Autumn on Lake Audobon

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

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Op-Ed: Poor Parks, Poor Communities? Terry Maynard, RestonNow, April 30, 2014

Park“Great Parks, Great Communities” is the clich├ęd theme of the Fairfax County Park Authority.  And the theme may be true, but the Park Authority is promising — a promise it may well not fulfill — Tysons and Reston urban areas among the most poorly parked-served areas among the top cities in the country.
It raises the question, will poor parks mean poor communities?

As Reston Now suggests in its April 29 article, county park availability standards for the newly urbanizing areas of the Dulles Corridor are less than half of the county-wide “suburban” standard — and the Park Authority plans to put fewer parks in Reston’s station areas than in Tysons because we have parks and facilities elsewhere.

Here’s where we are in the arithmetic of public parks.  The county standards described in Tysons’ and Reston’s plans shoot for providing about 1.7 acres of park per 1,000 residents.  That’s about 154 acres of parks in Tysons and 95 acres in Reston — if fulfilled.

Now let’s see how that stacks up. A national non-profit, the Trust for Public Lands, tracks park availability annually for the 100 largest cities in the country. When Fairfax County’s urban park standard is included in the ranking of acreage per 1,000 residents, both Tysons and Reston rank in the bottom 5 percent of all the cities.
 

If Tysons and Reston achieve the county urban goal, they would bracket New York City’s Manhattan Borough near the bottom of the list. Yet Manhattan has two and one-half times the density planned for Tysons and more than three times the density planned for Reston.

Moreover, despite having some of the most expensive real estate in the country, Manhattan has been able to set aside 18.3 percent of its land for parks.  That’s more than 10 times the share planned for Tysons (1.4 percent) and more than three times the goal for Reston (5.6 percent).

And the county has no intent to meet its own standard for Reston because, as the Reston Comprehensive Plan says, “Need generated in the TSAs should primarily be met through the integration of urban parks, recreation, and cultural facilities within the mixed use developments of the TSAs. To supplement these parks and facilities, elements of the larger Reston area’s robust park and recreation system (outside of the TSAs) may be able to be improved to help meet the needs of future residents and employees.”

So, yes, the County envisions that the park and natural areas that we as Reston Association members own and pay for annually in our RA assessments will count against its obligation to meet county park requirements. It is the grinding down of Reston as a special place to live, work, and play to just another mediocre county sub-division.

But that is only half the story. The other half has to do with the availability of facilities within the parks, especially space-consuming recreational fields.

Using Manhattan has our benchmark again, we find that Manhattan has 150 athletic fields (mostly baseball diamonds) serving its 1.5 million residents — or about one athletic field for every 10,000 residents.  This benchmark is not as good that planned for Tysons:  20 athletic fields for 89,000 residents or about 4,500 residents.

Reston falls way behind both:  The planned 56,000 residents of its station areas will have “at least” (and don’t expect more) three athletic fields or one for every 18,700 residents.  That’s about half the ratio found in Manhattan. It will be the worst in the country among TPL’s 100 top cities.

The rationale, as explained by the Park Authority’s Chairman Bill Bouie, “There is so much here (in Reston) already,” says Bouie. “We don’t have nearly the assets in Tysons.”

Wait a minute!  The county athletic fields in Reston serve the 60,000 people who already live here and, as Mr. Bouie knows well, are fully utilized by Restonians and thousands of people who live beyond Reston.

In fact, a recent RCA Reston 2020 on the Baron Cameron Park master plan shows that, even with the three athletic fields the current Reston urban plan proposes, there will be no improvement in the athletic field accessibility and the certainty of a major loss of athletic field accessibility if a recreation center is built in the park.

The other athletic fields in Reston are bought and paid for by the members of Reston Association as part of their annual assessments.  The apparent expectation of the county is that the residents of Reston should build more athletic fields in their 1,200 acres of common land to fulfill the county’s commitment to the community.

