Two Weeks Later, Some House Criticisms of Kaine Rail-to-Dulles Deal Still Valid

I’ve finally found the time to read carefully through the criticisms leveled by House Speaker William Howell, R-Stafford, and Del. David Albo, R-Springfield, against Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s Rail-to-Dulles solution. After nearly two weeks, a number of the charges still hold water. Here is how I would rephrase their concerns:

  1. The mission of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority does not align with the interests of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The MWAA priority is to improve transportation access to Dulles Airport. The Commonwealth has a number of priorities, which include optimizing land use around Metro stations, minimizing the tax burden on citizens, and minimizing tolls for commuters. Whose interests will be served by this transfer of authority?
  2. The MWAA board is not accountable to the citizens of Virginia; a minority of board members are appointed by the Governor. (See “Railroad the Rail to Dulles Project.”) Whose interests will board members feel obligated to represent — the airport authority’s or the Commonwealth’s?
  3. Firms competing for the Dulles Toll Road concession have proposed upgrading the toll road, including a $300 million of four lanes of congestion-priced HOT lanes. There is no assurance that the MWAA will fund that improvement instead of funneling every dime of toll revenue into Metro.
  4. The Kaine plan forfeits a $500 million up-front cash payment under one of the Dulles Toll Road proposals, which could be applied to Metro or other transportation improvements.
  5. There has been no open debate. We’re talking about $4 billion here — real money, even by the standards of Virginia’s ever-escalating budget. The Governor needs to lay out his case to the public, not simply count on his communications staff to answer inquiries from a dilatory press corps.

Update: Gov. Kaine has announced the formation of an advisory committee yesterday “to provide input” on the MWAA’s oversight of the Dulles Toll Road and the Rail-to-Dulles extension, according to this morning’s Washington Post. Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall said the authority did not object to giving local officials “a voice” on toll increases and other decisions on which the authority has the final say, under the agreement.

Somehow, I don’t think critics will find that having “input” and “a voice” will be as reassuring as having the “final say.”

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19 responses to “Two Weeks Later, Some House Criticisms of Kaine Rail-to-Dulles Deal Still Valid”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Where is it written that a Commonwealth priority is to optimize land use around Metro stations?

    Isn’t a big part of our problem, as vocalized by JAB that we have no established priorities?

  2. Charles Avatar

    How can this be stopped? Did Kaine have the authority to sign this over without legislative approval? If so, what can we do about it now?

  3. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    While I’m a regular Metro user and generally support mass transit as an important tool, those who see Metro as NoVA and Metro D.C.’s savior ought to ride the Orange Line at rush hour for a few weeks.

  4. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    TMT: I agree. I’ve been hypercritical of Metro here only to point out that it is not the panacea that the JRR Tolkiens of urban planning would have us believe. Standing on a cold platform and watching 4 or 5 trains go by before one shows up with enough standing room so you can squeez in is no fun. It doesn’t meet everyone’s needs, and even for those it does, it doesn’t do so every day.

    We should no more be blind to its advantages than its disadvantages, and we should fund it accordingly.

    In a large sense it changes the location we drive to, rather than reduces our need to drive.
    We could do the same thing by offering free office space where the Metro stations are now, and probably for a lot less money.

    My question stands, where is it written that a commonwealth priority is to optimze land use around Metro stations? Anyone ever poll the people to find out how they would prefer to spend their money? I’d guess that downstate, Metro is a low priority, and some people that never use it would obect to funding it. Even absent a plebescite, or as I have suggested, a simple questionaire on the back of your tax form, where is the legislative resolution that places this as a priority? Why would we spend money to create an economic environment that promotes the use of Metro, which will still be a money loser, and won’t reduce congestion.

    We shouldn’t even argue that it will reduce congestion, as it so obviously doesn’t. That isn’t even its role. So we should examine what its role REALLY is, what that role is worth, and whether we can achieve simiar results some other way that is less expensive and more convenient.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    By the way, do you drive to the station? How often do you drive in? Or, is you situation such that Metro can actually relieve you of a car?

  6. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Ray: I normally drive from my home to a Metro station. There have been times in my life when I even road a bus to a station, but that doesn’t normally work for my current schedule. I often telecommute as well.

    For a couple years, I lived within a mile of a Metro station. I often walked from my home to the station. My existing home is well beyond any reasonable walking distance (i.e., my home is now more than 5 miles from a station).

    I’d guess that, in 20 plus years of working in downtown Washington, I’ve driven no more (and probably less) than 5% of the time. That includes a time when I had access to free parking paid by my employer.

