Rail-to-Dulles Gets Fairfax Nod, Hurdles Remain

by James A. Bacon

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has just voted to confirm the county’s participation in Phase 2 of the $2.7 billion Rail-to-Dulles project. (See press release.)

The county’s share of Phase 2 will be $330 million raised through a tax on Phase 2 District property owners equal to 25 cents per $100. Additionally, under the revised financial deal worked out under the auspices of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the county also will make its “best efforts” to find additional funds to pay for the Route 28 station and two station parking garages.

The prepared statement did not make it clear where those funds might come from. If the county fails in its “best efforts” to locate the money — I believe but need to confirm — the burden would fall back upon drivers on the Dulles Toll Road. But a recent analysis by the Reston 2020 Committee demonstrated that higher tolls on the Dulles Toll Road would chase drivers onto other county roads, aggravating traffic congestion.

In a statement posted on her Facebook page, Bulova acknowledged the problem with toll rates. “This is something that I am working hard to address and am hopeful that funding from the General Assembly for this purpose will be forthcoming.”

However, there is considerable resistance in the General Assembly to the proposal, advanced mainly by Senate Democrats, to having the commonwealth borrow an additional $300 million (over and above $150 million in funds already allocated) to buy down the cost of the tolls.

The problem is simple: The state has tapped out its extra borrowing capacity when the General Assembly agreed to Governor Bob McDonnell’s plan to accelerate and expand the commonwealth’s transportation bond issues. The state will issue $3.4 billion in transportation-related bonds during McDonnell’s four-year term. If it issues any more debt, it threatens the state’s AAA bond rating.

Del. James L. LeMunyon, R-Chantilly, put it this way in an April 3 email he wrote to a Loudoun County official (which I was copied on later in later transmissions):

I am informed by the House Appropriations Committee (HAC) staff that the Commonwealth is already at its bonding capacity limit based on capping principal and interest payments for all state debt at 5% of general fund revenue and certain other revenue.  If the $3 billion bond limit were to be increased to $3.3 billion as is proposed by the Senate, the additional bonds could not be issued without exceeding the 5% cap, unless other existing bonds were paid off. I am informed by the HAC staff that it will take at least three years for this to occur.

LeMunyon also argued that if the state had $300 million to spare, the funds would be better spent on priorities other than Dulles Rail, although he did not specify which ones.

Two major hurdles remain before Phase 2 is officially back on track. First, the new financial arrangement must be approved by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. And second, to release $150 million promised by the state, the McDonnell administration must set aside its objections to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board’s decision to favor union Project Labor Agreements in the bidding process.

Update: Some of the information conveyed in LeMunyon’s email was inaccurate. Authorizing the $300 million for Rail-to-Dulles would not push Virginia over its 5% debt service/revenue ratio. The state currently has some $460 million in unused debt capacity, according to Anne Oman a member of the House Appropriations Committee staff. The problem is that there are insufficient transportation revenues to coved the added debt in a manner commensurate with state code.

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  1. DJRippert Avatar

    I thought these rich landowners didn’t pay for anything. What’s this about $330M?

    As for the PLAs – let me offer an alternative to the evil conspiracy theory around the MWAA. Maybe the Obama Administration is putting pressure on the MWAA to include PLAs. Let’s see – the feds are fronting a big part of the money while the state is barely participating. Maybe the feds ought to get what they want. Maybe Bobby Boy has put himself between a rock and a hard place by threatening to scuttle a deal over PLAs when Richmond is barely in the deal to start. More fine work from the Clown Show in Richmond.

    Raising tolls will force people to surface streets? You don’t say. Will raising the beltway congestion tolls to over a $1/mi force people on surface streets? Or, are overpriced congestion tolls magic?

    Finally, I love the Clown Show. They are barely participating in the deal yet they are the biggest whiners around. They complain about an unelected MWAA while ignoring and unelected and non-representative CTB. Unbelievable.

    1. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

      There is no federal funding for Phase 2 (especially anything dependent on the use of a PLA). The pro-PLA Obama order/Big Labor handout applies to federal construction projects only managed by federal agencies (not federally assisted projects like the Silver Line), although recipients of federal assistance (like MWAA) can now mandate PLAs (PLA mandates on federally assisted projects had been prohibited under the Bush executive order from 2001-2009, which demonstrated you don’t need PLA mandates to build large-scale projects – it saved money, time and ensured fairness in federal and federally assisted contracting).

