Kaine’s Defense of the Dulles Toll Road “Giveaway”

I’m generating remarkably little response for my commentary on what amounts to the most important executive decision made by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine in his young administration: the decision to give the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority significant control over the Dulles Toll Road and the Rail-to-Dulles Metro extension. But readership be damned. Some things just need writing about.

In a post made yesterday, I characterized the Kaine administration’s response to Speaker William J. Howell’s criticisms of the “Dulles Toll Road Giveaway Plan” as saying, in effect, “Trust us, we know what we’re doing.” The administration’s responses to that point did not address the substance of Howell’s charges.

Today, Kevin Hall from the Governor’s press office, has responded with substantive comments. (For those who need a refresher on the Speaker’s charges, you can read the press release here, and a transcript of the press conference here.) I post Hall’s comments here verbatim, without commentary:

1. A comprehensive review of the PPTA proposals and the MWAA proposal was conducted, and the MWAA proposal presented the most value for Virginia – by far. The MWAA proposal will support $4 billion in transportation improvements in the Dulles Corridor. The MWAA proposal was the only one that guaranteed completion of the rail project to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County.

2. The agreement does not stop private sector competition. To the contrary, it specifically requires MWAA to consider private sector proposals for HOT lanes and other highway congestion management strategies. The agreement establishes rail as the first priority in the corridor, consistent with the 30-year vision of the region.

3. The agreement guarantees that the entire rail extension will be constructed, and will accelerate completion of the entire project all the way to the Airport and Loudoun County. Virginia and MWAA share the primary goal of ensuring mobility in the Dulles Corridor. And the agreement does not vest land use authority with MWAA. That authority remains solely with the localities.

4. All of the four private sector plans included cash payments for the rail project. The MWAA proposal represented by far the largest financial contribution to the Metrorail project. But I would suggest the region does not need “cash on the table”– it needs improvements on the ground. The private sector highway proposals may
very well have merit, but these will require considerable time to evaluate to determine if they meet state and federal planning criteria. On a project of this magnitude, every year of delay equates to at least $100 million in additional cost due to inflation and increasing construction costs alone.

5. On the toll issue, it is important to note that the private sector proposals also would require toll increases. I would suggest that MWAA is a known quantity in Northern Virginia, operating and rebuilding two major aiports and the Dulles Access Road, as well as providing free right-of-way for the Dulles Toll Road. They have been instrumental in numerous regional mobility initiatives since their inception nearly two decades ago – bringing the blue line to National Airport and opening the Dulles Access Road to transit providers.

6. Opportunties for additional federal most definitely were not “abandoned.” Federal funding for the 2nd phase of this project has never been guaranteed.

7. We look forward to providing additional information to the members of the General Assembly. Many of the legislators in the corridor, from both parties, wrote to endorse the proposal. All of the legislators from the corridor, as well as members of Congress from the region, joined the Governor at the press conference to announce the agreement.

8. As for Delegate Albo’s suggestion that Virginia look to a recent toll-road concession agreement in Indiana, I would merely say the MWAA agreement will result in $4 billion in transportation improvements in the Dulles Corridor. The Indiana agreement, for example, only returns 34% of the revenue to the corridor in which it is generated. Governor Kaine opposes using toll road revenues from the Dulles corridor to support projects in other parts of the Commonwealth.

9. Virginia is a recognized national leader in public private partnerships and employs nationally renowned advisors to help evaluate complex proposals of this nature. Our record on PPTAs and the business merits of this proposal speak for themselves. Each PPTA-type proposal is different and needs to be considered on its own merits.

Now we have some substantive statements to dig into. Comments anyone?

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One response to “Kaine’s Defense of the Dulles Toll Road “Giveaway””

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Here is an op/ed that recently ran in the Fairfax Times. It addresses one of the major ramifications of Governor Kaine’s decision.

    Airports deal leaves too much federal money on the table
    By Bill Vincent

    Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-at large) is right to be concerned that Fairfax County will not have a seat at the table when the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) starts raising tolls to pay for Dulles Rail. The rest of the county ought to be very concerned as well.
    The MWAA deal replaces roughly 1 billion federal dollars, previously anticipated for phase two of rail, with dollars taken from workers, families and businesses that rely on the Dulles Toll Road. Just how much is taken will be decided by MWAA, a largely unaccountable body whose real job is to worry about airports, not transit. Most MWAA board members are not even appointed by Virginia.

    Some call the MWAA deal “leadership.” It looks more like panic.

    Under the proposal, we give up federal support for phase two, even though a 50-percent federal match is routinely available. This “deal” is being forced upon us because phase two is not likely to win federal support.

    In a region that claims to be starved for transportation funds, it is fair to ask what our leaders are thinking. Leaving federal support on the table is both unacceptable and unnecessary.

    We can design a transit project that qualifies for 50-percent federal funding—cities do it all the time. The Federal Transit Administration recommended 16 projects for grants in fiscal 2007, and most of them received 50 percent or more in federal funds.

    A bus rapid transit (BRT) option was previously in the pipeline for federal funding and could have been built by now had it not been killed by rail advocates. Options like BRT can provide better service than the current rail plan, at a fraction of the cost, and will win federal funding. We ought to be taking another look before it is too late.

    Gov. Tim Kaine (D) recently called this suggestion “paralysis by analysis.” Indeed, rail has been studied extensively over the last decade, and many are eager to just get on with it. But the loss of a billion dollars in federal funding is not some minor point to dismiss with clever rhetoric, especially when the money will be taken out of our pockets instead.

    The need to re-examine ought to be painfully obvious in light of the chronic cost increases that have plagued phase one, the portion that runs through Tysons Corner. Even this section could lose federal funding without major surgery, like cutting pedestrian bridges and railcars and building an ugly elevated line instead of a tunnel. Surgery is risky, and a multibillion-dollar transit system that blights the skyline and lacks both safe access and adequate train cars does not sound like much of a bargain.

    The MWAA deal forces a decision. Either we give up and pay a billion or more extra dollars out of our own pockets for a substandard system, or we fight for a project that will get us the federal support we deserve and the robust service we need. The governor and Fairfax County apparently want to give up. I say we fight.

    Bill Vincent served in the U.S. Department of Transportation during the Clinton administration and currently helps run the Breakthrough Technologies Institute, an environmental nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

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