For example, in 2009, Wilbur Smith Associates (WSA) prepared a “comprehensive” traffic and revenue study under a contract with MWAA. It showed that traffic on the Dulles Toll Road (DTR) declining on the DTR from 110 million transactions in 2008 when the full toll was $1.25 to 93 million transactions in 2047 (last year reported) when the toll reached $11.25. The decline in usage is natural despite the anticipated growing population as people opt to take either Metrorail or alternative non-toll roads, eliminating 17 million trips/year—or 47,000 transactions per day.
RCA’s Reston 2020 Committee updated the WSA study using the same analytical approach, but with updated MWCOG job and population growth estimates (they’re lower) and the higher toll rates MWAA laid out last year. As expected, they showed a greater decline in 2047 transactions—83 million per year or 74,000 per day—as tolls reached $15.40. Of course, more recent toll forecasts (including one by MWAA) suggest Reston 2020 undershot toll growth with the implication that toll road use would decline even more steeply over the next 30-40 years.
On the other hand, Fairfax County submitted a report to the Virginia Department of Transportation (527 report) in 2010 indicating that the DTR would need to be widened one lane eastbound and two lanes westbound not later than 2030 to handle increasing traffic on the DTR resulting from the redevelopment of Tysons.
Both of these judgments cannot be true. Either DTR traffic will increase (despite the addition of Metrorail and huge toll rate increases) or it will decrease because of these same factors.
On top of this, no one—not even WMATA--has a well-based reasonably current understanding of the traffic that Dulles Metrorail will actually handle in the near or distant future, if it’s completed, including what fares WMATA will likely charge for its use. Obviously, the higher the fare, the less it will be used.
Right now, there is a massive argument going on in Tysons planning as to who will pay for the $1.7 billion transportation infrastructure needed there in the next 20 years, according to Fairfax officials. Most of that is for bus transit to and from the Metrorail stations within and beyond the immediate station areas. Aside from the issue of who pays, how does anyone know with a reasonable level of comfort that Tysons won’t need substantially more or less money than that to provide a reasonable level of local transportation service? Has anyone examined how the improvements made there will affect transportation needs farther west on the Dulles Corridor? Would alternative approaches achieve the same transportation goals more cost-effectively (e.g.—by building parking garages at the Metro stations, expanding pedestrian and bicycle access more than planned, etc.)? Has any independent authority checked the validity of the process used by the county and its contractor to generate the current cost figures?
To proceed with further transportation infrastructure planning and development, much less the massive community planning in Tysons, Reston, and Loudoun's Dulles World, is government misfeasance on a multi-billion dollar scale. An expert, independent outside entity overseen by a panel of non-partisan citizens from the Dulles Corridor needs to conduct an extensive, integrated, transparent analysis of the Dulles Corridor’s future transportation needs, based on multiple population and jobs forecasts, property development plans (or plans in the making), and transportation infrastructure programs. This needs to be completed before ANY of the parties—US DOT, Virginia, Loudoun, and Fairfax—make half-baked decisions about what, when, and where to build, and how to pay for it all based on incomplete and inaccurate information.
The fact of the matter is we may not need Dulles Metrorail, more lanes of Dulles Toll Road, more bus service, or other expensive additions to our transportation infrastructure to meet the needs of the Corridor. Alternatively, we may need much more than is currently envisioned. We just don’t know. Yet, government officials are making multi-billion dollar decisions anyway on information that they and we know is bad.
The abysmal failure to set aside parochial and often partisan viewpoints and work together in a systematic, constructive, and transparent way to address the transportation needs of the Dulles Corridor is an example of why the public is increasinly angry with elected officials and public employees in government at all levels. It is time for all the parties to the Dulles Corridor transportation issue to “man up” and do the right thing for the Corridor, its employers and its residents, rather than reaching secret agreements behind closed on bad information without citizen understanding or input.
Terry MaynardReston, Virginia