Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Letter: Inequity in Financing Metrorail Construction with Road Tolls, John Norton, December 8, 2011

The following is a copy of a letter Mr. Norton sent to Chairman Bulova today.  

Dear Chairman Bulova:

            I just received your latest Bulova Byline with a section devoted to the Phase 2 funding problem for the Metro extension.  I am aware that the recent funding agreement doesn’t change, by much, the fact that Dulles Toll Road users are being forced to pay up to 75% of the cost of the extension – but it does hold out some hope that the percentage may be somewhat lower.  I’d like you to know – and the whole Board of Supervisors to know – that, while I am a supporter of the Metro extension, there is considerable anger among those of us who use the Dulles Toll Road over the fact that we have been selected to carry the bulk of the financial obligations of this undertaking.  

            Dulles Toll Road users are, by definition, NOT using the Metro extension.  Why on earth have we been selected to pay for most of it?  Why aren’t users of the Metro extension being asked to pay the 75%?  That question is rhetorical, I suppose, since the costs are enormous and the fare increases for Metro riders would be similarly enormous, and that would hurt Metro ridership.  A more pertinent question is, Why aren’t Maryland, DC, and Virginia being asked to pay for these costs as they have paid for, and are paying for, the rest of the Metro operation?   I am at a loss to explain.

            Over the years, ever since its construction in fact,  I have paid tolls for using the Dulles Toll Road, knowing that because I live in Reston I have the “privilege” of paying tolls on the major highway through my community, when virtually all my neighbors in the surrounding Washington DC, metropolitan area do not pay tolls for using nearby roads.  We all pay taxes for roads, but until recently only Dulles Toll Road users paid something more.  (Maryland’s ICC and the Beltway “Hot Lanes” are two new toll-supported highways.  Those roads, particularly the “Hot Lanes,” are for another email.)   Dulles tolls are something I accepted early.  When the tolls were scheduled to expire (about five years ago I believe) I did not really expect them to, and I was right.  But I believed that the collected tolls would always be used to maintain and expand and improve the Toll Road - and not be used for other county and state obligations.  That’s where I was wrong. 

            The Toll Road fees, as it turns out, are an easy target for the political establishment.  They are already being collected.  Users are thought to have become accustomed to increases from time to time.  And, apparently, they are not treated as a tax.  (Perish the thought that taxes be increased to pay for needed infrastructure!)  But it is fundamentally unfair to impose this funding burden on Toll Road users.  

            I view the Metro extension as a “public good” that benefits everyone.  Similarly, the construction and maintenance of public highways is a “public good.”  Philosophically, we can talk about whether user fees, such as tolls, should fund our roads or whether roads ought to be funded through general revenues.  It makes sense that road users should pay more for the costs of our highways than nonusers.  But we should also acknowledge that highway and general transportation infrastructure is an essential element for any community, county, and state.  Taxes should fund most of it.  Everyone benefits.  Perhaps those who benefit most, such as frequent users, could and should pay a bit more.  

            But a single subset of Fairfax County residents who may benefit in some small way (i.e., Toll Road users benefiting from a presumed lessening of congestion because some potential Toll Road users are riding the Metro extension) should not be asked to pay for a disproportionate piece of the pie.  Yet that is exactly what you are asking Dulles Toll Road users to do.  If Dulles Toll Road users are asked to pay, shouldn’t Route 7 users pay; shouldn’t Route 66 users pay; shouldn’t Beltway users pay; shouldn’t Dulles Connector users?  I envision DC and Arlington residents driving west on Route 66 and the Dulles Connector to their jobs in Tysons Corner (the “reverse commute” on Route 66 inside the Beltway is very heavy), but they will pay nothing for the Metro extension.  Yet Fairfax County residents who drive east from Reston or Herndon on the Dulles Road and Route 66 to their jobs in Arlington and DC will pay for the Metro extension.  What sense does that make?  The notion that the latter group of residents is using the Dulles “corridor” is a red herring.  The Reston/Herndon residents are no more using the Metro extension than the DC/Arlington residents.  That’s the point.   

