The Dulles Rail Financial Disaster Continues

Will Taxpayers Bail It Out?A guest column by Ronald D. Utt

Gosh, what a surprise! The yet to be completed 23-mile extension of the Metro rail line to Dulles airport is already confronting serious financial difficulties. Added to the money problems are a series of lapses in management’s performance and the revelation that flaws in the system’s design will discourage ridership and further diminish its currently projected marginal contribution to regional mobility. In response, the system’s manager – the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) – is seeking bailouts from the state of Virginia and from the federal government.

A Project Doomed to Fail. The only surprise in all of this is that the many people in charge of overseeing the project are surprised and disappointed by these revelations: As the record reveals, the mediocre performance of the system was predicted by the project’s own justification report submitted to the federal government in 20041, and recognized by the leadership of the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) during the Bush Administration who refused to fund the project until beaten into submission by Congress.

Consider the key findings of WMAA’s 2004 report to USDOT:

  • By the project’s completion in 2025, traffic volumes on the ten highway links in the corridor would be reduced by only 1.5 percent compared to levels that would occur without the extension.
  • This negligible gain in traffic relief would be erased by 2027, given projected trafficgrowth rates. In effect, an estimated $6 billion (in current dollars) would be spent for two years of trivial traffic relief.
  • As a consequence, net energy saving by 2025 (measured in energy saver per BTU, as car usage declines and transit usage rises) would be 0.5 percent for the full 23 mile project,while the Phase I (to Reston’s Wiehle Avenue) link of 11.7 miles of track would actually increase energy usage.

Importantly, given the new automobile mileage standards since adopted, and the proposed 54.5-mpg requirement, this projected energy savings may already have turned into a loss. Again, keep in mind that the data in the above three bullet points were provided by consultants to MWAA and submitted by them to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). To put this in perspective, the Heritage Foundation estimated that the cost per new rider attracted from a car
(daily rider annualized) exceeds $15,000. That is enough to lease each new Dulles rail transit rider two BMW 328i convertibles for life and still return a few thousand dollars back to the taxpayer. By this measure, the Dulles extension would be one of the most expensive new transit projects ever conceived. Read full essay.

Ronald D. Utt is the Herbert and Joyce Morgan Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. This essay is being published simultaneously by Bacon’s Rebellion and The Score Radio Network.

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34 responses to “The Dulles Rail Financial Disaster Continues”

  1. Another post from another member of the “Party of No”. If it isn’t the left wing loonies trying to stop progress in Charlottesville it’s the right wing loonies trying to stop progress in Northern Virginia.

    Let me give Mr. Utt a dose of reality. I am about to expand my business considerably. I will be hiring dozens of relatively inexperienced programmers and training them to be top flight database architects. By the end of 2012 I expect to have between 10 and 30 of these people on board at average salaries between $50,000 and $70,000. Given the level of experience I need I expect most applicants to be in their 20s. Needless to say, I will accept all applications from all qualified people regardless of age. I am merely explaining what I expect to receive based on prior efforts. These people will make considerably more money as time goes on. They will be among the software technology leaders of tomorrow. The plans will be finalized by Nov. 9. And, 2012 is just the first year. If we can pull this off, I’ll end up with hundreds on the payroll.

    I have lived in Northern Virginia all my life and would like to build this team in Northern Virginia. But I won’t. The reasons are complex but Mr. Utt’s commentary is a good indication of why I’ll do my hiring outside Virginia. Between the general Assembly which refuses to keep the gas tax level with inflation and people like Ronald “Dr No” Utt I have zero faith in the quality of life in Northern Virginia.

    I know a number of other technology people who are making similar decisions. One is hiring in Austin, another in Salt Lake City, They both have deep roots in Northern Virginia and they are both leaving because there is no hope to attract an keep talent in the disaster that Northern Virginia has become thans to the ineptitude of the General Assembly compounded by the nattering nabobs of negativism like Mr. Utt and Jim Bacon.

    The Commonwealth of Virginia is being destroyed by short-sighted and unimaginative people who stand away from the battle and complain about the combatants.

    Sad, utterly and totally sad.

  2. WOW! Groveton let go with both barrels… wow!

    of course, last I heard Mr. Utt also favors tolls and HOT lanes, eh?

    and of course “small government” Bob McDonnell apparently is supporting the Dulles Rail project.

