Posts about Silver Line
I joined Loudoun Times-Mirror reporter Trevor Baratko yesterday to talk with Bruce DePuyt about the Silver Line. Loudoun supervisor Ken Reid, the "swing vote" on the project, and "Loudoun Opt Out" leader Dave LaRock joined by phone.
Baratko posed a very good question in the second half of the segment. After supporting the Silver Line and calling it "a fait accompli" in the campaign, then publicly coming out against it, Reid ultimately voted for it. But in his comments, he seemed to have nothing good to say about a project that most businesses and residents in Loudoun County are very eager for.
Why did Reid vote for something he doesn't seem to like? Or, perhaps more accurately, why does he seem to think it's politically best for him to sound as negative as possible about something he used to support and now supports again? For that matter, was his opposition genuine in the interim or, given the business support, was the project always going to ultimately pass after some supervisors made the biggest possible show of opposition to placate the Republican base?
Decide for yourself based on Reid's answers in the second half of the segment.
Loudoun County might decide to drop out of the Silver Line project. If they do, Loudoun will lose out the most, but Fairfax residents will also be hurt if Loudoun neighbors can just drive to Fairfax stations and park. Virginia shouldn't let Loudoun get something for nothing.
Some Loudoun County board members are suddenly very concerned with fiscal austerity after regional leaders have worked for 4 decades to get the line.
If Loudoun drops out of the system, the Silver Line will end at Dulles Airport, and the westernmost stations, Route 606 and Route 772, will be cut. Loudoun residents will miss out on accessibility to Metro and the associated economic development.
Tysons Engineer believes that Loudoun residents feel that they can essentially get something for nothing. If Loudoun withdraws, they won't have to contribute tax dollars, but they'll still be able to use the system by driving to Fairfax. It's not that simple.
What does losing Loudoun do to costs?
Tysons Engineer estimates that the cost to build the Silver Line's second phase could be cut by almost a billion dollars by eliminating the stations beyond Dulles. Since Loudoun was only contributing $270 million to the construction, the rest of the region will save money on building the line.
However, the other regional jurisdictions were also counting on $10 million annually from Loudoun to support operations of the system. Without that money, Fairfax might need to contribute more than it had been planning.
What about parking at Innovation Station?
The Dulles station, which will be at the end of the line without Loudoun, won't have any commuter parking. For commuters, the Innovation (Route 28) Station would serve as the end-of-line park and ride if Loudoun drops out.
The current proposal calls for installing 2,000 parking spaces at Innovation. But that number was chosen in light of another 6,050 spaces planned for the Route 606 and Route 772 stations. Because riders driving to the Silver Line from Loudoun County would have the option to park further west under the current plan, the spaces at Innovation were meant to serve drivers from a much smaller area.
There will certainly be pressure to increase the number of spaces at Route 28 due to the loss of the Loudoun spaces. And given Innovation's status as the system's most northwesterly park and ride, that's probably a sensible notion. With only 2,000 spaces, Innovation would have the least parking spaces of any end-of-line (the role it would be filling in this case) station in the system.
It's important to build transit-oriented development at as many of the region's Metro stations as possible. Innovation Station is no exception. But end-of-line stations also need to serve the large auto-dependent areas beyond the reach of Metro.
Don't let Loudoun get something for nothing
Regardless of whether Innovation gets 2,000 spaces or lots more, many of those spaces will end up going to drivers from Loudoun. Fairfax taxpayers shouldn't be too happy about giving Loudounites a free ride.
It's not just Innovation. If there aren't enough spaces there, Loudoun drivers will just stay on the Toll Road until stations farther down the line, where they'll still take spaces from Fairfax residents.
The best solution is probably to create a higher base rate for parking at the Silver Line stations west of Tysons Corner. Fairfax could then create a pass program for their residents, whereby they would get a discount at those stations.
Charging drivers much more to park there will help offset the impact of Loudoun drivers parking in Fairfax. Making this part of the plan in the event that Loudoun drops out, might persuade the Loudoun Board of Supervisors to stick with the system.
Innovation could better serve bus riders
If Loudoun does drop out, MWAA and WMATA should consider changes to the design of Innovation Station. The agencies building the Silver Line should further think about the station's role for transit.
The West Falls Church station serves as a major transfer point for bus riders from the Dulles corridor. Buses coming down the Airport Access Road from Tysons Corner and Reston can take exclusive ramps right into a bus loop at the Metro.
