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RCA's Testimony on the Silver Line

On Tuesday, I testified on behalf of RCA before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors about Phase 2 of the Silver Line.

As you may have read, on Tuesday the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors a decision on the County's participation in Phase 2 of the Metro Silver Line.  The Board of Supervisors chose to defer at least in part because of the testimony of a large number of citizens at the hearing, many of whom urged the Board to look closely at the issue of higher tolls on the Dulles Toll Road, and to push for additional funding options that would reduce the burden on Toll Road users.

Among those testifying were three members of the RCA Board, who were doing their part to stand up for the interests of Reston's citizens.  Terry Maynard, co-chair of Reston 2020 and analytical wizard behind RCA's studies on the Silver Line, provided strong, statistically based testimony about the impact of higher tolls on the Dulles Corridor.  His testimony was previously .  Tammi Petrine, another Reston 2020 co-chair, spoke with her characteristic passion about the risks of funding Phase 2 primarily on the back of Toll Road drivers.

And yours truly also stood up and delivered a statement explaining RCA's overall support for the Silver Line and our concerns about the current funding plan.  In case you weren't watching the hearing on TV (and why weren't you?), I am reproducing my statement here.  It should sound familiar to those of you who have read my previous posts on the Silver Line, but I was glad to have the opportunity to share RCA's views with the Board of Supervisors.

- - - - -

Good evening, Madam Chairman and honorable ladies and gentlemen of the Board. My name is Colin Mills, and I am president of the Reston Citizens Association.  The RCA speaks for the citizens of Reston on political and social issues, and is devoted to protecting and advancing Bob Simon’s founding principles for Reston. 

In October of 2011, RCA passed a resolution calling for an audit of the costs of the Metro Silver Line.  And in January of this year, we issued a report, authored by our excellent analyst Terry Maynard, that described the inaccuracy of toll-road revenue forecasts such as the one issued by CDM Smith last month.  We sent both the resolution and the report to the Board of Supervisors.  I am here this evening to clarify RCA’s position on Phase 2 of the Dulles Rail project.

RCA is a non-partisan organization, and our goal is not to support the Republican or the Democratic line on the Silver Line, but to support the best interests of Reston citizens.  We believe that by raising our concerns about the funding structure and the cost estimates of the Silver Line, we are acting in Reston's best interest.  We are not out to serve a partisan agenda.

Nor are we attempting to benefit any group that seeks to stop the Silver Line from being built.  I have stated this whenever I speak on this subject, and I will state it again here: RCA is not opposed to the Silver Line.  We continue to support the completion of the Silver Line all the way out to the airport and beyond.   If you read RCA's January report, our support for the Silver Line is stated right up front. 

Given that Phase 1 terminates at Wiehle Avenue, and any delay or cancellation of Phase 2 would mean more traffic on Reston streets, we would very much like to see the line extended to Dulles as soon as possible.  We do not want the line to terminate at Wiehle, any more than any of you or any Restonian does. 

But we are not comfortable with the idea that tolls on the Dulles Toll Road, which are expected to fund 75% of the cost of Phase 2, will just "work themselves out," as some have suggested.  Terry's research in RCA's report cites a number of previous toll-road studies to demonstrate that the the projections for revenue through higher tolls are likely to be overestimated.  And in a previous report Terry prepared for Reston 2020, he demonstrates that the costs of the Silver Line itself are likely to increase as the project progresses. 

If there winds up being a funding shortfall, who is on the hook for the majority of additional costs?  Not MWAA.  Not Fairfax or Loudoun County.  Not the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Not the federal government.  The toll road users are responsible for most of any overrun costs.  And there is no mechanism built in to the funding agreement to prevent tolls from rising out of control, at least not so far.  That's why we're raising the issue.

We understand that there's a risk of Phase 2 being significantly delayed or shelved if there's too much pushback.  And we all know that the people who are opposed to the Silver Line will seize upon any statement or study expressing any concerns about the project in an attempt to obstruct it.  That's a fact of the political game.

Since we support the Silver Line being completed, you may wonder: why raise issues that might provide ammunition to the people who want it stopped?  Because we feel that we would be shirking our duty to the citizens of Reston if we just stepped back and expressed blind, unconditional support for the Silver Line no matter what.  We are not expressing these concerns because we want the project to fail, but because we want it to succeed. 