      The only federal funding in Phase 2 is the money the FTA has given to Fairfax to build the garages and RTE 28 station via TIFIA loans. Fairfax is picking up the tab for these costs (allegedly) because MWAA’s financials are such a mess the FTA couldn’t give TIFIA money to MWAA. They would receive more bang for their buck giving it to Fairfax. It is unclear how much the TIFIA loans save Fairfax and if Fairfax can frind the money for those projects.

      Why not get more bang for taxpayer dollars by dropping the PLA mandate?

      Of note, when MWAA and the media says they have trimmed the cost of the project to get it closer to original budget, all they really did was abandon the more expensive below ground Dulles station and shift costs to the local stakeholders.

  2. DJR – first, the BoS made the right decision. It would be foolish to stop rail in Reston. It needs to go to the airport. MWAA needs to walk from the mandatory PLA.
    I think you comparison of DTR tolls and HOT Lanes tolls doesn’t work. If one does not want to pay DTR tolls, one needs to drive on other roads, take transit or work from home. The Reston Citizens Association estimates the high tolls will cause 30,000 daily would abandon the DTR because of higher tolls. Where will they go? Fairfax County needs to answer this question. We also need to know the impact on the bond repayment plan.
    One has more choices to avoid HOT Lanes tolls. In addition to the same ones available to DTR drivers, drivers wishing to avoid HOT Lanes tolls can drive the general purpose lanes.
    Finally, I would like to see the CTB disbanded.

  3. DJRippert Avatar


    The MWAA does need to walk from the mandatory PLAs so long as they can keep the federal support after they walk away. As far as I know, Bob McDonnell still has the anti-PLA bill on his desk. Why hasn’t he signed it? He’s not afraid of the MWAA. However, he might be afraid of losing federal support.

    I think the DTR toll hike would create a more sudden problem. People would avoid the road although I think it’s very hard to determine how many. The HOT lanes on the Beltway will just be a slower death. As the free Beltway continues to congest commuters will think about alternatives. A couple of big, fat EZPass bills will quickly convince them to abandon that idea. Then, they’ll move to surface streets in dribs and drabs. I already bypass the Beltway in favor of surface streets during rush hour. Shreve Rd is a favorite cut through. I’m not going to rack up $20 daily tolls. I’ll just hit the surface streets more often. So will many other people.

    Ridiculously high tolls on a very few roads just won’t work. Beyond being grossly unfair to the commuters who pay their full share of taxes and more they all but guarantee surface street cut throughs. And you know what the next shoe to fall will be – neighborhoods insisting that their surface streets be blocked into cul de sacs to prevent their use as high speed, high volume cut throughs.

    The Clown Show in Richmond has had 26 years to get transportation funding straight. Yet, in all those years they just let the problem build and build. Now they want to punish a very small percentage of drivers in NoVa and Tidewater for their own gross incompetence. As I’ve told one of my state politician pals – you need to start distancing yourself from these absurdly expensive tolls right now. You will not want to be associated with the $300 per month EZPass bills when they start showing up in the mail. Better to start blaming the Republicans for transportation incompetence right now. They refused to index the gas tax. They caused the problem. Don’t vote for them. Very simple.

  4. DJRippert Avatar

    Of course, if the state government had any sense they’d jam land use restrictions down Fairfax and Loudoun’s throats as quid pro quo for financial support. Take on debt today but revert the debt to the counties if the high density TOD doesn’t appear.

  5. The problem with your logic is that Tim Kaine is the person responsible for the high tolls on the DTR. As Governor, Kaine, without seeking approval from the General Assembly, transferred control over the Dulles Toll Road from VDOT to MWAA and his CTB approved increased tolls on the DTR as the state’s contribution to the construction costs for Dulles Rail, along with a previously approved $50 M capital contribution.
    Kaine took huge amounts of campaign contributions from Tysons landowners and developers and, in turn, rewarded them with a funding plan for rail that eventually resulted in the full funding agreement with FTA. That, in turn, was the trigger for the BoS to approve changes in the Comp Plan for Tysons that were dependent on rail. Our local officials, led by Congressman want-to-be Gerry Connolly did not object. They did not ask for cash from the CTB or insist the DTR concession be sold to a private party for cash that could have been used to construct rail or even ask for a local gas tax increase. We all pay sales tax on gas that goes to fund transit. Why not ask for it to be increased?
    One more time, the villains are not people from Amelia County, Henrico County or Virginia Beach. The people who sold out the DTR drivers were local officials. Couple this with a project that, without the feds closing their eyes, is not cost-effective to the extent necessary to earn federal funding and we have a big expensive mess. We are too far down the road to stop. But the fault the mess chiefly lies with Fairfax County elected officials. They gave the landowners what they wanted and the DTR drivers are now stuck with the bill, courtesy of Tim Kaine.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      “The people who sold out the DTR drivers were local officials.”.

