U.S. Transportation Secretary Wants Rail to Dulles Costs Reduced

LaHood asks key players to reduce price tag within 30 days.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today asked the key players for the jeopardized rail to Dulles Airport project to reduce the second phase’s $3.5 billion price tag within 30 days.

LaHood called the meeting with the hope of tempering the friction with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) board since its April decision to build a more expensive underground station at Dulles Airport.

That decision  increased the project cost by $300 million. Original estimates for the project came in at $2.5 billion, and that’s the figure on which stakeholders are focused.

MWAA’s decision upset state and federal leaders and its funding partners in Loudoun and Fairfax counties. Representatives from both Fairfax and Loudoun counties have threatened to derail the project’s second phase, and Loudoun might refuse to pay its share. Fairfax agreed to pay 16.1 percent and Loudoun 4.8 percent for the entire rail project.

LaHood asked that officials with MWAA, Fairfax and Loudoun counties continue to meet with a goal of providing him within 30 days a list of ways to reduce the price tag for Phase 2, according to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova.

The stakeholders will meet again Friday, Bulova said.

 “Nobody caved, but there was agreement that we would work together in good faith,” Bulova said.

 MWAA board members, Loudoun County Chairman Scott York and Congressmen Frank Wolf and Gerry Connolly,  were also at the meeting.

Bulova did not say what LaHood indicated could happen if the group cannot agree to reduce costs of the second phase. She also wouldn’t say if the group discussed with LaHood the opportunity for a federal loan that MWAA is banking on for the second phase.

Del. Ken Plum, (D-Reston), said  MWAA risks not getting any federal loan for the second phase if it does not reduce the project’s cost closer to the original estimate of $2.5 billion. MWAA members earlier wanted as much as a $1.5 billion federal loan for phase 2.

“MWAA is going to eventually have to say ‘Oh gosh, we really do still like that tunnel, but to really finance this thing we are going to have to go with the aerial alignment,' " said Plum.

A lot is at stake for all of the funding partners if the second phase stalls or does not get built. Among those risks for MWAA is losing a rail station to the airport.

Loudoun County risks more than $200 million in net revenue through economic development near the new stations. Fairfax County risks overwhelming its Reston station because Loudouners would drive to Wiehle Avenue to ride the train. With the risks in mind, Bulova said Fairfax is still committed to finishing the second phase of the project.

“We already have a lot of skin in the game,” she said. “We worked very hard to get phase one under construction.”

The first 23-mile phase of the rail project is about a third complete and will bring four new stations to Tysons Corner and one off Wiehle Avenue in Reston.The second phase will extend to Dulles Airport and into eastern Loudoun County.

The MWAA board manages the project and the federal, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. governments appoint the 13 members.

The MWAA board chose the more expensive underground station at the airport because airport users would have easier access to the terminal and the view of the airport’s unique architectural design is preserved.

The trouble is that officials in Fairfax and Loudoun counties planned their financing of the project on a $2.5 billion price tag. Since then, pressure on MWAA to reverse its decision or find other ways to reduce at least $1 billion off the price tag has increased.

 Bulova said having all of the stakeholders together at one table was beneficial.

 “I appreciate the secretary making that opportunity available,” she said after the 45-minute meeting. “I thought the discussion was honest as far as putting on the table issues that need to be addressed.”


Update: U.S. Reps. Gerry Connolly and Frank Wolf issued a joint press release tonight thanking LaHood for meeting with them and the stakeholders for the rail to Dulles phase two project. The congressmen say in the press release that in the past few weeks there have been numerous concerns raised by Virginia's secretary of transportation, Fairfax County Board Chairwoman Bulova and Loudoun County Board Chairman York about the rising costs of phase two and the burden users of the Dulles Toll Road will face in tolls that will be used to pay for most of the project.

 "We are encouraged that MWAA board members expressed a willingness to work with us and our local partners to address those concerns, noting that everything is on the table for discussion moving forward," the congressmen stated. "As we have stated repeatedly, our primary interest is for the Rail to Dulles project to be completed on time and at or under budget.  Today’s meeting was a step in the right direction.  While there are hurdles left to overcome, all parties agreed that Rail to Dulles must be done, and that we must and will work together to resolve the outstanding issues. 