            I hope you will continue to work on this issue to fight the inequity I have described.


John Norton
Reston, VA 

cc:  Supervisor Cathy Hudgins


  1. It is important that this is not Metro to Dulles but the redevelopment of Tyons as a city and someone has to pay for it.
    If it had been Metro to Dulles it would have been long completed and we would be talking about how to plan and approve development around the Metro stops.
    Originally it was to follow the toll road on to the airport and $2 billion including almost a billion from the federal government was available.
    But the Fairfax Board of Supervisors chose to lobby to dogleg the Silver line through Tysons creating 5 stops that will triple the time to get to the airport and ended up costing almost $4 billion in addition construction costs and delayed cost of inflation.
    So Fairfax has to figure out who to tax to make it work. They cannot tax the developers that much hfor many, many decades because the full development of commercial and other taxable space around the stops will be slow, slow in coming with the federal money pipeline drying up.
    So the only choice is to raise taxes on all county home owners or maybe the toll road. And if people abandon the toll road because of the escalating costs Fairfax might go into bankruptcy and get out of the bond debt.
    Who knows but it is the next generation that will see the real crisis in funding.

  2. You make some good points, Anon. Thanks for joining the dialogue!

    Let me add a little: FC has created two special business tax districts (for Phase 1 and Phase 2) which together will generate $650M (max) to help build the Silver Line. That leaves the rest of us about $350M to finance--if current cost estimates are accurate.

    HOWEVER, the re-development in Tysons will create more than $2 billion (yes, B) in needed infrastructure costs over the next 20 years. And there is a tremendous argument now over who (public, developers) will pay that huge cost. A similar, but somewhat smaller infrastructure investment is likely to be needed in Reston's TOD areas--but the RTF hasn't begun to look at that yet.

    ...and none of this addresses the 54% share PLUS (up to 75%) Dulles Toll Road users will pay in tolls to cover MWAA's share of the Silver Line construction over the next 40-50 years.


    ...and thanks again for contributing.

  3. Special interests in the development and real estate industries conned .... errrr, I mean "convinced" local politicians into thinking this would be a good thing. As usual, costs were never mentioned, just the Rube Goldberg like economic projections that the "If they build it, they will come" excuse would magically produce residents, jobs, and money falling right out of the sky, while hiding or failing to disclose all the costs that would end up being thrown on residents.

    Well, in Fairfax County, they've been building, and building, and building, but oddly enough, they haven't been coming for 10 years. Empty or marginally occupied buildings fill Fairfax, and there's no real indication that the Federal government will remain the bloated boom industry it's been for the last 30 years that spoon feeds taxpayer dollars into contractors hungrily awaiting mouths. No, those days are over. The few people that stood up to fight, or at least try to point out all the flaws in the developers schemes were shot down by special interests that had private access to politicians, not to mention money to "support" them. It's a classic example of everything that is wrong with this country: Government by the special interests and for the special interests.

    And now, low and behold, the real costs are beginning (JUST beginning!!) to surface. Gosh!!! Gasp!!! You mean they actually need real money to pay for the multi-billion dollar fiasco? What's that you say??? And they want the money to come from those most likely to use it? But where's the money that's going to magically drop out of the sky that the developers told all the people would be there??

    I'm sorry, dear Reston, but when you turned your backs on the self serving development industry and allowed the county's "By the Special Interests and For the Special Interests" corrupt mode of operation to take over and dominate, you got just what you deserved - ripped off.

    Deal with it!!! Do you really think the people of Burke ought to be bailing you out???

  4. Deal with it!!! Do you really think the people of Burke ought to be bailing you out???

    Well, not necessarily Burke residents, but there are a lot of people who live in communities served by metro who never had to pay an extra toll to support its building and maintenance. Keep in mind that Reston is part of Fairfax county. It is not a separate city or town. I don't pay taxes to Reston and I don't elect any "Reston" officials. When the prior poster states "I'm sorry, dear Reston, but when you turned your backs on the self serving development industry and allowed the county's "By the Special Interests and For the Special Interests" corrupt mode of operation to take over and dominate, you got just what you deserved - ripped off.", I'm not sure who you actually mean. Please enlighten me. Certainly you are not talking about those of us who happen to reside in Reston. I don't recall ever voting on such an issue.