    Given these facts, I cannot reasonably be classified as anything but pro-mass transit and not just in rhetoric. However, we must deal with facts and not fantasy. I don’t think that Metro has a lot of excess capacity during peak periods of travel. I’m also not sure that taxpayers can reasonably afford to build sufficient capacity for either roads or Metro.

  7. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Well, even at five miles you are lucky. Your story points out one of the problems: people’s lives change over time. Of course, someone is living in your previous home and maybe they are walking to Metro, or not.

    It also shows that (apparently) even after 20 years of working downtown, you haven’t moved there. I moved twice to be (nearer) to my job, but since then my jobs have changed more frequently than it is cost effective to move. I could make a better commuting choice (at the expense of other values) only to find out it was no better than my existing condition a short time later.

    The peak capacity proble is mostly only case when everyone wants to go to the same place at the same time. We need more places as much or more than we need more roads.

    As for what we can afford, I look at the farm. It costs me the same to mow and harvest ten acres of land whether I fertilize it or not. I can’t afford to fertilize it all, but I get more yield if I fertilze what I can, and presumably that will help me afford more fertilzer next year.

  8. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    And then ther’s the other problem. Once I figure out how much I can afford, do I put it in the best places, where the grass is already thick as I can stand, or do I spread it around to promote growth someplace else?

  9. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    It would be both interesting and useful for the Commonwealth to investigate the “more places” issue in a fair and unbiased manner. We have locations in Virginia that have flat or negative population growth and probably are seeing young adults leave for better opportunities. Would the state be better off with more development channeled to some of those locations? Would it be more cost effective for taxpayers, both state and local, to fund infrastructure in those locations than to continue to play catch-up in NoVA and HR? That is not to say that NoVA and HR would dry up. There are many reasons why those two areas of Virginia will continue to grow. But recognition of that fact does not require that all growth occur in those two areas, plus Richmond.

    Society buzzes about “diversity,” which certainly has value. But, shouldn’t diversity include econonic balance throughout the state?

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Just FYI on interstate lane mile costs. $10-20 million per mile for rural interstates.

    Urban interstates can START at
    150 million per mile and go UP to more than 10 times that figure.

    The 18 mile ICC in Md is estimated at 2.4 – 3 Billion and it will charge tolls to help pay for it.

    To see what projects that are currently approved for construction in the Wash Metro Area go to:

    a nice map (with legend) that shows new construction and existing road improvements).

    The plan runs from 2004-2030 is budgeted at 93 Billion dollars.

    That’s an interesting number.
    It’s about a 25 year timeframe
    and.. comes out to about 3.5
    billion a year – which is.. about what VDOT’s budget statewide is if I not mistaken.

    And of course the current transportation budget impass in Richmond is an argument over whether the state should increase annual funding by 500 million or by 1 Billion.

    What did some Congressman once say: ” a few billion here and a few billion there.. and you’re talking a REAL money? ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Who was that guy? He was the one with the gravelly voice. Was it Dirk somebody? Old guy from the Kennedy era? Oh, Everett Dirkson. Also did an album of Christmas Carols.

    It is hard to believe Manassas counts as rural, but maybe.

    So the ICC is now $166 million a mile. If I’m not mistaken, it is more or less the same as the old original outer beltway plan which was proposed in the 1950’s, at the same time as the current beltway.

    At that time it was thought that most traffic would be arterial – in and out – and not around.

    So, in 1950 the whole thing could have been built for $369 million, even if they had all the same stuff to work around as now, and might have been only half of that or less, because there were fewer roadblocks in the way – less complexity. 369 million in 1950 dollars would be 20 Million a mile. An outrageous sum for that time.

    The entire 64 mile capital beltway cost 190 million in 1964, or only 2.9 million a mile. That would equate to $18.25 million per mile today. Of course in 1964 it was mostly rural, so apparently the numbers are not that far off.

    So the question is, how do we get from $20 million a mile to $150 million to $1.5 billion per mile? do you suppose part of it could be just plain old obstructionism? Surely, the actual construction costs have not gone up that much.

    Dollar cost conversions are from

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The per mile construction costs for the ICC are accurate and the claim that costs can be as much as a billion a mile are accurate.

    One can easily verify this by
    drawing a line on a NoVa map.. then GOGGLE-map it.. with their aerial photo option – and start counting urban properites that start at 400K per modest home.

    Oh.. and don’t forget the interchanges that require about 1/2 mile square or thereabouts.

    A rural interchange that costs maybe 50million can and does costs 10 times that amount. The NoVa Springfield interchange is 700 million and counting.

    If such new road proposals were financially feasible – they’d be in the MWCOG TPB 25 year road plan.

    That simple verification will show that the real “obstructionists” are not tree-hugges and do-gooders but – in fact, simple financial realities that can’t be wished away or blamed on those who don’t like roads as solutions.

