Rail to Dulles: The Finger Pointing Begins

The Kaine administration is blasting the federal administrators who rejected $900 million in federal funding for the Rail-to-Dulles project, complaining that the Federal Transit Administration pulled an unexpected U-Turn. As Amy Gardner sums up the argument in the Washington Post:

Federal transportation officials gave incremental approvals to the proposed Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport on many of the same issues that they cited in rejecting it this week, according to letters, memos and interviews.

At several points in the past two years, Federal Transit Administration officials said the project was doing fine on cost and construction management, according to the correspondence and phone calls with Virginia officials.

But Thursday, the tone changed. FTA chief James S. Simpson declared the project unfit for federal funding. And he pointed to many of the issues that project officials and Virginia politicians had thought were settled and done with.

FTA officials respond that the project backers misread their comments of encouragement. Furthermore, on the critical issue of the project’s cost, the Kaniacs failed to deliver proof of cost cuts before the FTA’s decision-making deadline. Who’s to blame for the miscommunication? I don’t know.

But it is important to sort out responsibility for this fiasco. Virginia is on the hook for tens of millions of dollars of design and engineering costs that it could have saved had it not jumped the gun. The Kaine administration can’t be blamed for failing to salvage Dulles Rail because the project, under the current funding structure, is inherently unsalvageable. But the Kaniacs should be held to account for wasting those millions of dollars on design costs. How much was that number, by the way? Published figures do not say.

I raised a warning flag back in November. (See “Damn the Torpedos, Full Speed Ahead!”) When it was reported that design work would begin on the project even without formal FTA approval, I asked, “Isn’t that risky? After all, the Federal Transit Administration has expressed significant reservations about the project. Federal funding, which would pay roughly 25 percent of the project cost, is hardly guaranteed.” Somehow, I got the message, and I’m nothing but a two-bit pundit. On the other hand, I was paying attention. Apparently those who were determined to push the project through were not.

At the risk of repeating previous posts, it’s time to stop the finger pointing. This incarnation of Rail to Dulles is dead. The Kaine administration needs to dust itself off and start working on transportation alternatives for Tysons Corner and the Dulles corridor. There are alternatives, and there’s little time to waste.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    One thing we might be about to find out and that is … is the new Transportation Authority going to step up to the plate since they do have discretion over where the new taxes get spent … or are they going to follow in their NVTA father’s steps and function as a road-advocacy group?

    Batter UP!

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Let the lawsuits begin!

  3. The Post wrote the day before that Kaine intended to take money out of the state’s transportation fund for his own priorities the blogger at http://politicalady.blogspot.com citing this article wonders if Kaine ever had any intention of improving transporting anywhere in the state.

  4. Rtwng Extrmst Avatar
    Rtwng Extrmst

    Killing rail to Dulles is an admirable goal. Kudos to the Feds on this one.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Rail to Dulles was a good idea that got derailed by rail to Tyson’s.


  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Everyone who thinks that Rail to Dulles is truly dead and will never happen – stand up.

    Watching man on the street interviews, one thing comes across loud and clear and that is that most people think that METRO to Dulles is fundamentally a good idea.

    RH stated in another thread the idea that transportation projects serve both citizen mobility and development equally .. that they can’t separate them.

    I think this fiasco is the perfect example of what happens to a basic mobility proposal when developers get involved in it for their own self interests…

    I think TMT got it right.

    Plan and build the rail line.

    Let developers make proposals
    to “hook-up” to it.. fine.. put together a consortium and pay all associated costs for your station and associated TOD per Fairfax design and LOS standards.

    We’ve seen very similar fiascoes with highway projects and interchanges also.

    Anytime tax dollars are involved transportation infrastructure – there are those who see it as a business opportunity especially if they can get the tax money spent on things to benefit development.

    I suspect the changes necessary to save this .. involve getting rid of the current private-interest players… go back .. get new players via competitive bids and let development interests pay their own freight.

  7. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    Monday’s Washington Post identifies Carlyle Infrastructure Fund as the private investor who wants to pay for Rail to Dulles.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    JW — I think that, when Carlyle looks at the details of the project, it will walk away from paying for Rail to Dulles, unless it can void the no-bid contract and believes that the tunnel can be dug and constructed for much less than the current price. And even then, it would be foolish.

    Adding four Tysons stops degrades rail service to or from Dulles Airport. Metro cars are not conducive to the transport of passenger luggage. Indeed, most commuters scowl when one or more Reagan National Airport passenger brings typical luggage aboard the train. Are some Asian or European business travelers really going to ride Metro to and from Dulles?

    The elevated line will be an eyesore in an already ugly and dysfunctional Tysons Corner. Reston, Herndon, Dulles, Arlington, Alexandria and Ashburn are generally regarded as more attractive than Tysons Corner. Adding mega-density and massive increases in auto traffic will not enhance Tysons Corner as the address of choice.

    Unlike the Roslyn-Ballston corridor, Tysons is hemmed by major, over-used highways (the Beltway and the DTR) and does not have grid streets to provide reasonable ingress and egress.

    Fairfax County believes that, at best, 17-20% of all new trips to and from Tysons will be rail trips. That means 80-83% of all new trips will be be automobile. Tysons Corner has around 45 million square feet of development today. The most extreme proposal for added development would result in at total of around 120 million square feet of development. That would be about 166% more development at Tysons than there is today. Then consider that 80-83% of all trips to and from a Tysons Corner that is 166% bigger than today will be by automobile.

    Why would the Carlyle Group spend billions of dollars to serve this type of urban disaster?

    It barks and has rabies.


Leave a Reply