    I think that Mr. Norton makes a good point. I have no objection to paying a toll on 267 because I do use the road. What I do object to is that people who use other major highways like I-495, I-66, and I-395 don't pay any tolls to use those roads. This makes me feel like I am "taxed" twice. My tax dollars go to road projects (like the Springfield mixing bowl project) to maintain major highways that I rarely use. I also pay an extra fee of about $700 per year for the highway I use on a daily basis. The metro goes down the I-66 corridor and yet the people who drive down I-66 pay no extra money to support the orange line. The metro goes to Alexandria and yet no one who drives along 395 pays a toll to support the blue line. Is this fair?

    If people who drive the Dulles Toll Road are going to pay for the metro via their tolls, Virginia needs to be fair and collect tolls from those who drive the other corridors where metro runs like I-66.

  5. There's a lot of big money and politics involved in the Rail-to-Dulles project, and it's an unfortunate example of everything that's wrong with American politics. It's why the 99% movement has arisen. Government by the people and for the people is something politicians don't understand, or care about. Special interests influence the politicians with both money and the fact that they can continually lobby them behind the citizens backs, and to make it worse, they play both sides of the political lines to get their way.

    Consider the following: Developers entice local Democrats into buying into development projects by using the excuse that they're doing it to allow low income housing by setting aside a percentage of their units for the poor, and like a Bass seeing a bright, shiny lure, they bite without thinking. Realizing that what one of the other posters above stated is true, in that the area is over developed, they realize they need to figure out a way to not only fill these buildings in one way or another, but to make it profitable for the mega-wealthy corporations financing the operations.

    Cure? Bring in the Republicans to not outsource, but in a sense, in-source American jobs. How do they do this? They travel to Bangalore, India, and entice some of the most well known outsourcing firms there to move operations into the U.S.. Certain large, high-tech companies can lay off thousands and thousands of American workers and move new replacement workers in from India to replace them.

    It's a great scheme, if you're really, really in love with money. You buy up all the newly built apartments, leaving, of course, a small percentage for the poor, have the tech firms pay their rent, and then pay these insourced about 1/10th what American workers would make for the same jobs. These imported workers aren't technically part of an outsourcing movement, they're working for foreign companies that have simply signed a contract to do contracting work for the American companies.

    Result: All the newly developed buildings get built, the buildings get filled, those that stand to make a financial killing do so, and I would estimate that somewhere between 10,000 to 50,000 people county wide end up losing their jobs. The true irony is that the very same tax payers funding all the development fiascos are, in a sense, funding their own demise, just for a tiny percentage of wealthy that have no respect for America or the American people.

    Our governor is a child prodigy of the Falwell/Robertson radical right wing school of Christianity (if you can honestly call it Christianity at all!!). This is a school that seems to believe that believing and acting on the words of Jesus are secondary to simply regurgitating them. Regurgitation of religious writings is the goal, and understanding them is irrelevant. If one can regurgitate the words of Jesus as stated in the Holy Bible, then one is a true Christian. If one can regurgitate the words, without truly understanding their meaning, then one is entitled to impose their will and opinions of others. One can even go so far as offering up the idea that assassinating Hugo Chavez is a "Christian" idea since he clearly might pose a remote threat to the American oil industry (Robertson did this).

    Enter our governors recent trip to Bangalore, India. A city that has, over the last 10 years, likely cost in excess of 1 million American workers their jobs. "He's there to sell Virginia Wine" is what the story in the news is, and yet this is the very same man that was so outraged by the sale of alcohol in Virginia he wanted the ABC stores abolished! Costing American workers their jobs to ensure that the mega-wealthy remain the mega-wealthy is apparently a "core value" for the Republican party.

    ... but they couldn't have pulled this off without the help of the Democrats!!!



Your comments are welcome and encouraged as long as they are relevant, constructive, and decent.