    I would have expected Bob McDonnell to pull out of Dulles Rail according to his stated principles of not sucking on the govt teat… but apparently the milk is just too sweet, eh?

  3. Groveton Appears to have signed on to the “More Places” theory of traffic management. Or at least the “Other Places” theory.

    So, Groveton, you use a commmercial or a prorietary DB language?

    You thinking Outside of Nova, like Warrenton / Culpeper, or outside of Virginia, like Mumbai or Triangle Park?

    I used to feel guilty riding VRE: paying a $6 fare for a $28 ride.

  4. We write the database itself. We use Erlang to write the database. We have Java, Python, Ruby, C++ and .NET clients on the database.

    There is no alternative in Virginia beyond Northern Virginia. The skills just aren’t there and I need a real airport. Northern Virginia was Virginia’s last chance for the type of center I need to build and the General Assembly, Utt, Bacon, et al have seen that it won’t do.

    I’d rather retire than move the jobs overseas. I’ve seen far too much of that bullshit over the last 10 – 15 years.

    My choices are:

    Salt Lake City
    Oklahoma City

    I am willing to take relatively inexperienced people and train them. I need relatively good universities located near cities with real airports. I need a viable technology community without the endless poaching that goes on in Silicon Valley. I need a place that people want to live. I need a place where the salaries are reasonable.

    Northern Virginia fits the bill (thanks to the University of Maryland being in College Park) with the exception of being a place where people want to live. The political and pseudo-intellectual elite of Virginia have made sure that Northern Virginia is one of the least attractive places to live.

  5. Dulles Rail should have been built in the median of the Dulles Toll Road as was the original plan. Had that been done, we would most certainly have rail service to the Airport today and at much, much lower cost. Also, the line should have gone straight to the Airport with no other stations except those built by the landowners. If Tysons wants a station, the landowners could pay for it. Ditto for Reston & Herndon.
    The current plan is flawed. Imposition of tolls as high as $17 one-way will hurt business in the Dulles Corridor from Tysons to Ashburn. There is little stomach for any other funding sources. Both Fairfax and Loudoun will soon regret taking over some major station and parking structure costs.
    Similarly, we have approved and will approve growth within the Corridor that requires unaffordable increases to infrastructure. Even with taxpayers picking up 58% of the infrastructure costs, as proposed by Fairfax County staff and opposed by many residents and businesses in the county, the infrastructure costs to be paid by the landowners/developers will amount to more than $27 per square foot for what they are projected to build. I have seen a calculation that suggests monthly apartments rents would require a $375 per month premium over market rates for the landlords to make a reasonable and fair profit.
    In sum, we have a major mess on our hands, especially as the feds cut back on defense and security spending. (Business Week has a great series of articles on the defense spending issues.) There will be less demand for commercial property in Fairfax County, just as the burdens associated with Tysons and Dulles Rail begin to hit.
    IMO, both rail and urbanization are now hobbled by the get-rich-quick w/o really producing anything syndrome that permeated the decision-making process. Now what do we do with them?
    No one really has any good ideas. The Fairfax County BoS doesn’t. They kicked the can to the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission is struggling. The landowners/developers are not sure what might work. And most of the rest of the county is not interested in bailing out the messes.

  6. Boise has serious air quality issues…

    Portland is a mess…. IMHO.

    If you want young people, there are a number of other places out west such as Bend, Ore and Spokane, Wash… Butte, Mt… and Seattle/environs , Hood, Or, etc.

    All have a mother lodes of outdoor activities which in turn draw the young and mobile…

    in 3 short years.. it appears that Groveton has gone from “sweet” NoVa to “sour” NoVa, eh?

    and this year Groveton has gone from “getting ready to pack it in” to major expansion of company…

    interesting field – databases…. we used to call them DBMS… but now databases are embedded in just about every application that exists…

    in one of my prior lives – I had to justify to management why Oracle was a better choice than Ingress.. remember Ingress?

    it was technically a better DB but did not prioritize being able to sit on multiple platforms – big mistake…

  7. Wow, Groveton! You’re blaming the Rail-to-Dulles funding fiasco on the likes of me and the “pseudo-intellectual elite of Virginia “? You’ll have to explain that one to me.

    The braniacs who are managing the project have managed to rack up massive cost overruns. How is that my fault?

