Last week, I wrote about RCA's position on the Metro Silver Line and its effect on the Dulles Toll Road." In the post , I explained the logic behind our report on Wilbur Smith Associates' Toll Road revenue forecasts.
Our report showed that toll road forecasts often overestimate revenue, and warned that the funding of the $2.8 billion Phase 2 of the Silver Line (which is based heavily on tolls) could be a problem if the Toll Road revenues fall short of the forecasts. Based on our report, RCA called for a second traffic and revenue (T&R) forecast to be performed on the Toll Road, to avoid a surprise funding shortfall down the road for Phase 2.
My post drew a strong positive response, and I'm glad I could help explain RCA's position. But some of you may be wondering what impact our report is having on the planning for Phase 2. Sure, we published this comprehensive report, but who's reading it? Is our report having any effect other than stirring up some discussion on Patch and in the drawing rooms of Reston?
I am happy to report that the answer to that last question is yes! RCA is not only speaking up for the citizens of Reston about the Silver Line and the Toll Road, but our actions are getting notice... and getting results.
When RCA produced its report last month, we didn't just post it on our blog and leave it at that. We sent copies of the report to local, state, and national officials involved in the construction of the Silver Line, along with our recommendations for action. Included on our distribution list were officials in Fairfax County. And when our Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova, received our report, she decided it was worth a look. She gave our a thorough review, and she responded.
You can see a copy of Chairman Bulova's letter at the Reston 2020 blog. She sent our report to the Board of Supervisors auditor, so that he could make sure our numbers checked out. And because Terry Maynard (principal author of our report) was so thorough and careful, our analysis held up to the auditor's scrutiny.
The auditor's report validated RCA's analysis, and noted several concerns with the previous T&R study done on the Toll Road by Wilbur Smith Associates in 2009, particularly in their population and employment forecasts for Fairfax County, which appear higher than in other sources. My favorite sentence from the auditor's report: "It is important to note that RCA’s presentment of the numeric differences are factual and correct." (Emphasis mine.)
The auditor recommended that when Wilbur Smith's new T&R forecast comes out in the next few weeks, that WSA be asked to explain how they chose the data points used in their forecast, to ensure that their analysis is as accurate as possible. Chairman Bulova agreed with the auditor's recommendations (and RCA's analysis), and she let us know that she'll be reviewing the numbers to assure that the new WSA report is reliable and accurate.
Chairman Bulova did not agree with our recommendation to commission a second T&R forecast, out of concern that it will delay the construction process. We respect the County's desire to keep the process moving, but we want to make sure that the new forecast gets a good look to ensure that the numbers are sound.
Terry Maynard replied to Bulova with an idea that would allow a thorough review of the numbers without causing a significant slowdown in the process. He suggested an independent critique of the WSA study, a second opinion on the validity of the forecasts. If the critique validates WSA's numbers, great! We can proceed on to Phase 2 with confidence in the funding plan, knowing that the County has done due diligence. If the critique suggests that WSA's forecast is too optimistic, then we can look into a second study to get a more accurate sense of the expected revenues.
Chairman Bulova hasn't had a chance to reply to Terry's letter yet. But even if she doesn't adopt Terry's suggestion of an independent critique, RCA has still has a positive impact on the process. The County is aware of the issues with the previous WSA forecasts, and they'll be looking at the new forecast to ensure that its results are trustworthy. And they know that RCA will be reviewing the new forecast very carefully, and if we see any problems in the data or the results, we won't hesitate to speak out.
I want to thank Chairman Bulova for giving our report the attention it deserves, and to thank Terry and my RCA colleagues for bringing the concerns with the Toll Road forecasts to light. And my pledge to you, the citizens of Reston, is that RCA will keep standing up for your interests - and the best interests of Reston.
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I invite all of you to come to our RCA Citizen of the Year ceremony, honoring RCA's 2011 Citizen of the Year, Nick Brown. The ceremony will be on Monday, Feb. 20 at 7:30 PM in the Community Room of RCC Hunters Woods. I hope to see you there!