What’s the Story with Innovation Center?

A plaza perspective of Innovation Center. graphic Credit: CIT.
A plaza perspective of Innovation Center.

by James A. Bacon

At long last, Northern Virginia leaders have a source of regional tax dollars that they can divvy up according to local priorities, not dictated by Richmond. When they deliberated last week on how to divvy up the first dollop of money — $209 million, including a $94 million bond package — one of the biggest allocations on their list was a project I never would have predicted — the Innovation Center Metro station.

Innovation Center is the name given to the planned Phase 2 Metro stop at the intersection of the Dulles Toll Road and Rt. 28. It’s right outside Washington Dulles International Airport and adjacent to the state’s Center for Innovative Technology (CIT). The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority approved a project package that allocated $20 million toward the project, which is estimated to cost $89 million in design, right-of-way acquisition and construction.

Fairfax County had committed to funding elements of Phase 2 of the Dulles rail project over and above the estimated $2.7 billion cost (before construction bids came in lower than expected this spring). This NVTA action significantly reduces the county’s obligation.

According to NVTA’s project description, the multimodal Metro station will include bus bays, bicycle parking, kiss-and-ride and taxi-waiting areas as well as pedestrian bridges. There is not much at present for bicycles and pedestrian bridges to connect to. But that could change in the not-too-distant future. CIT, the state-funded organization dedicated to spurring technology innovation in the state, has big dreams for the area around the station. States the CIT website:

Plans are underway to transform land around the CIT Complex into Innovation Center, a nationally recognized center for innovation comprised of a smart growth, transit-oriented development that includes a mix of high-rise research, office, residential and retail establishments directly connected to the new Metro stop, also named Innovation Center, and Dulles International Airport.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post‘s Tom Jackman describes a debate emerging over whether it would be premature to start planning for the air rights. A Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) study found that it would cost $34 million to install the necessary pilings and platforms needed to build over the station if done during the Metro construction but $60 million if done later.

Fairfax Supervisor Patrick Herrity wants to explore the sale of air rights and full development atop the Silver line, which, he argues, could help bring down the debt of Metro construction. But MWAA says construction of the pilings and platform should wait until demand arises. “We could come back in 20 years and build then,” said one spokesman.

As might be imagined, Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, is a big fan of smart growth. But he’s concerned that the market won’t sustain an air rights project for another 30 years. “There is already an overwhelming supply of land at existing Metro stations in the region,” he told Jackman, “plus Tysons Corner, plus what’s available at the Phase 2 Dulles Rail stations, in addition to all of the non-transit accessible land in places like the Route 28 corridor.”

Bacon’s bottom line: The politics of highway interchanges typically has been a dismaying spectacle in Virginia. I’m guessing that the politics behind Metro stations won’t prove to be any more edifying.

P.S. “Innovation Station” would be a better name for the Metro stop. It rolls off the tongue better than “Innovation Center.” Just my two cents.

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10 responses to “What’s the Story with Innovation Center?”

  1. larryg Avatar

    re: transportation proposals followed by development “ideas”….

    okay … so… ….” how to divvy up the first dollop of money — $209 million, ”

    ….” At long last, Northern Virginia leaders have a source of regional tax dollars that they can divvy up according to local priorities, not dictated by Richmond”

    so .. taxpayers have been nailed to pay for “critical transportation infrastructure to address NoVa regional congestion… blah blah blah”…

    so this is better than Richmond deciding?

    ha ha ha..bahahahahahhah

    I’m trying to understand who has the worst hypocrisy..here…

    so the whole entire increased taxes in NoVa for transportation is going to go for more development?

    good LORD!

    no wonder people are cynical!

    I await what Hampton Roads decides to do with their “dollop”.

  2. MWAA own the air rights over the rail line – except that VDOT owns the air rights in Tysons Corner where the track veers off onto Rt 7 and Rt 123. Fairfax County owns NONE of it.

    So, what is Fairfax County thinking? Are we going to pay for MWAA and VDOT to develop over the rail space, so that they can better compete with county taxpayer land for business? Why should we do that? Or are these would-be Fairfax County ‘leaders’ planning to fall all over themselves to spend taxpayer money buying air rights that make no financial sense to use?

    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. A few months ago, Fairfax County Staff made so much noise about getting some 2% Tifia rate, that I thought they were talking about the interest rate. It turns out that they were talking about premium! So it was all a smokescreen.

    I wonder what (if anything) the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors thought. But of course it really doesn’t matter, because by now they have forgotten all about it.

