A $17 Straw Man

Nobody supports $17 tolls.

Construction on the Dulles Metrorail Extension (Phase I) is now half completed. 

Rail is actually being laid at the juncture with the Orange Line.  The broad outline of the financing plan for Phase 2 has been agreed upon at a price tag about a billion dollars less than was being proposed, and the details of the financing plan are now being worked out.

Despite the good news, the Dulles Metrorail Extension project continues to have its detractors who at every point of its planning and construction have predicted gloom and doom.

The most recent has been a $17 straw man on toll increases that has received publicity.  One person’s speculation without research or known assumptions that round-trip tolls could climb to $17 about 30 years from now has become a political issue in one campaign.

 As one who has been involved in the project from its very inception, I am not aware of anyone holding or running for public office who supports tolls of any such magnitude.  Everyone I know has been working actively to keep the tolls down to a small fraction of that number.

The one investment-grade Traffic and Revenue Study that was made of the project
just two years ago projected that the tolls 32 years from now would be seven
dollars at the main plaza which in present value is equivalent to today’s buying power of $2.56, assuming three percent growth.

The tolls at the ramp during the same period would rise to $4.25, which is in present value equivalent to $1.56.  These are the only numbers that have any research and scientific projections applied to them.  An additional study is now underway to reconfirm the numbers, and its findings should be available before the end of the year.

Political leaders at all levels of government are working to keep toll increases to a
reasonable level.  Sen. Janet Howell and I wrote to Gov. Bob McDonnell recently to request that the Commonwealth of Virginia provide more direct financial support to the project in order to minimize any toll increases.

As we wrote to the Governor, “Your recent actions to provide $395 million to buy down the tolls on an additional midtown tunnel between Norfolk and Portsmouth and also to provide up to $500 million to buy down tolls on Route 460 demonstrated your understanding of the need and the importance of state assistance to keep toll rates at a minimum.”  

We asked the Governor to work with us on increasing the $150 million he has already provided to further reduce tolls.

A debate around a wildly speculative toll amount does not resolve anything.  Everyone I know who is working on the project agrees that costs be controlled and that any toll increase be kept to a minimum.  Major steps have been taken to
reduce costs.  Now that the straw man on tolls is knocked down we must work on increasing not only state but also federal support for the project.

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Terry Maynard September 25, 2011 at 07:52 PM
Please be more forthcoming with your constituents. The fare you cite (prepared by Wilbur Smith Associates for MWAA in 2009 with what could be called a low fare bias for obvious reasons) was the fare projection before the extra one billion dollars was added to the cost of Phase 2 of Dulles rail. Because of the grossly inequitable way the parties to the Dulles rail financing agreement--Virginia, Fairfax, Loudoun, USG, & MWAA--allocated shares for financing Dulles rail, DTR users were stuck with picking up over half of the line's cost before the projected costs rose. And toll road users pick up virtually ALL the additional costs as they increase, including 75% of the added costs with the one billion dollar addition MWAA announced last autumn. While I agree with Tom Davis that no one knows for certain what the toll costs will be, the only direction they will go is up from the 2009 Wilbur Smith projection. It is quite reasonable to expect the full toll will range from $15-$20 in 30-35 years--and they could be higher because these forecasts almost always overlook important unanticipated costs. Using the three percent discount rate, that's roughly $5.50 - $8.25 in 2011 dollars--a near tripling to more than quadrupling of the toll in today's dollars. How many of your constituents are prepared to add $1,500 to $2,700 today to the their annual toll paying budget?


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