If the Silver Line doesn't go to Loudoun, there will likely be more demand for bus service from Loudoun to the Silver Line. Building ramps from the Dulles Greenway and a larger bus loop would make transit a more attractive option. Frequent and fast bus service could encourage Loudounites to take the bus to Metro instead of driving into Fairfax to park.
Loudoun would be best served by being a regional partner in the expansion of transit to and beyond Dulles. If their Board of Supervisors does decide to back out of the project, we can hope that they will work with Fairfax, WMATA, and MWAA to make sure that the truncated Silver Line will accommodate their needs. But they shouldn't labor under the false assumption that they'll be getting something for nothing.
Virginia Governor McDonnell says he fully supports the timely completion of Phase 2 of the Silver Line. Yet his administration's political roadblocks are the biggest threat to the project.
In a Washington Post op-ed this weekend, McDonnell wrote, "Unfortunately, the project has been marked by many controversies, ranging from escalated costs, the prospect of soaring tolls on the Dulles Toll Road, legal and labor issues, and the overall accountability, membership and transparency of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA)."
The governor is blowing out of proportion MWAA's governance, legal, and labor issues in a way that unfairly sows doubt about the transit line. Today's interim report by the USDOT's Inspector General found real transparency, spending, and accountability problems at MWAA, but does not find that the agency mismanaged the Silver Line project.
The high tolls are a direct result of the state's failure to invest its own money in this critical transportation project, placing the burden fully and unfairly on northern Virginians. Instead of making the case to the Loudoun Board of Supervisors for the importance of moving forward, McDonnell's administration is making it easier for them to vote no, endangering the whole project.
The Governor just threatened again, via a budget amendment, to withhold the state's meager $150 million contribution to Phase 2 if his new appointees to MWAA were not seated immediately instead of on July 1st. Fortunately, the Virginia House of Delegates voted yesterday to kill the amendment, stopping this latest threat.
One of the main points of disagreement between the McDonnell administration and MWAA has been Project Labor Agreements (PLAs). These have been successful on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and Dulles Rail Phase 1 projects.
PLAs are not just about regulating union labor and wage rates for workers. They also require unions to help secure an adequate supply of skilled trades for these massive projects, and to ensure effective coordination among the dozens of trades and subcontractors, both union and non-union, for smoothly functioning, safe, and timely construction. The preference for PLAs in the bidding process seems a reasonable solution. We should move forward with these provisions.
The governor says he is greatly concerned that Virginia doesn't have a majority of seats on the MWAA governing board, which controls Dulles and Reagan National Airports, as well as the Dulles Toll Road and the Silver Line project. But this regional agency has effectively served our region for a long time, completing major and complex expansions of both airports.
It is true, however, MWAA could be much more transparent and accountable, as the IG report notes. The Coalition for Smarter Growth was among the first to raise this issue in 2006 when the Kaine administration proposed handing control of the project over to MWAA. Pressure from the governor, our federal and state legislators, and local elected officials has resulted in key reforms at MWAA. These reforms should continue, but so should the Silver Line.
The attacks on MWAA may have more to do with securing state control of future toll road revenues, for use on road projects like the Northern Virginia Outer Beltway and other rural highways, than about fixing the governance of MWAA.
We can't know that for sure, but it's very plausible given the administration's power grab at the Virginia Port Authority. After reorganizing the port authority's board to ensure control from Richmond, the administration pressed new board members to approve diverting $250 million to Route 460, a rural highway between Hampton Roads and Petersburg that Hampton Roads leaders say is not their top priority. A similar effort by the governor to secure a controlling majority on MWAA in order to do the same thing would not work to the best long-term interests of Northern Virginians.
McDonnell says that he could not even contemplate funding another $300 million for Dulles rail without raiding other projects throughout the state. But is he setting the right priorities? What money might actually be available?
The governor is proposing to spend over $750 million on the Route 460 project. Another $244 million is being earmarked to the controversial Charlottesville western bypass, a road that appears to be ineffective and a waste of money. Millions are going to the Coalfields Expressway to support mountaintop removal in an area with little traffic.
Even accounting for these projects, there may be another $400 million available in the $1.5 billion Public-Private Transportation Act fund. Setting different priorities would free up hundreds of millions more.
It's hard to respond to the governor's argument that Northern Virginia is getting its fair share of the state's funding without seeing the full picture. A clearer accounting of complicated funding flows would be helpful for both the public and legislators. Certainly, making significant investments in addressing the transportation needs of Northern Virginia should be a priority given the importance of the region to the state's economy.