    The braniacs who assembled the financing for the project did not come up with enough money to pay for those cost overruns — other than by raising tolls for Dulles commuters. How is that my fault?

    The opposition to Rail-to-Dulles isn’t coming from downstate. Nobody’s covering the issue in Richmond, Norfolk or Roanoke. Ask 100 people their opinion of the project, and 99 won’t have one. The opposition is coming from residents of Fairfax and Loudoun who don’t want to get taxed anymore, and NoVa politicians who are terrified what Dulles Toll Road commuters will do when they start paying $12 per trip. Do you really blame that political reality upon the likes of me and my pseudo-intellectual brethren?

    If I’m guilty of anything, it’s pointing out the flaws in the project. So, go ahead and shoot the messenger! Here’s the thing — I believe Northern Virginia needs Rail-to-Dulles metro service. I’ve just argued that you have to devise a financing scheme in which those who benefit from the project are the ones who pay for it. Otherwise the political backlash will kill it.!

    So far, I’ve been right.

  8. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    I am with you 1,000 percent! Seriously! These conservative skinflints (no names need be mentioned) want to turn our country to the stone age.
    We’re talking about the major international airport for the capital of the United States for Chrissakes!
    These people want it to be the Carolina Trailways bus stop in Rocky Mount, N.C., all in the name of fiscal responsibility.

  9. Peter, it is expected that only about 6 or 7 percent of Dulles travelers will take rail to or from the airport. And not surprisingly, as it will take 45-60 minutes to go from the Airport to downtown D.C. It is 14 station stops just to Rosslyn. Also, passengers with luggage will need to wrestle it on a (hopefully) crowded commuter train.
    Dulles Rail has been about Tysons redevelopment density for years. Any honest (or semi-inebriated) politician will tell you that. The landowners and developers figured out that rail would give them more density than anything else. Some truly wanted to build good structures, but most only wanted a big FAR to flip to the next coming fool. Gerry Connolly rode Dulles Rail to Congress.
    If rail to Dulles were the goal, the line would have been built in the median of the Toll Road. It would be up and operating today.
    People in NoVA are starting to understand that Dulles Rail construction will put DTR tolls at excessive levels and those who use the DTR or whose employees do are starting to get very upset. In what should be a slam-dunk in a specially gerrymandered district, Senator Janet Howell has been put on the defensive about toll increases. And keep in mind that damn few of them know that development at Tysons will cause the DTR to become so crowded that as many as three to five more lanes may be necessary to handle the added traffic. And there is no money to build those extra lanes. MWAA has clearly stated it will not use tolls to build the new lanes. So pay $12, 15 , or 17 each way and have worse traffic. Wait til people understand that. They won’t give a rats %# about what foreign travelers think of D.C.
    Reasonable people can agree or disagree about the benefits of rail to Dulles, but what is out there is a disaster.

  10. Another thing that smells about Dulles Rail is that, despite being constructed under the public-private partnership law, there is NO private money involved. All funds come from the public, either taxes or tolls. Contrast the Beltway HOT lanes projects where Fluor-Lane/Transurban have made investments from their own bank accounts. The media have never discussed this point.

  11. From “Seward’s Folly” to the Big Dig – there are always naysayers.

    Once again, we have the Dulles travelers myth. Heard it all before when people talked about O’Hare. Surprise! Also, what about the thousands of employees who work at Dulles? Let me guess, they aren’t counted in the “Dulles traveler” totals? Surprise! What about building out around Dulles Airport? Great place for conferences between Americans and Europeans – see, also:DFW. Let me guess. Not considered.

    Northern Virginia is a freight-mare because nobody had the balls to do anything. Finally, a few gutsy people and organizations finally got off their duffs and acted and out come the naysayers. Complaints aplenty and solutions afew.

    Peter is right. Skinflints galore. No plans. No ideas. Just an anti-spending bias.

    How did your ancestors ever show the gumption to come here from England or where ever? I can only assume it was a long time ago and the “take action” DNA has worn out.

    Let’s hope Obama puts forth the expected $300B – $500B infrastructure stimulus package proposal tonight.

  12. Jim:

    Who elected you the spokesman for Dulles Toll Rd users? I actually use the road and will have to pay higher tolls. I am not complaining. Has anybody even bothered to ask the citizens of Fairfax and Loudon Counties? And I don’t mean two pseudo-conservative dolts who run to the much-hated court system every time they have a grudge. I mean the population at large?