      “The problem with your logic is that Tim Kaine is the person responsible for the high tolls on the DTR.”.

      Your comment is only 3 paragraphs long. How many contradictions should it contain?

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      Despite the contradictions in TMT’s screed – I do have to give him credit for persistance. His comments always offer the same list of bad guys – Democratic Governors, Fairfax County BoS, Democratic Congressmen, “vampire squid” landowners. It’s good fiction and somewhat entertaining if a bit formulaic.

      Let’s look at a few points:

      “As Governor, Kaine, without seeking approval from the General Assembly, transferred control over the Dulles Toll Road from VDOT to MWAA and his CTB approved increased tolls on the DTR as the state’s contribution to the construction costs for Dulles Rail, along with a previously approved $50 M capital contribution.”.

      Here is the press release where the CTB agreed to hike tolls on the DTR to pay for Metro (Feb 17, 2005) …


      I believe Mark Warner was governor on that date, not Tim Kaine.

      Likewise, the decision to outsource the RTD project was made well before Tim Kaine took office. Five private companies and MWAA made proposals. Here is the MWAA proposal:


      None of the private companies nor the MWAA had taxing authority. None of them were going to build the project for free. The fact that MWAA was selected is irrelevent to the fact that tolls were going to be increased one way or another regardless of which proposal was selected.

      The actual (irrelevent) decision to award the contract to MWAA was made March 27, 2006 – a few months after Tim Kaine assumed office. The eight year lead up to that decision spanned the administrations of both Jim Gilmore and Mark Warner.

      TMT, like most Tea Party types, loves the use of Gerry Connolly as a foil for all that’s wrong in the world. Connolly is more or less our region’s version of Ted Kennedy to the local Republicans. Of course, as people bash Gerry Connolly for “failure to object” they forget that the Congressman through whose district Phase 2 really runs is long time Republican (and Rip Van Winkle imitator) Frank Wolf. Now, Wolf has been in Congress since Christ was in high school so you’d think he might have some level of effectiveness. However, you’d be wrong. Useless as a brazziere to a bull, Frank Wolf only woke up long enough to start complaining about the toll road hikes in the last few months. On March 9, 2012 Frank Wolf awoke from his annual hibernation to discover that Phase 2 through his district would be funded via tolls. He then immediately issued a series of always effective letters complaining about the tolls without any thought as to alternative funding sources. His idiotic letters can be seen here:


      As usual, the Party of No has No Answers.

      Finally, Jim Bacon and TMT revel in complaining about the MWAA and its board members. However, there is one board member (and Vice Chair) that seems impervious to the rants and sputtering, clenched teeh, spittle flying invective from JAB and TMT – Tom Davis. Yes, that Tom Davis. The long term Republican Congressman (now retired) from Northern Virginia.

      Funny how Rep. Davis (Ret) never figures into the hysterics of the Tea Party’s frozen in place arguments. Gerry Connolly “failed to object” but Tom Davis, a member of the MWAA board, is as pure as the driven snow.

      The Republicans in Virginia form the heart and soul of the Clown Show in Virginia.

      1. Don the Ripper makes a good point about Tom Davis. I have to ask, where was Tom Davis during all of these deliberations? As I recall, he was the “no” vote on more than one occasion. But he never raised a stink, never rocked the boat and, as far as I can tell, never asked the tough questions that bloggers and citizen activists are asking now. Perhaps it’s his style to work behind the scenes. I don’t know. But he deserves as much scrutiny as all the others.

  6. […] Rebellion continues their great reporting on the Metro to Dulles boondoggle.  In his latest post Jim Bacon tells us that Fairfax County has approved this mess, but will pay for most of their share by taxing the property owners who stand to benefit the […]

  7. […] interesting column on the mess that is Phase II. Rail-to-Dulles Gets Fairfax Nod, Hurdles Remain | Bacon's Rebellion Good comments there too, like this one, "One more time, the villains are not people from […]

  8. HardHatMommy Avatar

    I’ve missed something. What federal money is going into Phase 2? I thought Phase 2 failed to pass the federal government’s litmus test to receive funding. Isn’t 75% of this paid for by DTR and the remainder by the counties with a little bit kicked in from MWAA?

