sending tolls skyward and soon. It’s one thing to raise tolls from 25 to 50 or 75 cents. But when they reach $2 or $2.50, the howls will become very loud. Similarly, drivers will vote with their routes and clog nearby roads.

    If the builders are to break ground for the rail line this year, the tolls will be increased well before the November 2007 election. Not a pleasant thought for an incumbent.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Ed:

    It is true the land for the right of way is already owned: it is also already being used for the highway.

    Why would the authority spend millions or billions to create new land and suspend it in midair over the highway, just to make sure that Tysons ownwers don’t get what you describe as a windfall? If their property suddenly becomes valuable, the county will get a windfall in tax revenue. One major point of Metro is to create transit oriented development. In this case it is the only point since it is already admitted that the Metro will do nothing to recuce congestion.

    If the authority snatches that value away by virtue of making a massive and wholly misguided investment in something that has never been done anywhere, as far as I have been able to learn; then they will make enemies out of the landowners and the county. The authority will become a transportation land baron no different from the railroads in the late 1800’s, and they will be competing with private enterprise at public expense.

    I fail to see any benefit to anybody in such a plan, nor have I even heard of such a thing from anybody else. Has the Authority suddenly come down with a few billion I don’t know about?

    Now, the airport is an enormous job center, in and of itself, and it is becoming more so every day. But airport job centers create an inherently imbalanced job/work community because airports create a lousy place to live. In addition, the airport itself is a locus of commuting for road warriors, as its massive parking lots attest. What might make some sense is to create a residential corridor from the Airport to Tysons, drastically increasing the density of Reston and Herndon. Those residents would have a choice of job opportunities from the already existing high tech companies in the area, the Tysons Complex, or the Airport complex. These would be easily reachable by jitney, toll road, or rail.

    Instead of eliminating the windfall from Metro development it would be better to maximise it. Then the populace would enjoy a gain from the investment in Metro instead of sinking still more money into the authority for the purpose of cutting off their nose to spite their face.

    Why do you seem to have such a problem with profit, when you claim to be a market supporter?

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I see three evolving issues that will play out.

    1. – PPTA in general, in terms of how such deal are made in relation to the “charges” made on this deal with the Airport Authority.

    Much concern that the Airport Authority and the Governor did not do “due diligence”.

    What assurances does the state have that VDOT itself would perform the same (desired) level of due diligence with respect to ANY PPTA proposal?

    Is there a State and/or VDOT policy that already exists that could have been used as a template for this deal?

    If there is, then the “charges” could be validated with respect to that template.

    If there are not – then why would this deal not point to a broader State weakness with respect to all PPTA proposals?

    2. – The second issue is PPTA agreements which would be configured to utilize tolls for other purposes beyond maintaining the TOLL road itself.

    Could such deals be configured to pay for other transportation infrastructure to include not only other roads/bridges/tunnels?

    Could such deals be configured to generate funds for transit?

    The concern with the Airport Authority deal would the the same with respect to other PPTA proposals which is if TOLL revenue proceeds could be diverted to other uses – it certainly would have an impact on the price of the tolls.

    3. – One of the “charges” cited concerns that if the TOLL were set too high – it would drive commuters onto adjacent local roads.

    That’s an interesting dynamic because the premise behind HOT lanes is to have adjustable tolls such that commuters who would be willing to pay – would be guaranteed a minimal level of congestion in exchange for the high tolls.

    Apparently there is reason to believe that in doing that – that an excess amount of revenues will be generated beyond which are necessary to maintain the TOLL road and so such excess TOLLs would then be “available” for other uses.

    Has the state developed a policy with regard to this aspect?

    Finally, I’d point out that PPTA deals in other states like Indiana have resulted in agreements where the State has agreed – as a condition with the private developers of the TOll road to NOT built “competing” parallel/adjacent roads.

    Is there a Virginia Policy for this?

    I think what the Airport Authority did was to exercise flexibility that is available because the State has only limited guidance on these issues to start with.

    They took advantage of the opportunity and Kaine approved it.

    Those making the “charges” are really pointing out flaws in the State Policy (or lack of) itself.

    Now, if Mr. Howell is thinking this way, there could be some legislation in the offing that would end up with substantial debate on policy issues with respect to PPTA in general.

    This debate could rise to a level comparable with other transportation policy issues that are currently at the core of non-agreement in Richmond.

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