  13. lord! Groveton thinks SS is a ponzi scheme and Dulles Rail is not?

    ummm…. I need to chew on that one a while….

    Bacon is correct. No one in Va gives a flying fip over Dulles…

    it’s the poor Smucks in NoVa that know in the end – that’s they going to be paying massive tolls (another Groveton complaint).. to pay for it.

    It would be one thing if there were just huge up-front capital costs for fixed rail – but once online it was an efficient critter.

    But we know once they get online – they turn into money pits…

    all those employees that Groveton wants to hire would not pay their allocated costs for Dulles Rail.. unless of course they paid road tolls ..

    so Groveton is all over the map here…

    he thinks SS is a Ponzi Scheme and Dulles Rail not… ouch!

  14. someone needs to tell Ron about that rug….


  15. The actuarial calculations around Social Security are well defined.

    The complaints and faux analysis around rail to Dulles is garbage.

    Bacon, TMT and Utt would have canceled the Alaska purchase and never started the Big Dig. I can only imagine that the Louisiana purchase would have looked very scary to these three. A simple calculation of the excessive tree density would have convinced them to give up on that “tax and spend” boondoggle.

  16. the calculations for urban fixed rail are too…. and they’re bad….

    why would you attack SS for known actuarial problems and ignore the realities of the operational costs of Metro?

    I find your positions on these not reconcilable.

    you’d prefer to not reform health care but you apparently think it’s fine for everyone to pay for METRO whether they use it or not.

    how do you reconcile these positions?

  17. Groveton – what do you think Dulles Rail brings in terms of traffic relief? Take a look at the Final EIS (Dec. 2004). Table 6.2-2 shows that only the Airport Access Road improves its level of service by 2025 than if nothing were built. The rest of the roads studied retain the same level of service that they would have in the event no rail was built. I didn’t prepare this. The government did. Traffic engineers did the study.
    We lack the density to make heavy rail work in the Dulles Corridor. And we cannot afford to build the infrastructure to support the necessary density. Heck, Fairfax County DOT engineers will tell you that much of Fairfax County doesn’t have the density to support frequent bus service.
    Rail will clearly attract passengers. Anyone who says it won’t is lying. But Fairfax County’s 527 study for Tysons shows that the transit modal split for Tysons will be less than the splits at Bethesda, the Rosslyn Ballston Corridor and much, much less than the K Street Corridor in D.C. And VDOT’s engineers commented that Fairfax County’s projections for transit use might well be overly optimistic. How much is this worth? Most likely not as much as we will all need to pay for the construction and operation of the Silver Line.
    Frank Wolf was correct years ago when he pushed BRT in the Dulles Corridor. Or, if we still want rail, the line should have stayed in the median of the Dulles Toll Road. We would have rail service to the Airport now and for billions less.

  18. trouble on the horizon……………..

  19. Well sure, don’t all employers in Northern Virginia want their employees to pay $34 in tolls every day to get to work and then get home again? Sheesh! The hypercompetent US DOT didn’t bat an eye saying that the Rt 28 station would cost $136 million. Oh, but wait – it will ‘only’ cost $83 million… (US DOT accidentally counted the parking garage with the station, while the garage was also counted elsewhere.) Yeah, they know what they are talking about. Meanwhile, a Metro station in Fairfield, Connecticut will cost $42.7 million, and the people there are upset at the cost overrun that made its cost that high. But the geniuses in this last hope for Virginia didn’t give it a second thought. Like cows chewing cud and staring… “Oh, $136 million? No, $83 million? Gee.” Chomp chomp chomp)

    SURE! Any business genius would LOVE to build a company in a frugal, low-cost location like Northern VA, with $17 tolls and billion dollar cost overrun after billion dollar cost overrun spewing from the likes of the MWAA. It makes perfect sense. And the databases can keep track of the cost overruns. Brilliant!

  20. TMT says that Fairfax is not dense enough for heavy rail! but apparently it’s too dense for auto-only mobility also.

    so what’s the answer?

    also… people don’t want to pay for the roads that would be needed to make NoVa less congested and instead prefer to blame the State….

    but people also don’t want to pay for rail….

    that’s at the root of Groveton’s frustration but he’s blaming the wrong people.