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      My understanding is that the question of funding from the Federal Transit Authority was still open. However, I read the list of bills vetoed by Bob McDonnell and the anti-PLA bill was not on the list. Therefore, I assume he signed it. We’ll see if that gets MWAA to back off from their position.

  9. DJR – Had Gerry Connolly and other local Fairfax officials objected to the CTB’s funding plan or transfer of the DTR to MWAA, do you really think Kaine would have followed through?

    1. Groveton Avatar

      Nobody objected, TMT. Nobody. They are ALL cowards. Why do you focus on Gerry Connolly. Did Vince Callahan object? Did Frank Wolf object? Did Tom Davis object?

      Why would Gerry Connolly object? The Fairfax County BoS just approved the tax district funding for the plan yesterday. If they wanted to kill the plan, they could have done so without any interference from the long departed Gerry Connolly.

      Fairfax County wants Rail To Dulles. Since the jackass Republicans in the Clown Show have frozen the gas tax relative to inflation for the last 26 years, the transportation chaos has just gotten worse and worse. Times are despearate. That’s what happens when you get gross incompetence and culpable negligence from the RPV. No other state (except oil drenched Alaska) has frozen their gas tax since 1986. Every other state understands the need to keep transportation funding in line with inflation. Every state except Virginia. As usual, the reactionary pin heads in the Republican Party of Virginia are complete, radical outliers on this. BTW – Have you guys decided how many pull ups a woman should be forced to do before she’s allowed to have an abortion?

  10. The problem with transportation in Virginia has been caused by local governments approving more real estate development than can be handle. Here is the legislative intent from the Code.
    15.2-2200. Declaration of legislative intent. This chapter is intended to encourage localities to improve the public health, safety, convenience and welfare of its citizens and to plan for the future development of communities to the end that transportation systems be carefully planned; that new community centers be developed with adequate highway, utility, health, educational, and recreational facilities; that the need for mineral resources and the needs of agriculture, industry and business be recognized in future growth; that residential areas be provided with healthy surroundings for family life; that agricultural and forestal land be preserved; and that the growth of the community be consonant with the efficient and economical use of public funds.
    State law on zoning ordinances. § 15.2-2283. Purpose of zoning ordinances.
    Zoning ordinances shall be for the general purpose of promoting the health, safety or general welfare of the public and of further accomplishing the objectives of § 15.2-2200. To these ends, such ordinances shall be designed to give reasonable consideration to each of the following purposes, where applicable: . . . (vi) to protect against one or more of the following: overcrowding of land, undue density of population in relation to the community facilities existing or available, obstruction of light and air, danger and congestion in travel and transportation, or loss of life, health, or property from fire, flood, impounding structure failure, panic or other dangers;
    Here’s the law on cash proffers. § 15.2-2303.2. Proffered cash payments and expenditures. . . . C. Regardless of the date of rezoning approval, unless prohibited by the proffer agreement accepted by the governing body of a locality pursuant to § 15.2-2298, 15.2-2303, or 15.2-2303.1, a locality may utilize any cash payments proffered for any road improvement or any transportation improvement that is incorporated into the capital improvements program as its matching contribution under § 33.1-23.05. For purposes of this section, “road improvement” includes construction of new roads or improvement or expansion of existing roads as required by applicable construction standards of the Virginia Department of Transportation to meet increased demand attributable to new development. For purposes of this section, “transportation improvement” means any real or personal property acquired, constructed, improved, or used for constructing, improving, or operating any (i) public mass transit system or (ii) highway, or portion or interchange thereof, including parking facilities located within a district created pursuant to this title. Such improvements shall include, without limitation, public mass transit systems, public highways, and all buildings, structures, approaches, and facilities thereof and appurtenances thereto, rights-of-way, bridges, tunnels, stations, terminals, and all related equipment and fixtures.
    With the possible exception for the new Tysons Comp Plan, for which the jury is still out, Fairfax County has not done this.
    The law strongly suggests the costs for Dulles Rail should largely be paid by those real estate developments that create the demand for Dulles Rail. But that doesn’t happen.
    I would be more than willing to pay higher gas taxes, but only when local government stops approving land use changes without ensuring transportation needs are addressed (in plain language, enactment of a citizen-enforceable adequate public facilities law) and when new development pays for “meet increased demand attributable to new development.” I suspect I am not alone.
    But the easy way is to let the County off the hook; let the developers off the hook; blame VDOT; blame the General Assembly; blame RoVA; demand the pizza delivery boy pay higher gas taxes. Get some more of Other People’s Money.
    We need laws that enable local residents to go to court to enforce adequate public facility laws and to force local governments to negotiate and collect proffers, cash or in-kind, that cover the costs of the additional public facilities needed to serve the additional demand for such facilities. Get this on the books , and sign me up for another 25 cents per gallon gas tax. But until then, I’ll keep my money.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      “The problem with transportation in Virginia has been caused by local governments approving more real estate development than can be handle.”.