The picture painted here is that the county has no intention of sustaining Reston as a model planned community and, indeed, wants to take private Reston property — RA’s common areas — so that it can meet its so-called park commitment on the cheap. Actually, most RA members would like to preserve their common areas, especially their jointly-owned natural areas, rather than turn them into athletic fields to make up for shortfalls in the County’s willingness to fulfill its obligation to the community.

It is hard to imagine a more cynical county approach to providing basic, even substandard, public park services to Restonians.  Not only will Reston’s urban residents have about the worst park availability in the country, but Restonians will be forced to absorb the overflow into their privately-held common land — and pay for it.

Soon we will be living with poor parks and a much poorer community as the result.

Terry Maynard, Co-Chairman
RCA Reston 2020 Committee

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Project Leaders Assure Riders Silver Line Will Be Safe, Martin Di Caro, WAMU 88.5, April 29, 2014

As project leaders work with their contractor under a new agreement (pdf) to make the fixes and improvements necessary to open the Silver Line Metrorail through Tysons Corner to Reston, officials are assuring the public that ongoing problems with the Silver Line’s control system will not jeopardize their safety on the tracks.
As any Metro train makes its way from station to station to pick up commuters and tourists, its speed and spacing are controlled by a computer. The system that prevents it from blowing through red signals, going too fast, or colliding with a train in front is known as Automatic Train Control, or ATC.

Silver not agreeing with Orange

The ATC system that will be used on the 11.5-mile Silver Line was built by the same firm whose name is all over Metro’s existing automated signaling system in use on more than 100 miles of track: Alstom Signaling, one of only a handful of companies qualified to perform such work.
The problems Alstom is now tasked with fixing are mostly connected to the new Silver Line not syncing with the old Orange Line, causing breaks in the communications link and thus slowing down smooth rail operations. Alstom is a subcontractor of Bechtel, the construction and engineering giant hired by the state of Virginia last decade to build the rail line. The project has since been in the hands of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA).
“Train control systems are designed to fail safe,” said Pat Nowakowski, the project’s executive director at MWAA who will be leaving his post this week for a job with a yet-to-be announced public transit agency.
Unlike the 2009 Red Line crash (pdf), when the failure of Alstom’s circuit signals caused a deadly collision, the breakdowns in the Silver Line ATC system are causing test trains to stop in their tracks. The problem is they are stopping when they should not. In technical terms, the track circuits are "bobbing." . .
Click here for the rest of this article and Di Caro's radio report.  

Any article about the Silver Line that begins with a headline that "Project leaders assure..." has to be automatically suspect.  How many times have we been assured the project was on schedule, under budget, the problems would be fixed on time, etc?  "Project leaders" really have no credibility at this point.  

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Rating Action: Moody's assigns Baa1 to Series 2014 Dulles Toll Road (D.C.) Second Senior Lien Refunding Bonds and affirms A2 on first lien and Baa2 on subordinate lien; outlook stable, Moody's Investors Services, April 23, 2014

Below is the substantive portion of Moody's press release announcing its ratings on the latest $446 million MWAA bond for the Silver Line construction financed by Dulles Toll Road tolls and re-affirmation of earlier bond ratings.  The Baa1 rating given this latest issuance puts it in the mid-range of investment grade bonds, three steps above "junk bond" status (Moody's Ba1).  What is most important about the ratings are the strengths and challenges Moody's identifies in the bond issuance at the end of this report. For more on this rating and related MWAA ratings, click here. 

New York, April 23, 2014 --

Moody's Rating

Issue: Dulles Toll Road Second Senior Lien Revenue Refunding Bonds, Series 2014A; Rating: Baa1; Sale Amount: $445,690,000; Expected Sale Date: 5/5/2014; Rating Description: Revenue: Government Enterprise

Opinion

Moody's Investors Service assigns a Baa1 to the Series 2014 Second Series and affirms the A2 for the first senior, the Baa1 for the second senior and the Baa2 for the subordinate lien toll road revenue bonds of the Dulles Toll Road (DTR) operated by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA). All liens have a stable outlook.