Consider this: If the increase in tolls does not generate the anticipated revenue, or if the cost of Phase 2 significantly exceeds the current estimates, what happens then?  Maybe the solution would be to raise tolls even further, but there comes a point where the tolls are so high that drivers will avoid the Toll Road altogether, which would not only hold down the overall revenues derived from the Toll Road, but would also add significant traffic on the surface streets in and around Reston. 

If the Toll Road is unable to generate the necessary revenue, this would lead to a delay in construction while the parties involved scrambled to find another funding source.  By anticipating and developing a contingency plan for this now, it is less likely that we will encounter any nasty surprises later.  Again, we do not want to stop Phase 2; we want to make sure that it's done, and done right.

If MWAA and our elected officials can come up with a funding plan that ensures a cap on tolls and ensures that any cost overruns or revenue shortfalls are backstopped by someone other than the users of the Toll Road, RCA would be very happy to support that outcome.

Thank you for your time and the opportunity to speak.

- - - - -

I would like to thank the Board of Supervisors for listening to the voices of RCA and other citizens, and for considering options that will ease the financial impact of the Silver Line on the users of the Toll Road.  Thank you to Chairman Sharon Bulova for running a fair and thoughtful hearing, and for ensuring that the voices of the citizens were heard.  Special thanks to Supervisors Pat Herrity (Springfield), Jeff McKay (Lee), and (Hunter Mill), all of whom spoke to the need to seek additional revenue options in order to avoid excessive hikes in the toll rate.

I hope my fellow Reston citizens are happy to see this example of RCA in action, doing our part to make sure that the Silver Line will be done, and done right.  The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to reconsider the issue on April 10, and RCA will be there again to testify.  We will not rest in our mission to ensure that the Metrorail project improves Reston's quality of life, rather than harming it through much higher tolls and increased traffic.

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.

Burt Rosenberg March 25, 2012 at 01:18 AM
Thanks for going to bat for us, Colin. -- I (a Reston resident) am most strongly opposed to Toll Road drivers being the cash cow for the Silver Line. We are not sheep to be shorn for this, or any other projects. Tolls should support maintenance of the toll road, period. -- The proposed toll increases are unconscionable, approaching insane. They are totally unacceptable, and must not be approved. -- Also, as I understand, MWAA supports uncompetitive union "requirements." Union sweetheart deals should not be allowed to boost costs. Let lowest, truly competitive bidders prevail. -- If all relevant parties/entities have to go back to the drawing board to rethink funding possibilities, so be it.
Colin Mills March 25, 2012 at 01:53 AM
I agree, Mike! I look forward to seeing you put those principles into practice on the RA Board, if elected.
Colin Mills March 25, 2012 at 01:55 AM
Thanks for the kind words, Bert. We're going to keep speaking up on the Silver Line, I promise.
Eric Stetson March 30, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Thanks, Colin, for your reply. Both of your revenue ideas sound reasonable. However, I would caution that any toll on the Dulles Access Road should be minimal, since the purpose of this road is airport access only which is a service to the general public throughout the region, and there is a risk that once a new toll is introduced it may tend to rise and rise over time. Raising passenger fees at the airport would probably be my preference, since it affects only the passengers and not anyone else, such as people picking up or dropping off people at the airport. Toll roads are irritating, so it would be better to fund the Silver Line Phase 2 through means other than changing a road from free to toll.
Bob Bruhns March 30, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Based on comparisons of the few official cost estimate numbers for Dulles Rail Phase II that are not hidden, it is fairly evident that the cost we are being handed is about two times what it should be. Wouldn't funding be a lot easier if the price being charged for the construction of Dulles Rail Phase II was reduced to what it should be? Why is nobody calling for the official estimators to justify their questionable costing claims? Even the FTA, in their July 2011 White Paper, merely passed a few of their line-item estimates along, without analysis or comment. What really is going on here? Dulles Rail Phase II is an excellent example of the improper use of borrowed money. This is roughly equivalent to being told that you should pay $100,000 for $50,000 car - because hey, you'll make lots of money driving to work in it. Of course, you would have made JUST as much money if the car was not overpriced, but you would have smaller payments to make. Do people in Virginia pay two times the realistic price for their cars? Then why should they pay two times the realistic price for Dulles Rail Phase II?

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