  13. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I’m not disagreeing. I only said part of the problem was due to obstructionists. I don’t even think more roads will be the answer, just a better answer than no new roads. We should build what is proven to pay off best: Metro was a nice experiment, but it failed. Before that, we had streetcar suburbs, and they failed.

    It is frightfully expensive to unbuild things just to build something else, that is one reason urban renewal is so hard. However, had the road been built when it was originally planned, many of those homes would not have been there to be torn down, and those that were, weren’t $400+ kdollars. That road was planned and it was vetoed. You can’t get much more obstructionist than that. We didn’t make a plan and carry it out, and now we are paying the price, either in congestion or money.

    It’s not just tree huggers that oppose new roads. Some people want the road as long as it is someplace else. Some people oppose spending money on anything. Some prefer to spend it on other things. We made our choice, somehow.

    The Springfield interchange is a massive piece of work by any standard, and unique in its own way. The hillside strangler and a few others are comparable, but it is unfair to point to the Springfield interchange as an example, especially since it would not have been necessary had the originally planned outer beltway been built.

    That interchange is going to be obsolete before it is finished, along with rail to Dulles. When fuel prices get high enough we won’t be able to drive much and some will re-think their options, if there are any. At those prices flying will certainly be out of the question, and someone is going to ask what those morons were thinking, building rail to Dulles.

    But cars and trucks aren’t going away: we’ll fuel steam cars with wood pellets first.

    What are our other options? We can do nothing and continue to waste billions in congestion. We can have third world roads like the Dominican Republic or St. Martin – half paved golf cart tracks. We can rebuild our entire Urban structure so everyone can walk to work. We can switch entirely to buses and jitneys, and do away with private autos. We can build 45 acre platforms over the Metro stations and put everybody in the new city we build on top.

    We can do what we choose if we make it a priority. It will take more or less time depending on how much we are willing to fund.

    I don’t recall there was ever a statewide agreement that maximizing land use around Metro stations should be a Commonwealth Priority. That was my original question, and it still stands.

    I submit that any of those options is going to make a few roads look cheap.

    Here is what we can’t do. We can’t cost effectively abandon large sections of our built environment any more than we can tear it down to build roads. We can’t cost effectively build enough roads or Metro to handle peak hour capacity. We can’t send everyone to the same place at the same time. Even if we had a pedestrian city, we couldn’t do that with sidewalks.

    As I see it, your argument about the relative cost of urban and rural roads supports my contention that we should throw in the towel on urban areas: we have already passed the point where squeezing more out of them makes sense. It is too expensive to do anything there, not just roads. When I had a water heaer replaced in Alexandria it cost 50% more than in Delaplane.

    As for the half mile of land, so what? If we gave every single person in the US a quarter of an acre, we wouldn’t even use up all of Texas, but most everybody would still be to far away to walk to.

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “I don’t recall there was ever a statewide agreement that maximizing land use around Metro stations should be a Commonwealth Priority. That was my original question, and it still stands.”

    Yes, agree. That was quite a statement! ๐Ÿ™‚

    First, I’d like to see that written policy statement (if it exists) then I’d like to see what the term “maximizing” means but I suspect it means high-density multi-use development.

    so .. yes..

    more roads but not near me

    more density but not where I live

    and more transit but not for me but rather others so I can continue to drive my car.

    More HOV.. so others can carpool so there’s less congestion when I want to drive Solo.

    and while we’re at it – let’s tell every new company that wants to locate in the Wash Metro Area – that it’s not only closed to new population but companies need to go locate in Southcentral Virginia or Warrenton .. or pick your poison.

    NOW.. let’s see.. we’re talking about … “obstructionists”.. right ๐Ÿ™‚

    So.. we have a whole bunch of folks who want to “obstruct” population growth and new companies from locating in the Wash Metro Area? Correct? ๐Ÿ™‚

    Takes the jobs.. the people, their cars, and their congestion.. and send them to some needy town whose textile mills closed.

    Naw.. I must have heard that wrong. I’m sure!

  15. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    It’s not written anywhere that optimizing land use around Metro stations is Commonwealth policy. My point, perhaps expressed none too well, is that the Commonwealth and its subdivisions (Fairfax County) have an interest in the land use around the Metro stations that the MWAA does not. Fairfax and Virginia have to grapple with the question, “where are all the people going to move to?” and how will they all get around, which inevitably leads to land use around the Metro stations. The MWAA does not have to concern itself with that question. The MWAA’s core priority is getting heavy rail service to Dulles.

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Would the competing PPTA’s that lost out to MWAA have any more or less interest (or stated responsibility) in land-use around Metro stations?