Rating Rationale

The ratings are based on adequate debt service coverage ratios (DSCRs) for all liens under various scenarios, including an expected $1.277 billion in fourth lien debt to be issued as a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan. Though we think that the traffic growth forecast is optimistic given the trend of declines over the last five years, our expectation is that MWAA will raise toll rates as needed to comply with covenanted DSCRs above 1.20 times and targeted DSCRs of at least 1.25 times for all debt. The economic strength of suburban Washington DC the service area and its above average resident incomes should allow for future toll rate increases. The completion of Phase 1 and the award of a fixed-price, design-build contract for Phase 2 of the Metrorail project provide more funding certainty and this is factored into our ratings.

The bonds, along with the expected TIFIA loan, provide funding for the MWAA DTR's share of remaining Metrorail project construction costs. Though there is a risk of an operational delay for Phase 1 and the potential for higher costs to complete Phase 2, no additional DTR debt is planned or expected for either the Metrorail project. Also, MWAA has no operational or capital improvement responsibility for the Metrorail project once it is operational.

The two notch differential for the first senior lien at A2 is based on significantly stronger legal covenants than the subordinate liens and reservation of this lien for toll road only projects. The one notch differential between the second senior at Baa1 and the subordinate (third) lien at Baa2 reflects the lower standing in the flow of funds and weaker legal covenants. We note that all liens have debt service reserve funds (DSRFs).

Outlook

The stable outlook reflects reasonable assumptions for traffic and revenue growth to support high leverage and achieve forecasted DSCRs despite back-loaded debt as well as the potential for cost increases to complete Phase 2 of the Metrorail Project. Future credit reviews will focus on the adequacy of toll revenues to maintain forecasted DSCRs above 2.0 times for first senior; 1.60 times for second senior and 1.30 times for subordinate lien bonds and above 1.25 times for all debt including the expected fourth lien TIFIA bonds; as well as make reserve fund deposits, meet future DTR and Metrorail capital needs, maintain liquidity levels and deliver the Phase 2 Metrorail construction project on schedule and within the current budget.

What Could Change the Rating Up

The first senior lien bond rating is not likely to go up given the system's total leverage, but the second and subordinate liens could go up if traffic and toll revenues increase more than forecasted through growth and rate increases and these produce higher DSCRs and financial margins than currently forecast.

What Could Change the Rating Down

Lower than forecasted traffic that reduces forecasted DSCRs would place downward pressure on the rating as would any escalation of construction costs for Phase 2 that requires a significant increase in DTR debt.

STRENGTHS

*DTR is a mature commuter toll facility with a 30-year traffic and toll revenue history that is being leveraged to finance construction of the Metrorail (Silver Line) extension project. The road connects affluent residential developments with major commercial areas (Tyson's Corner) in the Metro Washington, DC MSA

*MWAA has independent toll setting ability, and has demonstrated willingness to use it, raising rates five times in the past five years in support of debt issued for the Metrorail project. Current rates are relatively low for the service area and leave room for future expected rate increases at five year intervals

*Nearly 81% electronic toll collections (ETC) in FY 2013 enhances operating efficiency and reduces elasticity when increasing rates

*Though growth slowed due to the recession and federal government budget strain, the service area in the Washington DC MSA remains strong and has favorable long-term growth prospects

*The three rated liens are adequately protected by cash flow and covenants, and debt service is paid ahead of any capital investments. Forecasted DSCRs are expected to remain above indenture requirements

*Strong federal, state and local support with committed funding for the Metrorail project from FTA FFGA as well as highly rated MWAA (A1), Virginia (Aaa), Fairfax County (Aaa) and Loudoun County (Aaa)

*Completion of Phase 1 and funding certainty for Phase 2 of the Metrorail through an executed fixed-price construction contract for a significant portion of the scope of work are credit positives

*Strong management oversight by professional management team, which has managed over $6 billion in capital projects at MWAA, including the completion of Phase 1 of the Metrorail, though slightly above budget and behind schedule

*Ten-year concession tail after final debt maturity allows further debt structuring flexibility

