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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Letter to US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood re Dulles Metrorail, June 2, 2011, Terry Maynard

June 2, 2011

The Honorable Ray LaHood, Secretary
U. S. Department of Transportation
Washington, DC

Dear Secretary LaHood,

I want to thank you for taking time to involve yourself in the growing Dulles Metrorail line construction debacle.  It is clear that something is terribly wrong with this program as the total cost for the effort has skyrocketed from $2.5 billion in 2004 according to the final Environmental Impact Statement to more than $6.3 billion today.  This two and one-half fold increase includes the one billion dollar, forty percent increase in the cost of Phase 2 from $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion dropped on us last October.

If, as reported in the press, you have asked the several parties to the Dulles Metrorail effort to find a way to cut the costs of the effort, that is a vital first step.  Building an above ground station at Dulles airport rather than an underground one may be part of that answer, but it will only reduce the recent unsubstantiated one billion dollar increase by one-third at best.  I believe it is important to understand quite specifically how these cost estimates—especially for Phase 2—grew so quickly and astronomically.  Otherwise, after whatever accommodation may be made under your leadership, the costs may inexplicably balloon again.That may require a comprehensive audit, as called for by area Congressman Frank Wolf, whether conducted by DOT, GAO, or another expert, disinterested party.

From a northern Virginia resident’s perspective, the current financing arrangement for Dulles Metrorail construction is even more outrageous, however.   As it stands now, Dulles Toll Road (DTR) users would pay the majority (56%) of the Metrorail line’s cost, seeing their current $2.00 full toll fare increase in 2040 to $14.25 with TIFIA and $19.75 without TIFIA per the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA).  That’s approximately a three- to five-fold increase in DTR fares in real terms.  Who would anyone pay $7-$10 to use the DTR today?  It is the kind of toll increase that will see a large volume of regional traffic divert to local roads, clogging local streets, undermining DTR revenues (and MWAA debt service), and increasing state and local transportation costs for improvements and maintenance.  In short, the allocation of Metrorail costs is so outlandish as to be unworkable.  

While DTR users may rightfully pay a share of the construction costs to help ensure full use of the Metrorail line, there are several additional options for sharing these costs. 
  • The Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA), which will collect revenues from operating the Dulles Metrorail line, is not a party to the financing agreement nor obligated to pay any of its construction costs.  That’s unprecedented in WMATA experience.  Why isn’t WMATA paying for a share of the line’s construction?
  • Dulles International Airport Access Highway (DIAAH) users do not pay any tolls to drive all the way from I-66 or I-495 to the airport.  Once Dulles Metrorail is constructed, the DIAAH should be treated like a “HOT” lane and users charged the same or higher toll as DTR users for their express access to/from the airport.  Moreover, these tolls would be a constructive way to ensure day-long use of the Dulles Metrorail line.  Why is this important funding source not on the table?
  • MWAA is currently responsible for paying just 4.1% of the total cost of the line out of its airport revenues—about $260 million—which is a small fraction of the $589 million to $1.22 billion it estimates it will cost to build the line and station at the airport under its three options.  Why isn’t MWAA responsible for covering all the costs of building that portion of the line that will benefit MWAA, its airline passengers, and its employees?   Why should local jurisdictions and DTR users pay for the bulk of a capability that little serves them?
I appreciate that these are difficult issues, but both the growing total cost of the Dulles Metrorail line andthe irresponsible and unworkable allocation of those costs are a deep concern to me and my fellow Restonians.  Having stepped into this admittedly difficult situation, I hope that you and your staff can take the time to work with the parties involved in the Dulles Metrorail construction program to redress both the cost overruns and financing inequities.  If I can be of any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.  Success in resolving these deficiencies may well turn a growing debacle into an important success for public transportation in the 21st Century.

Respectfully submitted,

Terry Maynard
Member, Board of Directors
Reston Citizens Association
2217 Wakerobin Lane
Reston, VA 20191

cc:   U.S. Senator John Warner
       U.S. Senator Jim Webb
       Representative Frank Wolf, U.S. Congress
       Representative Jim Moran, U.S. Congress
       Representative Jerry Connolly, U.S. Congress
       Secretary Sean Connaughton, Va. Department of Transportation
       Virginia State Delegate Joe May, Chairman, House Transportation Committee
       Virginia State Senator Janet Howell, Reston
       Virginia State Delegate Ken Plum, Reston
       Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
       Loudoun County Board of Supervisors
       Reston Citizens Association Board of Directors
       Reston Association Board of Directors
       Reston area newspapers and blogs

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