Railroading the Rail-to-Dulles Project

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s decision to turn control of the Rail-to-Dulles project over to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is catching ack-ack fire from the Governor’s friends in the conservation community. Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, raises three weighty objections:

  1. “MWAA would be less accountable to the public because it is appointed and not elected.” The board could raise tolls and exercise eminent domain without accountability to voters. (See “Who Runs the MWAA?” Only five of 13 board members are appointed by Virginia’s governor.)
  2. “MWAA lacks experience in local land use and urban design.” The great challenge in successfully extending Metro to Dulles is integrating the Metro stations with local land use. Fairfax County’s authority and role in the project are not spelled out clearly.
  3. The MWAA’s primary interest is extending rail to Dulles Airport as soon as possible. That priority is not necessarily tops for Northern Virginia citizens, who have competing interests such as keeping a lid on taxes and tolls, and creating more liveable, balanced communities around the Metro stops.

Democracy is a messy business. But it beats handing over authority to an unaccountable board with its own institutional interests. If Gov. Kaine’s sole purpose is completing Rail-to-Dulles as quickly as possible, his decision may be a good one. If his purpose is finding a balance that works for citizens, his decision was questionable indeed.

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6 responses to “Railroading the Rail-to-Dulles Project”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    I drive the Dulles Toll Road often and today I noticed a lot of the bridges are being worked on – being upgraded to support Metro trains, perhaps?

  2. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Wait a minute. The board has a real estate expert, a securities expert, Til Hazel, and Norm Mineta. Stewart Schwartz saying these people know nothing about land use and urban design is a little bit of a stretch.

    Where is the expert that has designed an entire city and is willing to stand behind the results? Didn’t we just say on this blog recently that our current mess is the result of actions deliberately taken by previous “experts”?

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    As an appointed board, the MWAA is less accountable, or non accountable to citizens. That means it is also not subject to pressure from activists groups, which lessens Stewart Schwartz’ clout.

    The sooner the Metro and Metro stops get built, the sooner the coalition for smarter growth can start working on balanced communities around the Metro stops. What’s the problem?

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: appointed board and accountability.

    Ok – let’s parse this.

    VDOT, the CTB, The Washington Area MPO – TPB (Transportation Planning Board) as well as Metro – ALL make transportation decisions and as far as I know all of them are unelected also.

    In fact, hasn’t the accountability and responsivness of VDOT with respect to transportation decisions and priorities been at issue for quite some time, and, in fact, cited as a “trust” issue with respected to the failed NoVA Transportation Referenda?

    But consider also, that even elected officials can and do make decisions with such long-term consequences that voting them out of office becomes an after-the-fact futility?

    You can’t unbuild a road that voters didn’t want from the get-go.

    Proposed roads such as the Western Transportation Corridor were fiercely opposed, at least in part, because VDOT wanted approval of a line drawn on a map with the design “details” to be “worked out later”.

    So here’s an interesting thought. Would citizens have preferred that VDOT rather than MWAA call the shots?

    Okay.. don’t like that idea? How about ANY Private PPTA company (also unelected)? Is there any more or less assurance that they would carry out the wishes of citizens?

    Let’s pretend that everyone agrees to let the “smart growth” folks CHOOSE who should control.

    Who would they pick?

    What criteria would be used to determine the “fitness” of the entity selected to honcho the project … and how would you hold them accountable if that entity was not elected either?

    Isn’t this the same issue with respect to road proposals –
    especially when there is a desire to “fast-track” them.

    With road proposals, in fact, the FHWA and many DOTs have adopted a systematically thorough step-by-step process that utilizes collaborative community involvement (stakeholders) and what is called “context senstitive design” which is a fancy way of saying that the new road will “fit” and integrate with the terrain and land-uses around it – rather than dominate and change it in community-unacceptable ways.

    Perhaps I’m wrong but isn’t this the same issue with the Dulles Toll Road issue?

    Kaine clearly wants to “fast-track” the project.

    Conservationists are saying “wait a minute”.. if we are going to do this.. let’s do it right and not fall back to the old VDOT ways of fastracking projects.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    collaborative community involvement (stakeholders) and “context senstitive design” which is a fancy way of saying that everybody gets to object to anything and everything until all the fixes cost so much we can’t afford to build anything.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    People do get to object – but they are also put on the dime as to what they would agree to – and those that admit up front that they’re opposed to the concept itself.. essentially vote themselves out of the discussion.

    Those that remain… “work” the issue – finding points of agreement – until they have something that has group concurrence – not unanimous but agreement.

    Those that have hard-line philosophies – on either side of the issue are really not interested in compromise in the first place.

    Their deep held beliefs – pro-road or pro-transit or “pro” or “anti” anything really do not deserve a place at the table to start with – and they soon realize this in a collaboratve discussion environment.

    VDOT has a great deal of trouble with this concept because they are so convinced that their “plan” is the “right” plan and citizens will just screw it up.

    When ordinary people adopt their own version of VDOT philosophy, the same thing happens.

    Their stock answer is essentially to appoint a dictator-type authority to do “the right thing” and of course the “right thing” is what those who want the dictator also want.

    A community belongs to those in that community. It does not belong to VDOT. It does not belong to pro-road or anti-road or pro-transit or anti-transit people.

    Those who are truly interested in their community will make the hard compromises necessary to move it forward and realize that to not compromise is essentially to obstruct.

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