Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Editorial: The risk of relying on higher Dulles Toll Road revenue, Washington Post, May 7, 2011

THE EXTENSION of Metrorail to Dulles International Airport and beyond, underway in Fairfax County, is one of the biggest public infrastructure projects in America. The venture is vital to this region’s economic development. But at a cost pegged at $6 billion — almost double the estimated price tag in 2004 — it is also generating increasing sticker shock.

That shock is now giving way to political vertigo and pushback, not least because most of the project’s overall cost will fall on commuters who rely on the Dulles Toll Road. Tolls paid by drivers on the road are expected to bear 56 percent of the cost of the extension, which is known as Metro’s Silver Line. Phase II of the project, which will run from Reston through the airport into Loudoun County, relies on tolls for 75 percent of its $3.5 billion cost.

Translation: Toll road users, load up that E-ZPass. Even after adjusting for inflation, a one-way trip, which costs $2 today, is likely to triple or quadruple by the end of this decade, according to preliminary estimates presented to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which controls the road. That means regular toll road commuters, who now pay about $1,000 a year to drive on the road, may pay more than $4,000 in today’s dollars by the year 2020. And given the Silver Line’s history of ever-spiraling costs, don’t be surprised if that estimate turns out to be low. . .

. . . The authority needs to back down before the whole scheme falls apart. It has failed to make a convincing case that the underground station, which would save Dulles-bound rail passengers scarcely three minutes, is worth the staggering price. The authority should not assume that politicians and commuters will accept infinitely higher costs for the Silver Line, no matter what long-term economic benefits it promises.
 For the rest of this Washington Post Editorial Board Opinion, click here

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