      You have no factual basis for that statement. You have never offered even the flimsiest evidence that the localities in Virginia are more “development centric” than the localities in any other state (where the population is growing).

      I have provided many factual points regarding the failure of our state government with respect to transportation. Chief among those points is the simple fact that 48 states have increased their gas tax to keep pace with inflation more recently than Virginia. The only state to lag further behind is Alaska – which has so much oil exploration money that they don’t have an income tax and provide stipends to their citizens. In other words, practically speaking, Virginia is the state government too stupid to keep transportation revenues up with inflation over the past 26 years.

      You rail against Fairfax County’s BoS but suddenly there are big tolls being proposed for Tidewater as well. Did the Fairfax County BoS dictate development rules in Tidewater? Is there a conspiracy of localities? Or, has the gross incompetence of our state government finally caught up with the second fastest growing area in the state?

      You want to know why Northern Virginia and Tidewater are traffic disasters and Charlotte isn’t? It’s because the state motor fuel tax in North Carolina is 30.2 cents per gallon and the tax in Virginia is 19.4 (total tax minus federal tax of 18.4 cents). It has nothing to do with differences between the localities in Virginia and North Carolina.

      Here’s North Carolina’s gas tax policy:

      ““Other Taxes” columns include 0.25-cpg inspection tax. Excise tax consists of a 17.5 cpg flat rate plus a variable wholesale price component or 7% of the average wholesale price of motor fuel during the preceeding 6-month base period. The variable wholesale component is 25 cents per gallon.”.

      You see how it’s linked to inflation, TMT? That’s why transportation in Virginia sucks while North Carolina is well run. That’s it and nothing more.

  11. DRJ – I agree that every elected official, with the exceptions of Pat Herrity and Ken Cuccinelli (as senator), never raised a peep with respect to the construction of Dulles Rail. Local officials from both parties sang the song and did not address any issues. They did their best to carry water for Bechtel, the Tysons landowners and the like. What if they had gone to the public and laid out the many benefits and substantial costs for rail and asked people what they wanted to do? What if they had said, VDOT does not estimate any significant improvement on local roads due to the arrival of Dulles Rail? What if they had said, most of the costs will be borne by local drivers on the DTR and that tolls will soon explode? Would people have listened? Would people have cared? I don’t know. But if public officials would be required to make the same level of disclosure that a business must make to raise funds from investors, we’d have a much better government and fewer boondoggles.

  12. DJR
    “The problem with transportation in Virginia has been caused by local governments approving more real estate development than can be handle.”.
    “You have no factual basis for that statement.”
    I do. I heard Sharon Bulova state this in her remarks to the McLean Citizens Association in May 2010. Chairman Bulova told the attendees that too often Fairfax County approved the development and the needed infrastructure (mainly transportation) never came. Traffic just got worse. Then she stated that the County and the BoS were going to try to do things differently with Tysons by tying levels of development to specific transportation improvements. I have also heard Planning Commissioners Walter Alcorn, Ken Lawrence and Jay Donahue make similar statements at the Planning Commission’s Tysons Committee public meetings. They also talked about how Tysons must be handled differently.
    I have heard Supervisors Linda Smyth and John Foust make similar statements in meetings in Supervisor Foust’s office.
    It would be hard to deny that the County has approved development and left VDOT to build the roads. And we have several public officials admitting this has occurred in the past, such that we have all suffered because of it. But it also seems that the the existing BoS has made a major effort not to do this any more. The Plan adopted for Tysons ties specific density levels to specific transportation improvements. Finally, we are seeing what the statutes have mandated for years begin to occur.
    Are things perfect? Certainly not. But we are seeing some county officials fessing up that things have not worked out in the past. They know our transportation problems include, but are greater than, just a shortage of money. We need a entire package of changes in state law, along with additional revenues, in order to make any progress on transportation. Citizens understand it. It’s too bad most business operators don’t. The latter continue to wear blinders in their quest to get the Pizza delivery guy to subsidize them.

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