  3. Well, the plot has thickened.

    Now it appears that Fairfax County is planning to return much, and maybe all, of the the Rt 28 / Innovation Center cost back to the Dulles Rail /Silver Line project.

    Estimates for the cost of that station range from $89 million to $101 million, and NVTA has allocated $41 million to it – assuming that legal opposition ever permits them to pay that money. So we are looking at $48 million to $60 million dollars here, and maybe all $89 million to $101 million.

    The May 7, 2013 Tifia status report appears here:

    This statement also appears in this meeting agenda on the Fairfax County government website, thereby confirming its authenticity:

    Page 4 of the May 7, 2013 Tifia status report says that the Rt 28 / Innovation Center “Station cost will have to be funding [sic] either in part or whole per the funding agreement (County funding agreement share 16.1%).” This appears in the upper right corner of the page.

    This is cryptic, and I doubt that Fairfax County officials will want anybody to understand it. What it means is that instead of the full price of the Rt 28 station being paid by Fairfax County (with help from NVTA, etc) as planned in 2011 in the agreement famously brokered by former US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Fairfax County appears to be choosing an escape option written into the various MOAs, whereby if the County can not get funding for the parking garages and in this case the Rt 28 rail station, then the cost reverts to the Dulles Rail / Silver Line project, to be split up according to the percentages of 16.1% from Fairfax County, 4.8% from Loudoun County, 4.1% from MWAA non-Dulles Toll Road funds, and 75% from the Dulles Toll Road tolls.

    November 11, 2011 Phase 2 MOA (the latest one):

    From page 5 of this MOA pdf:

    “3.2 Best Efforts to Seek Additional Funding Sources for Particular Project Phase 2 Facilities

    a. Fairfax shall use its best efforts, consistent with the legislative powers, duties, and responsibilities of its Board of Supervisors, to secure Additional Funding Sources that will be sufficient to fund the cost of the design and construction of the parking facility at the Herndon-Monroe Station, the parking facility at the Route 28 Station and the Route 28 Station itself.

    d. To the extent that either Fairfax or Loudoun, despite their best efforts as described above, is unable to secure sufficient Additional Funding Sources to fund the full cost to design and construct any of the Phase 2 facilities described in Sections 3.2(a) or 3.2(b) (any such insufficiency, individually or cumulatively, referred to hereinafter as a Funding Shortfall), then the amount of the Funding Shortfall shall be considered to be part of the total Dulles Rail Project Cost as that term is used in the Funding Agreement and as such will be funded as provided in the Funding Agreement.”

    FUNDING AGREEMENT – Page 2, third paragraph:
    “…the Funding Agreement also provides that if Fairfax and Loudoun elect to participate in funding Phase 2, then Fairfax, Loudoun, and MWAA would be responsible for funding 16.1%, 4.8%, and 4.1%, respectively, of the total capital cost to construct the entire Project”

    Personally, I consider the conditional County payment plan to be a ridiculously complicated shell game, and I suspect that the various stakeholders do not want anybody to understand any of it. I ask that you check it out. NVTA wants to, and may be able to provide $41 million of the $89 to $101 million that the station will cost. Fairfax County is saying that it will dump some or all of the remaining costs of the Rt 28 Metrorail station back into the capital cost of the Phase 2 project, so that Fairfax County will then only be responsible for 16.1%, rather than 100%, of that remaining cost.

    Because the other 83.9% of this remaining cost is then owed 4.8% by Loudoun County, 4.1% by MWAA from non-DTR funds, and 75% from MWAA from DTR toll funds, I think it is fairly evident that this will not reduce the tolls, and it also will not make Loudoun County or MWAA very happy. I wonder if Loudoun County staff noticed this and alerted their BOS. I’m not even sure that the Fairfax County BOS understands what this means. I have notified both Boards of Supervisors, some concerned civics, and some news reporters. Also I have not seen any news report whatsoever that mentions this in any way shape or form, which is remarkable because this has been known by Fairfax County transportation officials since April 2013. The Fairfax County Tifia status report was sneaky, it was not mentioned and was only discovered later, and then nobody caught this cost dump until I happened to notice it yesterday.

    I realized this yesterday (8/21/2013) and alerted a number of people around 1PM – but so far, only one civic commented to me about it, and the only question I got from any news reporter was “Well, how will this affect anybody?” I submit that it affects us by having tricked us into paying more for this project than we should have paid, and now it is doing the bait and switch that a number of civics have expected, and warned about, for years. The project was approved with the expectation that Fairfax County would arrange to pay the Rt 28 station price, so that price was hidden from the Phase 2 project books. Nobody paid any attention to its oddly high price – somewhere between $89 million and $101 million (what makes it cost so much, anyway?) – and now, surprise, part of that price is heading back to be paid mostly by tollpayers.

