Kaine to Howell: Trust Us, We Know What We’re Doing

Last Thursday, House Speaker William J. Howell blasted Gov. Timothy M. Kaine for handing over responsibility for the Dulles Toll Road and the 23-mile Rail-to-Dulles Metro extension to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

In a press conference, the Speaker outlined his concerns in considerable detail. By abandoning a number of public-private partnership proposals, Howell charged, Kaine had forfeited half a billion dollars in up-front payments to the Commonwealth, failed to assure that commuters will receive timely relief from traffic congestion and failed to protect Dulles Toll Road Commuters from high tolls.

The Kaine administration responded by releasing a letter that Secretary of Transportation Pierce R. Homer had written Howell on Aug. 9, 2005 — half a year ago. The letter does not address the specific issues Howell raised last week. In effect, it is a non-answer.

What Homer did in the letter was defend the process for evaluating what to do with the Dulles Toll Road. The process sounds reasonable enough. The Commonwealth Transportation Board has engaged the services of the Public Resources Advisory Group, a financial advisor that does not underwrite, trade or market securities and, therefore, has no conflict of interest regarding the advice it dispenses. I would value the judgment of an independent outfit like PRAG over that of an investment banking firm hoping to make millions in underwriting fees.

Homer further stated that he would endeavor to “resolve and clarify the role and status of the Federal Aviation Administration, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, and Fairfax County.” Additionally, he said he would identify major policy issues, including: “the duration of tolling; the type of tolling in the corridor, including congestion pricing; the duration of any potential concession agreement; potential limits on toll rates and rates of return; revenue sharing among public and private partners; long-term maintenance obligations; and future land uses in the corridor.”

It sounds like Pierce was asking many of the right questions. But that half-year-old letter doesn’t provide any of the answers, and it doesn’t address key questions in Howell’s remarks. In effect, the Kaine administration is saying, “We know what we’re doing, just trust us.”

That appears to be good enough for the daily newspapers, which have dropped the issue. If Homer used a few thousand public dollars to unnecessarily charter a private airplane, go hunting in Africa or take his co-workers for a little topless-bar entertainment, the fearless Mainstream Media would be all over the story. But if the House Speaker accuses the Kaine administration of writing off a half-billion dollars in a bad business decision, the story doesn’t merit an inch of ink. Pathetic.

I suspect that Homer has reasonable answers to Howell’s questions, but we won’t know for sure until we hear them. And we probably won’t — because no one is pressing for them.

Update: The Washington Post has published an editorial that does a fairly balanced job of summarizing high-altitude issues in the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority deal.

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5 responses to “Kaine to Howell: Trust Us, We Know What We’re Doing”

  1. FlowerWarden Avatar

    Has everyone lost their common sense? The rail connection via Metro to DUlles is absurd. A recent study by the Breakthrough Technologies Institute, reprinted by The Jefferson Institute, points out that one-half of all the trains now going on the Orange Line will have to be dropped to make way for the Dulles ones. New cars to provide standing-room-only for the Orange Line will have to be bought (a cost not included in anyone’s costs estsimates) and besides, even with stand-only cars, the Orange Line will be so over-crowded (by metro’s estimates) that it will be unusable in rush hours. And we want to welcome people to come to Washington by Metro from Dulles??? Has any of the press curmudgeons thought to alert the current Orange Line riders about their future, should their Governor’s plan for the Dulles project go through? Too bad the idea never flew to transform National/Reagan into just a terminal, for passengers to get on rail-cars that would whisk out 4-Mile-Run to plug nonstop directly into the plane without stopping at a terminal at Dulles. Oh, well. reason and logic don’t belong to Virginia politics.

  2. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Heresy, flowerwarden, heresy.

    Don’t you know everyone wants more transit because it will eliminate traffic congestion, and by the way, it won’t cost anything because we can pay for it without raising taxes by using congestion tolls?

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Read the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce’s blog (Policy Soup). All of the big landowners and other real estate types are drooling at the thought of the “Silver Line.”

    No one should be permitted to do anything in connection with the expansion of Metrorail until he/she rides the Orange Line during rush hour for two weeks. As I’ve written several times before, this boondoggle is all about enabling more development at Tysons Corner.

  4. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Sorry – 6:43 is toomanytaxes. I clicked the wrong button.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m amused – by the ironies.

    If one looks at the basic issue, it’s that the NoVa area IS going to create MORE jobs – and I presume an outcome that is considered GOOD.

    And those new employees ARE going to need a place to live.

    Then, you have developers who see a market for housing in the NoVa area. In this case – more dense development and redevelopment.

    And the part I find amusing is that those concerned with such a prospect are engaging in the same tactics that those in the outlying jurisdictions which is to demonize developers as evil because they are pursuing what they believe is a viable market for housing.

    The complaint is being expressed in terms of “evil” developers “lusting after” development opportunities and – hold on to your hats – are being opportunistic and proactive with respect to support of transportation proposals – in this case transit.

    So, I would ask. How is this dynamic different from those same (evil) developers looking at potential new road projects that would yield similiar development opportunities?

    Methinks folks simply don’t like the prospect of trying to figure out where new people are going to live – don’t like the idea of a more dense “NoVa” .. and throwing up a flurry of reasons why this is really questionable and that
    “trust” with respect to how developers attempt to influence government policy.

    Holy Moly… where is that concern when they do the same thing for outlying jurisdictions or with respect to PPTA proposals in general?

    Are we talking about a broader problem with respect to how developers embed themselves in government processes …

    or are we worried about something unique to NoVa and specific to the Dulles Rail project?

    Someone please lay out how the Dulles Rail issue is different from most any other new transportation proposal throughout the rest of Virginia.

    Here’s a hint.. compare the MetroWest issue to the Western Transportation Corridor issue.

    Tell me how the concerns are different and how MetroWest is unique.

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