    NoVa’s problems are due to NoVa growth but NoVa won’t take responsibility for the transportation infrastructure and expects the State and the Feds (other taxpayers) to pay for their infrastructure.

    NoVa actually has been given the right to have an additional gas tax but it would have to be approved by referenda….

    “escaping” to other areas that have similar problems with growth and transportation (such as Austin and Portland)… they’ll have their own issues in a similar way. Austin is getting toll roads and Portland has tried restricting growth like Montgomery County, Maryland.

    all in all – people everywhere simply do not want to pay for mobility infrastructure and so politicians resort to subterfuge and cross-subsidies to fund.

    the staunch refusal of people to pay higher fuel taxes has directly led to toll a path of least resistance.. and it’s truly ironic, but not surprising that once politicians realized they could put in a toll road – that the “right” kind of a toll road could become a cash cow to fund…transit….

    that’s the plan with HOT Lanes also, the excess profits will go to fund METRO.

  21. The problem’s root cause is the state takeover of roads under Governor Byrd, while local government had control over land use decisions. What might have worked in a sleepy southern state fails regularly today. Local government approves more growth than can be supported by existing or scheduled to be constructed roads. Elected officials then blame the Dillon Rule and VDOT. “Gee I know this construction will clog Route X, but I have no choice but to approve this major new development. Richmond tied my hands. And VDOT should just build more roads.”
    The one ray of hope is the 527 Traffic Impact Analysis law that forces local governments/developers to analyze traffic impacts of land use changes whenever a project is projected to cause 5000 vehicle trips per day. The 527 TIA for Tysons pushed Fairfax County to approve a reasonably good plan for Tysons Corner. It put the new density at the four stations instead of spreading to every landowner in Tysons, which was the Task Force’s goal. The 527 process also yielded the famous/infamous Table 7 in the new Comp Plan for Tysons. Table 7 includes a price tag of more than $1.7 billion that must be spent by 2030. These road and non-rail transit costs are what is necessary to permit Dulles Rail to work as well I have described in earlier posts. The costs are also killers. Irrespective of how the costs are allocated between the private and public sectors, tax bills will rise. And our local elected officials just don’t know how to handle them. Also, if Fairfax County uses local taxes to fund some of these costs, they will also need to fund more transportation projects in the rest of the county. So how high will my real estate taxes go and for what? I thought you told me VDOT builds roads.”
    Putting costs on the landowners will drive up their costs and rents also. The existing staff proposal that makes local taxpayers fund most of the costs, when combined with proffers, requires an extra $375 per month rent for a typical apartment in Tysons. This would put rents 17% higher than rents for competitive alternatives. This is a huge burden on development in Tysons. In sum, all is not rosy in Fairfax County.

  22. the states where the DOT does not “do local roads” (46 states), including those “home rule” places have no handy excuses or DOT to blame when they approve development that craps up the transportation infrastructure.

    when both development and transportation are a local responsibility – the decisions get made differently and developers are less able to convince the local decision-makers that someone else will “fix” the roads.

    by the same token – NoVa wants Dulles Rail but they want the Feds and the State to not only fund it but subsidize it’s operation.

    the question is – should any urban area, like NoVa be expecting the State or the Feds to pay for their transportation infrastructure needs?

    TMT makes the case that when this happens – the responsibility for EFFECTIVE transportation solutions dilutes along with accountability.

    the airport authority apparently has no problem ripping the car commuters… and the govts of NoVa including Fairfax seem to be if not willing partners in that plan… not particularly concerned about it. If property taxes were going to be raised to pay for it – instead of road tolls.. accountability will be even more intense….

  23. MWAA is not the bad guy on the tolls for rail issue. That decision was made by the Commonwealth Transportation Board when VDOT still controlled the Dulles Toll Road. The CTB authorized higher tolls as the major part of the State’s contribution to Dulles Rail. But the real bad guys are Fairfax County elected officials who not only didn’t scream about the unfairness of dumping most of the construction costs on the DTR users, but strongly supported this as a way to get rail built (I mean density awarded).
    The biggest problem NoVA has is the people we elect to office who so often sell out their constituents. But even there, we are the ones who elect to remain ignorant on the facts, prefer to believe the PR; and vote for the ones doing the sell-outs.
    A good example can be seen in the 2004 Mark Warner tax increases. Both Steve Shannon and Chap Petersen were withholding their support in an attempt to get the additional K-12 money allocated on a per-student basis, which, in the grand scheme of things, would have been a huge victory. But did the Democrats on the BoS or the County Chamber of Commerce support them and urge them to keep firm? Hell no! They all pushed for the tax increase without the additional education money. We saw the enemy and it was us.