    Also, I do not believe that Fairfax County has made a real good faith effort to obtain these funds. Tifia will not lend it for this purpose, but Fairfax County should be able to float a General Obligation bond and get an even better finance rate.

    1. I guess the question is, what constituted a “good faith” effort?

      I would submit that simply asking the NVTA for full funding of the station is not sufficient constitute a good faith effort. When the revised financial arrangements were agreed to, no one had any idea that Bob McDonnell’s transportation funding bill would be enacted and that the NVTA actually would have money to spread around. Surely, the county envisioned alternatives.

      The obvious question is this: Why can’t the county borrow the money? I’m sure the county has limited debt capacity and the Rt. 28 station would compete with other needs. But so what? Nobody said a good faith effort would be painless.

  4. when you get right down to the nitty gritty of some of these issues- you’re into thoroughly wild-wild west territory!

  5. If indeed it is really she who responded by e-mail to a recent letter to the Fairfax County BOS about the Tifia issue, I have been in contact with FC BOS Chair Bulova about this, and she confirms and defends that fairfax Couty is turning this uncertain amount of cost back to the Dulles Metrorail (Silver Line) project.

    I have reported this to more than a dozen transportation reporters, but it continues to be unreported to the public. I believe that local transportation reporters think they need to protect this rail project, but they are violating any rules of ethical journalistic conduct by concealing the facts.

    1. Bob, If you can convert your length comment into a commentary, I’ll be happy to post it on the Rebellion.

    2. Thanks, James. I have been honing that report and I’ll provide a copy. I confess there are some corrections, the biggest of which is that the $472 million or so of virginia funds going to Phase 2 reduces the percentage coming from the tolls from 75% (per te earlier MOA agreements) to about 48.1% to 54% (depending on who is handing out the numbers).

      Also there are some reports published, but unfortunately they do not highlight the very interesting FOUR MONTH FAIRFAX COUNTY COVER-UP of their late-April / early-May 2013 decision to return the $89 million to the rail project books. I think that Fairfax County officials created so much spin with their “Oh, we are struggling to find partners” tale, that their four-month cover-up of this very significant decision was forgotten.

      Here are the two news articles that have so far been published on Fairfax County’s Rt 28 Metrorail full-funding backout:

      Metro stop on Silver Line short of funds
      Washington Post, August 27, 2013
      By Dana Hedgpeth and Lori Aratani

      Fairfax County Grapples With Huge Silver Line Costs
      WAMU, August 28, 2013
      By Martin Di Caro

  6. Ufff. I would have gotten that report done by now, but our federal government has been trying to get us into another middle eastern war, on false pretenses related to horrible weapons again, in a would-be repeat of the Iraq War fiasco. I thought that nonsense might stop once we got Cheney and Bush out of there, but no.

    Anyway, now that the recent mad rush to yet another middle eastern war has been stopped, I want to mention that Fairfax County and the news media have also hushed up the denial of the $20 million Tiger funding for the same Rt 28 / Innovation Metrorail station.

    That’s right – no Tiger money for Dulles Rail / Silver Line, or for any of the hidden Dulles Rail / Silver Line cost items .

    So it looks like Phase 2 won’t be as much “Other People’s Money” as people around here thought.

    OK, any given reporter might not be deliberately plotting the ongoing parade of convenient omissions. But all of them – put together – can’t even say a spinning spun WORD about this? Please. Can you say “public relations arm of the rail project?”

    And up until now, we were being lulled to sleep, with the story that the Tifia loan decisions would not have to be finalized until some time in 2014. But now, the story has changed! In secret meetings during August 2013, the US DOT has revealed that this needs to be finalized by the end of 2013!

    Metro Parking Garage Decision Deadline Accelerated
    Leesburg Today, September 4, 2013

    And, of course, the federal shutdown circus has come to town again. Does it get any better than this?

  7. Oops, I merged two reports above. Here is the one about the decision to move the financial decision to late 2013 (hey, it’s late September already):

    Metro Parking Garage Decision Deadline Accelerated
    Leesburg Today, September 4, 2013

    And, there is a lawsuit that might reject the use of tolls as a de-facto tax:

    Lawsuit could turn Va. tolls upside down, cost taxpayers millions
    WTOP, September 6, 2013

    You know, some scientists believe that there might be intelligent life on earth. But I still have my doubts.

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