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How Tysons Impacts Our Silver Line Future

Tysons Corner is deciding how to pay for the transportation to support the Silver Line. Find out how RCA is helping out a fellow citizens association... and how what happens in Tysons affects Reston.

Earlier this week, I took my own advice about the importance of for common goals.  In that spirit, I had lunch with Sally Horn, president of the McLean Citizens Association (MCA).  My previous post focused on the importance of Reston organizations working together, but RCA and MCA are also facing a shared issue: the coming of the Silver Line, and how the development around the Metro will change our communities.

Currently, MCA is engaged with the Fairfax County Planning Commission on the infrastructure plan for . Tysons is undergoing an even more significant redevelopment than Reston will, as the County hopes to use the Silver Line as a spur to transform Tysons from a suburban business and shopping mecca to a mixed-use urban community.

Last week, the Planning Commission's Tysons Committee released its Strawman III document, outlining how the costs of needed transportation infrastructure at Tysons will be paid for.  MCA has been working closely with the Planning Commission on the Strawman document since the first version was .  Sally asked me if RCA would support MCA's fight to ensure that the infrastructure plan is fair to the residents and taxpayers around Tysons.

Although the Tysons plan does not impact Reston directly, I believe this is an issue worthy of RCA's attention as well.  We wish to support our fellow citizens association on an important issue.  But also, the decisions being made now in Tysons are a preview of similar decisions that will be made in Reston in the near future.  Future development in Reston will also require infrastructure to support it, and that infrastructure will need to be paid for.  The precedents established now will affect us, so we want to make sure they are good precedents.

With the idea of precedent-setting in mind, I see three concerns about the Strawman III document that potentially impact not only the residents near Tysons, but us in Reston as well.

First, the share of investment in Tysons’ infrastructure should be consistent with the expected share of the financial return.  Tysons developers stand to reap virtually all the financial return there, through selling and renting of space in the planned new buildings.  Their clients and customers will willingly pay what the market requires, and likely will be satisfied. 

In contrast, the residents of Fairfax County, current and future, will likely see little financial gain from the prospective development in Tysons.  To require the residents to carry the bulk of the infrastructure costs would be unfair and inequitable.

Which brings me to my second point: I agree with the MCA that the contribution of County taxpayers to the required development and construction of Tysons infrastructure should be capped at 25%.  RCA endorsed MCA's position back in March 2011, and the position is still valid today.  This is consistent with the taxpayer share of transportation improvements in the Route 28 corridor, as well as the 25% share that RCA believes should be borne by Dulles Toll Road Users for construction of the Silver Line. 

The decisions made regarding funding of infrastructure at Tysons will likely serve as a template for future infrastructure funding plans in Reston.  And as a County taxpayer, I am very concerned about establishing a precedent for potentially unlimited taxpayer financial obligations to construct infrastructure to support Tysons.

Finally, Page 16 the Strawman III document states that “it is likely” that the County’s share of the Tysons infrastructure cost will be financed via the sale of bonds, and that the bonds are “not anticipated to contribute to an increase in the tax rate.”  I wonder whether it will truly be possible to finance the County’s share of the necessary infrastructure in Tysons without raising the tax rate.  If a tax increase will be needed, the document should state this honestly. 

And whether or not a tax increase is needed, I'm concerned that using bonds to finance the infrastructure at Tysons will crowd out the possibility of using bonds to finance infrastructure further along the Silver Line, including Reston.  Building infrastructure at Tysons is critical, but the need for additional infrastructure in Reston is equally important. We will need additional road improvements to ensure that Reston’s streets do not become ensnared in permanent gridlock.  If Tysons takes up all of the available bonding capacity, how will we pay for needed improvements in Reston?

I know that we've got a lot of Reston-related Silver Line issues to worry about, like the and the .  But it's also important for us to pay attention to what's going on in Tysons.  Whatever infrastructure funding deal is worked out in Tysons will likely be similar to the deal we get in Reston.  If the Tysons plan winds up being a bad deal for the citizens there, we'll have a much harder time getting a better deal for ourselves.

Fortunately, RCA is on the case, and we're ready to stand with MCA and stand up for the citizens of Reston.  At next week's RCA Board meeting, we will ratify our position on the Strawman III.  The Tysons Committee will meet to review the latest draft on September 6th; RCA will submit its statement to the committee, and we will plan to deliver our testimony in person at their meeting. 