  24. “by the same token – NoVa wants Dulles Rail but they want the Feds and the State to not only fund it but subsidize it’s operation.”.

    Kind of like NoVa subsidizes the state’s operation by paying far more in state taxes that it receives in state funding?

    As usual, the disingenuous argument in parts.

  25. ” Kind of like NoVa subsidizes the state’s operation by paying far more in state taxes that it receives in state funding?”

    that’s a nice excuse but no data to show it. If anything NoVa gets more transportation money than it generates NOT INCLUDING the Feds ADDITIONAL support of Dulles rail… what was it a billion dollars?

    that alone is worth $500 for every man, woman and child in NoVa or about $300 per household.

    then you have the Springfield interchange..600 million… and WW bridge 2 billion…

    and NoVa’s big economy comes form govt spending… not private entrepreneurship… how much of that belongs to NoVa anyhow?

    NoVa is just another Roanoke but situated close to DC.

    you can, by the way, find out how much NoVa generates in gas tax revenues even though the state takes pains to not report it.

    that would be the first step in validating any claims that NoVa generates more in gas taxes than it receives in transportation funding….

    let’s see some numbers to back up the claim.

  26. I used to write in Ingress. I think the Post office and IRS still use it.

    Have some programmer acquantances in Boise, sale Lake City, and Bend. All moved away from NOVA.

    How much money will the rail promoters squeeze out of auto drivers before they give up on chanting that cars don’t pay their own way?

    There are not enough people who benefit from Dulles rail to pay for it.

    What staunch refusal of people to pay higher fuel taxes ? I never heard anyone refuse. The republican legislators simply refused to bring it up. Most people realize the same money is going to come from SOMEWHERE, and anyplace other than the gas tax is going to cost a lot more to collect

    NoVa’s problems are due to NoVa growth but NoVa won’t take responsibility for the transportation infrastructure ? What happened to the argument that more density SOLVES transportation problems, not causes them.?

  27. “that would be the first step in validating any claims that NoVa generates more in gas taxes than it receives in transportation funding….”.

    Once again, a disingenuous argument in parts. Not gas taxes. Not transportation funds. All taxes. All funds.

    Why is this hard to understand?

  28. So now the argument is “Well we pay a lot of tax – so let’s waste it on a massively overpriced rail boondoggle, instead of (God forbid) it going to other, mostly poorer areas in the Commonwealth.”

    Also, how can people make the argument that everybody in the USA should pay for this one little overpriced 23 mile rail line, with their federal taxes… when out of the other side of their mouths, they say that northern VA should not be paying for anything else in the Commonwealth of Virginia?

    Disingenuous, indeeed.

  29. re: all funds… you’d have to supply data to convince me…. I acknowledge the school issue but almost all states do a version of that to insure that all kids in the state receive an equivalent and equitable education….

    and the basic argument is lame anyhow… “we are going to build a big heavy rail boondoogle because the state is skimming our taxes revenues and that’s how we get our money back”..

  30. “Once again, a disingenuous argument in parts. Not gas taxes. Not transportation funds. All taxes. All funds.” Bingo!!! We need to look at the big picture.

  31. “…going to other, mostly poorer areas in the Commonwealth.”.

    If I thought that more money going to poorer areas of the Commonwealth would make them self-sufficient, I support it. The problem is that more money going to places without reasonable economic prospects only prolongs the inevitable. How much money was poured into Detroit? How is Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty going?

    America needs densely populated cities and sparsely populated rural areas. Not only is it much cheaper (overall) to create a decent quality of life that way, it also fosters innovation and job creation.

    In my opinion, Virginia only has four real places to attract and retain the creative class – NoVa, Tidewater, Richmond and Charlottesville. I used to consider Roanoke but it’s just too isolated.

    In order to make progress in each area, Virginia needs to …

    1. Fix the infrastructure in NoVa. And it needs to be fixed before the inevitable decrease in federal spending, especially defense and homeland security spending. Virginia also needs to dramatically increase funding of George Mason even if that increase requires lower funding at other Virginia public universities.