Perhaps symbolic of the administration's priorities, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Transportation David Tyerar made two recent trips from Richmond to Leesburg to appear before the Loudoun Board of Supervisors. He didn't go to make the case for Dulles Rail. Rather, he spoke to promote the Outer Beltway.
The governor and secretary revived planning for the Outer Beltway, added it as a new Corridor of Statewide Significance, and are exploring the route for yet another public-private partnership. Yet this highway would do little to help massively congested corridors like I-66, Route 50, and Route 7. The contrast between the obstacles put before Dulles Rail by the McDonnell administration and their full-court press for the Outer Beltway couldn't be starker.
If the Silver Line's phase 2 fails, it will be on Governor McDonnell's watch. He should lead the way to compromises that will allow the project to move forward, and focus more of the state's transportation resources on this economically critical project.
Transit advocates should take heed of Steven Pearlstein's insight into the battle over the Silver Line and fight back against the anti-transit ideology that lies just under the surface and threatens transit projects everywhere.
This weekend, Pearlstein wrote in the Washington Post, "So what are we arguing about here? Politics. Ideology. Certainly nothing that is worth risking the most important economic development project in the region."
To see the ideological anti-transit forces at work, compare the recent death of a rail megaproject in New Jersey to the situation unfolding in Virginia with the Silver Line extension.
In late 2010, New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie rejected $6 billion in funds from Federal and other non-state sources to build a new commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River into Manhattan. The project would have provided tens of thousands of jobs now and in the future, created over $100 million of business activity per year, increased the value of homes nearby, created huge amounts of tax revenues for the State of New Jersey, and eased the commute for hundreds of thousands people who have to get in to Manhattan from Northern Jersey every day.
And the independent Government Accountability Office confirmed these lost benefits just last month in a well-researched and detailed report.
Despite those cold, hard facts and the fact that New Jersey would have been on the hook for only about 14 percent of the project's total cost, the New Jersey Governor killed the project. The Governor veiled his anti-transit actions in the ideology of austerity
A closer look at the facts reveals that Governor Christie falsely inflated the short-term economic cost of the project in his mission to kill a well-funded, well-planned, and hugely beneficial public transit project. Now that his assertions about funding have been largely debunked, we can see what anti-transit forces have attempted to hide: an ideological opposition to transit itself.
Simply put, there is a vocal movement that rejects the notion that public transit has or should have a place in our development, let alone a place of priority. And some politicians are responding to that movement.
Now, anti-transit forces in Virginia are also pursuing a similar veiled anti-transit ideology as they attempt to kill phase 2 of the Metro Rail extension to Dulles Airport.
The project is the largest expansion of Metro rail lines in the D.C. Metropolitan Area since Metro was built in the 1970s. Like the Hudson River tunnel in New Jersey, the Silver Line would move thousands of people a day by rail through one of the most congested areas in the United States. It would (and has already) created jobs and other economic benefits. The project is being managed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and is currently in Phase I, which extends the rail from East Falls Church through Tysons Corner.
Phase I has been an unqualified success. It is scheduled to be completed on time and it is on budget. The project also has an exemplary safety record
Then anti-transit forces stepped in and Governor McDonnell changed his mind, threatening to withhold funding unless the Airports Authority changed the requirement that the biggest contractors on Phase II use the same union hiring halls that were used to staff Phase I
To avoid a fight, the Airports Authority was flexible and it changed the bidding to accommodate Governor McDonnell's request, implementing a system that would give bidders using the same hiring halls from Phase I extra points in the competition for the contract but not requiring their use.
Apparently this hasn't appeased Governor McDonnell's anti-transit donors because the Governor is now threatening to kill the project unless the preference system is dropped entirely.
Anti-transit forces in Virginia have now created a full-blown crisis on account of their ideological opposition to using union labor on any project
Transit advocates should be wary of the stated ideological reasons given for killing these projects because they veil another ideology that fundamentally opposes the expansion of public transit.
The Virginia and New Jersey cases
Anti-transit ideologues veil their opposition to transit projects with other ideological memes that incite their base
But make no mistake, if the anti-transit ideologues had any predisposition to implement real transit solutions, they would cast aside those ideological battles in favor of the compromises and heavy subsidies they have been offered to move the transit projects forward.
Their absolute refusal to do so in favor of other pet ideological battles
- Bikeshare is a gateway to private biking, not competition
- Judge denies injunction against closing schools
- Long-term closures: A solution to single-tracking?
- Metro policy for refunds after delays falls short, riders say
- PG planners propose bold new smart growth future
- Public land deals have both benefits and pitfalls
- Prince George's County struggles to get trails right