"Secretary LaHood is spearheading a process whereby we believe many of those issues can be resolved.  We will be working to that end.  Completion of Rail to Dulles is critical to the future of Dulles Airport, Northern Virginia, and the entire National Capital Region."

Tammi Petrine June 02, 2011 at 03:42 AM
Gosh, I didn't read one word here about investigating funding sources other than tolls for the huge percentage (75%) of the Metro Phase 2 Silver Line costs, whatever they end up being... The tax payers and voters in the Northern Virginia Dulles Toll Road area never have and never would OK this scheme. (This is still a democracy, right?) The parties involved including Sec. LaHood need to inject fairness into the equation. Who should support the Silver Line? How about the parties who stand to profit by the introduction of Metro to the area: i.e. all of the tax payers of Virginia, citizens and corporate; the state of Virginia; and the Federal government. Spread the carefully calibrated expense around so that all pay a little, and no one minority is crippled by egregious road fees/taxes. That’s just one idea; I’m sure others are available… In related news, reports are rampant that a potent new virus is threatening the Dulles Toll Road Corridor; it's called Mad Cow Disease. This is a terminal condition, whereby, following lots of pitiful snorting and staggering, the (cash) cow dies. DTR users are simply not going to foot the bill for Metro…. The DTR users are so dang mad, they're not going to take it anymore. Honorable Sec. La Hood, Chairs Bulova & York, Congressmen Wolf and Connolly, Rep. Plum and ALL other elected officials: Are you listening?
Leila Gordon June 03, 2011 at 12:26 PM
I am a DTR user; often more than twice a day and more than 5 days a week. I believe in the metro project and have swallowed the increase in fares without too much complaint because I view this as a type of user tax that makes some sense. That said, it mystifies me why I am not similarly taxed to use the center lanes to get to and from the airport? What makes that group of citizens exempt from sharing costs for something that directly benefits them? I hope that is viewed soon as a simple way to spread the pain for individual users. After that, if we ever achieve some semblance of functional federal management of the country's infrastructure that involves pricing energy at its real costs and reallocates those obtained resources to these kinds of projects, it may be possible to achieve the outcome we all know is needed and right for the region. A girl can dream. We sure need the Silver Line more than single passenger vehicles.
John Farrell June 03, 2011 at 02:03 PM
Your "dream" is a nightmare for the 85% of travelers who depend on their car to get to the drycleaner, grocery doctor, kid's swimming lesson and their job. With a population density of only 2.500 per square mile, no mass transit system could ever service much more than the 14% of trips (including HOV) served today. No Va.'s land use pattern is too disbursed to ever make mass transit efficient or attractive for most trips. Manhattan by contrast has 250,00 per square mile during the workday. Even with a density 100 greater than FFX, a substantial percentage of Manhattan trips are by SOV. The romanticization of mass transit ignores the "time tax" imposed by that means on its users in addition to the huge subsidies require from society at large. While there are always exceptions, generally it takes longer to make a trip using mass transit than by SOV. The SOV has been the preferred mode of travel for millennia. Before the car, it was a horse. The autonomy of SOV with the attendant freedom of timing and route will not be overcome by the regimentation of mass transit. It's time for NoVa to accept its predominance and allocate resources appropriately: meaning build more roads and bridges or accept perpetual gridlock.
Leila Gordon June 03, 2011 at 02:16 PM
My experience in use of SOV has been (admittedly this is just my experience) much less satisfactory than my use of public transportation, or MOV (multiple occupant vehicle) transit. Frankly, having lived in the metropolitan DC area since 1969, building more roads to accommodate drivers has done nothing but increase the hassle factor for those drivers. The reality is that no one will tolerate the placement or pricetag of another Potomac River bridge crossing; any more than another bridge across the Toll Rd. is in our near future. I don't romanticize mass transit; I honestly prefer the time to read that it offers; and sometimes the opportunity to have a satisfying conversation; or even just to SLEEP. A longer trip is not universally a time tax--many people I know consider it a time out they cherish. So--just saying--don't put words in my mouth or your assumptions in my experience.
John Farrell June 03, 2011 at 03:05 PM
No one would dream of putting words in your mouth, dear lady. But as you acknowledged, your preference isn't widely shared by the rest of us whose lives are over-scheduled to the max and to whom an extra 5 minutes waiting for a connector bus, on the few times when that mode works for our multiple destinations, is pure torture. 85% of trips in the DC MSA are by SOV and that's low compared to the national average. cont.
John Farrell June 03, 2011 at 03:06 PM