This RCA-MCA alliance is one example of how community organizations can support each other for the common good.  In the coming weeks, I'll describe some examples of how we're coming together in Reston to stand up for the community's future.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Michael August 23, 2012 at 03:16 AM
Not sure I can agree with the basic premise that taxpayers should only pay for projects which are likely to benefit themselves financially. If that were the case almost everything the government does wouldn't exist. But things like schools, the military, and yes even roads, are public goods. I don't receive a direct and quantifiable benefit from them but I pay my share. The road network at Tysons will benefit residents through improved traffic flow into, out of, and within their neighborhoods. It will benefit taxpayers through supporter a larger and broader base for real property levies. Suggesting that residents and taxpayers should have a hard cap on their contributions just because the benefit to them isn't easily quantifiable is a bad precedent to set. If that were the requirement, probably half of the roads in Fairfax County would never have been built at all.
Terry Maynard August 23, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Michael-- First, you have misstated Colin's premise. Second, county taxpayers beyond Tysons--people who "live, work, & play" in southern & east Fairfax County will see no--or maybe negligible--benefit from infrastructure development in Tysons. And they should pay because...? Third, Colin's second point accepts the basic notion of "public good" (in at least two senses) and endorses MCA's position that residents should pay up to one-quarter of the cost. He is not arguing for a profit/burden correlation. Your points are narrowly argued like an advocate, which, in French (& without the "e"), means "lawyer." Could that be the case? So, are you arguing that the public should pay the bulk of the cost of Tysons' infrastructure cost without any opportunity to recover that added tax burden, unlike the highly profitable developers there?
Ken Lanfear August 23, 2012 at 03:09 PM
I agree the scope of this investment requires close scrutiny. However, I think you're forgetting, by increasing property values in Tysons Corner, infrastructure investment may ultimately be returned in higher property taxes. Is this truly the case? This is the calculation the Board of Supervisors should be making. Whether they are is something the Patch needs to keep tabs on!
Terry Maynard August 24, 2012 at 02:09 AM
Ken-- Your are absolutely right. At present, County data projects that transportation costs in Tysons alone over the next 40 years will equal $3.0 billion in 2012 dollars--or $5.46 billion in inflated dollars. That cost does not include more than $3 billion in financing costs. The current proposal asks developers to pay 45.1%--about $1.375 billion in 2012 dollars. The county (property taxes) would pay 24.8%. Some unknown combination of county, state, & federal funds would pay 22.4%--and you know how forthcoming Richmond and Washington have been with transportation funds lately. State & federal sources are projected to pay the remaining 7.7%. So county taxpayers could end up paying between $3.7 billion and $4.4 billion in 2012 dollars, including interest, or $4.3-$6.6 billion in inflated dollars. At $5 billion, that adds about $125 million per year to county taxpayers' burden over the next 40 years To cover their capital contribution, developers would have to pay about $34 million per year or about $60 million/year in inflated dollars. On balance, county taxpayers are likely to end up paying more than 2/3s of the costs of Tysons transportation improvements costs under the current proposal. And that does even touch the costs for schools, emergency, and other public facilities there. Is that fair???
Colin Mills August 24, 2012 at 03:22 AM
Ken, thanks for the comment. You're absolutely right that the increased development in Tysons will increase the amount of property taxes that the County collects. However, as you suggest, the County needs to ensure that our investment yields a worthwhile return. Terry's run some numbers below, which suggest that the currently proposed funding formula doesn't meet that threshold.
Colin Mills August 24, 2012 at 03:35 AM
Michael, thanks for commenting. As Terry suggests, I believe you're misunderstanding my point. Roads are public goods, and they do provide non-financial benefits (which is why I believe that the public should contribute to pay for them, as I said in my post). But County and state funds are scarce, and somebody's going to have to pay for this. Why shouldn't we ask the developers and landowners, who will be reaping benefits in increased profits and property values, to shoulder their share of the load? I'm certainly not suggesting that "taxpayers should only pay for projects which are likely to benefit themselves financially." I'm saying that with limited resources and with developers in Tysons and elsewhere along the Silver Line poised to reap great profits, we need to find a funding formula that works for everyone.
Ken Lanfear August 25, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Terry, your argument still isn't clear. If the assessed value of properties in the Tysons Corner is are X dollars today, and Y dollars after Metro, then the county will gain (Y-X) dollars times the tax rate. Does anybody know how much this is? Is it more than the $125 million per year you quote above?

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