    Suppose a private entity PPTA did win or for that matter.. think about other potential PPTA entities involved in other projects – like I-66 and I-95 or I-81.

    Would you think that any or all of them would be expected to be looking at specific interchanges as sites for more dense development especially say… there was a nearby Metro station or perhaps even the PPTA might decide to use toll proceeds for a new metro or commute rail station?

    I know this might sound a bit outlandish but isn’t this essentially the core argument with respect to MWWAA’s perceived “lack of fitness” for the Dulles Project?

    So I guess I ask – if one were to get involved with Va and NoVa policies – wouldn’t we have to have done on paper – the qualifications of any potential PPTA applicant with respect to their land-use credentials and further, language in the PPTA Request for Proposals that would state that the Toll Road proceeds would, in fact, be used for transit TOD purposes?

    I think the diverse expectations of the public with respect to the MWAA Dulles Toll Road project points out … very new ground being plowed.. with respect to what exactly it means to coordinate land-use and transportation decisions.

    Everyone has an idea .. an expectation but they’re not exactly the same with respect to each other.. and nowhere is it written down (so far).. what exactly such goals and expectations are.

  17. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Larry, your 11:57 pretty much covered the essential transportation hypocrisies.

    The beauty of the land use transportation slogan was exactly that everyon could pick their own meaning to support. Now we find that some of those meanings, if not diametrically opposed are at least a lot different and someone is going to be unhappy.

    The people that already live around the station have an interest too, and we can see how far that got at Metro West.

    I can’t tell when you are pulling my leg and when not. I think the cost of saying no is too low: it doesn’t cost the naysayer anything to be an obstructionist, and when the cost of a resource is low, it gets overused.

    We could avoid a lot of our problems by putting a user fee on saying no, and we could probably raise enough money to pay to solve the ones that remain.

  18. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “I can’t tell when you are pulling my leg and when not. I think the cost of saying no is too low: it doesn’t cost the naysayer anything to be an obstructionist, and when the cost of a resource is low, it gets overused.”

    In my mind, essential to any agreement is concurrence from a majority – regardless of the “right” or “wrong” of it in the minds of those in the minority.

    It’s the essence of the General Assembly also.

    So – to forge ANY consensus/agreement, you have to find what a majority will AGREE on and that becomes the basis for going forward.

    If 70% want transit.and will agree to be taxed … you’ve got a consensus.

    .. if 70% oppose new taxes for roads – you’ve got a consensus.

    It does no good to go after those who won’t agree even if you could.

    The process is to put something on the table that WILL get majority consensus and support.

    And.. if you had a psuedo-King who
    would make decisions “for the good of the people” but without a consensus – I think your days would be numbered. You’d be a one night stand for sure.

    FYI – we took a POLL in Spotsylvania last Nov on Election Day – we only polled people who voted at the polls.

    68% supported HOT Lanes
    62% supported VRE

    What that tells me is that people probably would support proceeds from TOLL roads for transit purposes.

    We didn’t ask them if they supported TOD or the like.
    Maybe this year….

  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Thinking more about the MWAA Dulles Toll Road Issue….

    There are really two important elements to the issue.

    The first is a determination that a road will be operated as a toll road.

    The second is a curious thing because of the HOT lane “thing”.

    If the concept was to operate a toll road in the conventional sense where the toll would be set at a level sufficient to pay for the construction and maintenance and operation of the facility

    .. but instead the concept is to charge higher variable (time of day) tolls that would result in a guaranteed level of service – i.e. increase the tolls to whatever price that is sufficient to produce a relatively uncongested highway.

    Under this concept, it’s apparently been determined that revenues far in excess of that required for maintenance/operation will, in fact, be generated.

    So – the fall out from the revenues is .. what to do with those revenues.

    Remember.. one group wanted to take the PPTA’s offer of pure cash up front.

    But MWAA not only did not offer cash but instead made a de-facto decision about how to spend that cash.

    So while folks have jerked their shots up to tight for their hindquarters on the “fitness” of MWAA to go forth with HOW TOD might be done… really – the bigger issue – overlooked – is that cash money up front.. COULD be used for a LOT of different things…. even beyond transportation!!!

    But even with restricting those revenues to Transportation – there are many other potential transportation uses beyond Metro and TOD…

    For instance, those proceeds COULD have been used to build MORE …
    HOT Lanes… and… build a bunch of more roads in the NoVa area.

    In other words.. you have created a money machine.

    And NOW.. the argument is what to do with the money.

    Kaine and others have already decided how to use it.

    Give him credit… he saw what was coming and he got his train out of the station before others knew there was a train to start with?

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