Actually, the reason the Metropolitan DC area has the second worse traffic congestion in the nation is that it did not build all of the roads that the demographers and traffic planners projected, in 1965, it would need for the population expected in 2000. The 1965 projections for year 2000 population in the MSA were exactly right. The 1965 projection for jobs was low by 50,000 jobs. That miss could be attributed to more mothers of small children having to work to help the family carry the mortgage. While those families and jobs were coming to the DC MSA, thousands of lane miles and bridges were being taken off the master plan. The 1965 road plan hangs in my office. It shows a outer beltway at 20 miles radius of the Mall and another at 30 miles radius. There are multiple arterials carrying travellers into the urban core. None of these features were built but we have the population and jobs anyway. And mass transit was part of that 1965 plan. Prior generations gave us this mess. We will do anything to improve SOV mobility for those who follow?
The Convict June 03, 2011 at 04:02 PM
Well, John, if you're travel patterns suck, then I guess you need to find new travel patterns. Have you thought about finding a job close to home or maybe dropping a couple of your kids after school activities or maybe just using a bike instead of a car? There are lots of alternatives to an auto. (With that said, I consider my cars(!) one of many transportation alternatives that I have at my disposal.) Nobody is putting in more roads in our area. It's highly unlikely that the chumps down in Richmond are willing to give us more of our tax dollars back since they need them to placate their own constituents, who would rather suck on the NoVa teat than earn enough to take care of their own needs. The best we can hope for is widening our existing roads. But extra capacity only leads the thing I dread most: even more people. The first rule of Darwinism is "adapt or die". From what I've read about your excruciating pain in waiting even 5 minutes for a bus, it's looking like you're NOT in the "adapt" group. It sounds to me like you need to really start looking for other ways of getting around.
John Farrell June 03, 2011 at 04:23 PM
Oh, Convict, your empathy for your fellow human is just as overwhelming as always. My travel patterns are just fine thank you. 18 minute commute down idyllic and empty roads. But it's not about me. Its the rest of the MSA that suffers and it's economic viability. It wasn't the "chumps" in Richmond who took roads off the master plan, It was local pols. BTW, the CTB did just designate the western outer beltway a corridor of state-wide significance, meaning money! But the motivation for the current state of affairs is revealed in one of your statements: ". . . . the thing I dread most: even more people." It's the exclusionary impulse in land use laws and road plans that gave us the mess we have: "if we don't build the roads, the people won't come and we'll have the Nation's capitol all to ourselves."
John Farrell June 03, 2011 at 04:25 PM
Well, the roads weren't built and the jobs and people came anyway. The reverse "Field of Dreams" ideology didn't work and never does. By the way, in extensive studies, the Texas Transportation Institute (the same folks to tell us that our traffic is the second worst in the country) found that the common folk tale that road improvements generate more traffic is untrue. Improvements to arterials take traffic off local roads making for safer neighborhoods as cut through traffic is diverted onto higher capacity roads. The required "adaptation" is the improvement to the 18th century road system left to us by Madison et al and a recognition that SOV will be the dominant transportation mode for the forseeable future as it has been since the domestication of the horse.
The Convict June 03, 2011 at 07:19 PM
Your statement doesn't pass the duck test, John. Would Reston have even existed if there were no roads to get here? Now, you might make this a chicken-and-egg argument that improved infrastructure leads to development and increased development leads to demands for infrastructure improvements. But what you seem to be saying is that whether or not we have development or infrastructure improvements, people will come anyway. But you make my point. Substantial road improvements aren't coming and we have horrid traffic. Adding more people is only going to add more SOVs since, as you acknowledge, the dominant form of transportation is the SOV regardless of what we do with mass transit. Therefore, the only way to deal with our horrid traffic is to reduce the number of SOVs, which necessarily entails a reduction in population. And that's your trade off: people and traffic. So call me exclusionary if that makes you feel better. It seems like the more we build, the worse the area becomes. Just ask yourself this question, John. Would you enjoy your property more with twice as many people around you, or half as many? BTW, John, a horse is not a "Single Occupant Vehicle". If you're going to call a horse as a vehicle, you might as well call your feet as one too.
John Farrell June 03, 2011 at 08:10 PM