    2. Replace the ruling elite in Richmond. And, substantially expand the airport. Richmond also lacks a tier 1 university. Like NoVa, the Commonwealth would have to dramatically increase funding to VCU to make this work. Richmond also need continued renovation downtown.

    3. Consolidate the sprawl in Tidewater. The area is like a miniture version of Los Angeles. Too many disjointed “towns” without an urban center. and, in keeping with a theme, there is no top tier university. The infrastructure is also pretty much of a wreak. But they do have waterfront, a servicable airport, etc. It could work.

    4. Charlottesville – this is the most ambitious place to consider. It needs a brand new airport. Better infrastructure. UVA is top tier but needs more focus on STEM degrees. The City of Charlottesville has done a decent job of creating a good place to live but the sprawl in Albemerle needs to end. And … guess what … it needs much better infrastructure. I’d also move the state capital to Charlottesville. Or, at least, many state functions.

    I think NoVa has the best chance to be a job creator in Virginia although I see lots of squandered potential in Tidewater. Richmond is like St Louis. A city doomed to fail by its arrogant political elite. Charlottesville has huge potential but would require 20 years of focused investment.

    That’s about it, Bob. Siphoning money from places with potential to send the money to places without potential is a proven loser. You end up with a state that has no potential anywhere.

    Yes, it’s painful to ask people to relocate from where they are living to a new place. Of course, many of our our forefathers (and foremothers) spent three months at sea getting from Europe to America. Many people today brave great risk and the threat of arrest to get to places like Arlington County. So, I imagine that people could manage to move from Martinsville to Fairfax.

    Bob, your plan is long on heart but short on reality.

  32. TMT – you got it! We need to look at the big picture. We also need to recognize degrees of certainty in analysis. If models and predictions were perfect we’d all know where the stock market, interrates and inflation will be in ten years. However, despite financial institutions spending billions of dollars on ultra-sophisticated models, we don’t know. Some things, like demographics, have sufficient certainty to allow relatively tight error bands. Others, like human settlement patterns, do not.

  33. Dulles Rail is a massive ripoff that this region simply can not afford. Every game has been played to trick the people of this area into supporting this boondoggle. And the tricks continue.

    Now that Phase I is already under way… NOW, we find out what the results of the plans will be – ridiculous tolls, and/or (of course) more tax. Are we supposed to believe that this was an accident?

    No, it wasn’t an accident. And either was this: just as soon as the Virginia Supreme Court upheld the business tax districts, our ‘leaders’ suddenly started complaining about the high cost of this nightmare, and this trick diversion of “MWAA’s Above-Ground Plan” versus “MWAA’s Below-Ground Plan” started (with the dancing ‘difference’ number going from $640 million to $300 million to $330 million to $450 million to $562 million – over the course of six months), and then we had US DOT, no less, telling us that the Rt 28 station would cost $136 million. No sanity checks, and obviously no idea or thought about what a Metro station SHOULD cost… but our media dutifully just reports that “Dulles Rail is moving forward.”

    No analysis of what on EARTH caused a half-billion dollar difference between above and below ground rail station cost at Dulles Airport. No examination of the very bad design at Dulles Airport. No thought about a main track up Rt 28 and then over to Rt 606 further north, with a short dead-end underground spur to the air terminal that would probably cost less than their horrible above-ground travesty does now. No examination of why this mostly above-ground system costs easily as much as an all-below-ground system. No real coverage of the fact that the ACCESS to the stations is not funded, it’s estimated $2.5 billion additional cost is not part of the huge numbers we have been handed. No examination of why the Rt 28 Metro station would cost $83 million, when a Metro station in Fairfield, Connecticut costs $42.7 million – and THAT is with overruns! In short, no supervision whatsoever of this bloated, overbudget project. No cost control. And no truth.

    No explanation of why Loudoun County was against Phase II BEFORE they were handed the additional problem of building their own parking garages.. and then they turned around and supported it! That makes absolutely no sense! Who got to them, anyway? But the media is silent.

    The media has been complicit in this ripoff, and so have our leaders. It is election time, and now is the time to oust the old leaders who happily let this happen, and who now say “Oh, well now we are working to reduce the costs.” Too late, and all lies anyway. No?

  34. […] last September economist Utt again raised a red flag with his “The Dulles Rail Financial Disaster Continues” (Bacon’s […]

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