What to make of this mismash? It jobs, Convict. People come for the jobs. And while the jobs have been slowing down for the past few years, they and the people connected to them are going to keep coming. They just going to come from further away. Shall we stop jobs from coming to NoVa, Convict? Then, the people holding those jobs need houses and roads to get from their houses to the grocery, drycleaner, doctors, schools, soccer fields, their job etc. Most of the lanes we travel on here in NoVa were built by the developers of the houses, offices and shopping centers. Not the "chumps" in Richmond. As for the place I call home, Reston's population density is 3x that of the County average and it makes for a more ethnically, economically, age bracket and family form diverse community and, for me, a more appealing place to live. Don't you agree, Convict? "Vehicle" - a thing used to transport people or goods. Thus, a horse, a donkey or an ass is properly described as a vehicle. If you want to call yourself a vehicle, Convict, I won't stop you.
The Convict June 04, 2011 at 01:37 AM
Your statement, again, begs the question: how many jobs is enough? While I would like to see our available stock of office space adequately used, I don't think that we need more office space. That would necessarily imply that we don't need that many more jobs either. And that would be another advantage to maintaining a prohibitively high toll. While it would discourage some employers from coming out here, it would also discourage job seekers from outside the area from looking here. Then, maybe, more of the local employees would also be local residents. And while it may be true that the developers put in alot of the local roads, the question isn't really about new roads. After all, where could you stick a new road in Reston? The question is about expanding our crowded existing roads in the absence of new development. And while the communities may ask developers to pick up some of the expense for roads around their developments, typically the taxpayers pay a significant portion as well. And, in case you're not familiar with your Fairfax County history, there's always been plenty of diversity along race, age, income and education even before we became this built out nightmare. I grew up in the Town of Herndon in the 60's and 70's. There was plenty of diversity when I was there and that's even before they started building the section 8 housing on the west side. You don't need density in order to get diversity.
John Farrell June 04, 2011 at 02:49 AM
Herndon was/is not representative of the County, far from it. Only density gets you multi-family housing and townhouses. Otherwise, it's just large lot zoning, aka sprawl which accurately describes about 50% of the land area of FFX. Developers have built between 70-80% of the lane miles in FFX over the last 30 years. New roads in Reston? How about extending Soapstone over the Toll Road and connecting to Sunset, giving us a much needed new, 6th crossing of the Toll road. The right of way is there. So's the right of way extending Lawyers to Centreville Road. The free market drives job creation and limits office. With a 15% vacancy rate, few lenders are financing new office construction but that will change when we start adding jobs again. Unless you believe local governments should prohibit job creation like they used to in and around Moscow. But then you'd have to change your name form Convict to Comrade.
The Convict June 04, 2011 at 12:07 PM
The idea of a bridge from Soapstone to Sunset Hills always humors me. It's another case of a Bridge to Nowhere. That might make sense if most of that traffic from South Reston were going to Plaza America, but I doubt that's the case. And just like housing, if you don't build it, they can't come. There's plenty of vacant office space. Let the employers use the vacant space and, once that's used up, let them look elsewhere. Perhaps they can find all of the office space they need in the newly renovated Tyson's Corner, which will have even more Metro stops and is even more centrally located than Reston. If you're into avoiding sprawl, then moving those new jobs and office construction closer to the center of our region's transportation hub would seem to be a step in the right direction. I never will understand why some people believe that a job and population base must always be expanding. I know that some view it as stagnation. I look at it as stability.
The Convict June 04, 2011 at 12:14 PM
Just out of curiosity, John, how do you know about business in and around Moscow? Did you do your doctoral dissertation on Planning and Zoning in the Former Soviet Union? And don't we do that to the same extent? P&Z, the Reston Master Plan and any one of a hundred other planning initiatives have the effect of outlining land use. But since we're making fun of the former Soviet Union, did you know that they had a 96% literacy rate, that 3/4's of all adults received some sort of college or university education. But, then, who needs that many well-educated people with a higher education? If such a well-educated population were necessary here, the free markets would take care of it for us, right? And we can only that that the DC Metro would operate so efficiently (especially those pesky escalators) and look nearly as nice as the Moscow subway system. The shear majesty of Okhotnie Ryad is going to make our rad tribute to 80's art look like a kindergarten bulletin board.


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