CHALLENGES

* The 2014 forecast is somewhat optimistic about traffic growth; however this is mitigated by no planned toll rate increases until 2019, then at five year intervals, as well as expected steady service area growth and continued development, in part spurred by Metrorail access

*Plan of finance for the back-loaded Metrorail debt relies on regular toll increases, which may result in higher elasticity and traffic diversion than foreseen, though toll rates will remain significantly lower than the Toll Road Investors Partnership II, L.P. (Ba2, stable) which connects to DTR at western end and the I-495 managed lanes to the east

* Plan of finance also relies on continued contributions from funding partners, with $1.088 billion or 19% of total project costs remaining to be received

*Higher than currently expected costs for Phase 2 could lead to more debt supported by DTR revenues or higher or more frequent rate increases than currently forecast

*Open flow of funds allows transfers to Metrorail project and VDOT, but only after all DTR operating needs and all debt service, including all required reserves and reasonable discretionary reserves for all liens is paid. No transfers are expected to be needed

The principal methodology used in this rating was Government Owned Toll Roads published in October 2012. Please see the Credit Policy page on www.moodys.com for a copy of this methodology.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Metro, MWAA strike deal to get Silver Line open by summer, Washington Business Journal, April 24, 2014

Metro is not quite ready to take control of the Silver Line, but an agreement announced Thursday between the transit agency and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority moves the project closer to a summer opening.
The Airports Authority, meanwhile, declared the first first of the Silver Line substantially complete, a critical step in the process.
Under the agreement between the two agencies, Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said, MWAA will have some additional time to complete a punch list of items on the 11.6-mile, $3 billion Silver Line project even after the line has been turned over to Metro, but prior to the start of passenger service.
“While there are still outstanding items for the Airports Authority and their contractor to resolve, today’s agreement allows us to move this project closer to opening day for our customers by allowing certain tasks to be completed after the project is in Metro’s control,” Sarles said in a statement. “We expect that the Airports Authority will complete the remaining items in a timely fashion, thereby allowing us to open the line this summer.”
Without the agreement, it is possible the line, which links East Falls Church with Wiehle Avenue in Reston, would not have been turned over to Metro control until later in the year.
The "punch list" has 50 items in it, only 7 of which may be completed after WMATA accepts the line from MWAA.   Click here for the rest of this article by Michael Neibauer. 

This is what "substantial completion" means to MWAA and WMATA

Below is the agreement MWAA has reached with WMATA detailing what MWAA's acceptance of DTP's submission that the Silver Line, Phase 1, is substantially complete.  What it shows in its appendices is that:
  • MWAA has to certify that more than one dozen corrections, fixes, improvements, and changes have been completed before turning the line over to WMATA for testing and training--its operational readiness date (ORD).
  • MWAA has to certify that 30 corrections, fixes, improvements, and changes have been made before WMATA will accept the project as complete.
  • MWAA commits to performing an additional seven tasks even after WMATA has accepted the rail line.
Nowhere is there any reference to any deal between MWAA and DTP about who will perform this work, when it will be done, and who will pay for it.  Moreover, there is no explanation from MWAA or its "funding partners" on who will absorb costs associated with completing the extensive and prolonged list of needed tasks.  There is also no documentation that indicates DTP is being penalized whatsoever for its late and incomplete work nor how any penalty revenues will be used.

It all leaves us with the question:  Does "substantially complete" mean about the same thing as W's "Mission Accomplished!"--another 8 years of toil and leave a worse mess in your wake than when you started?

Some unanswered questions on Silver Line "substantial completion"

We are hearing this morning from WAMU, RestonNow, and the Washington Post that MWAA is in the process of accepting DTP's work on Phase 1 of the Silver Line, possibly within 30 days.  Yet, there are several unanswered questions about this messy agreement:

1.  Does this mean that ALL the shortcomings found in the last two MWAA inspections of DTP's work (excluding the RTU replacement, which we know will take a year or so and another $1.8MM) will be satisfactorily corrected within a month?  If not, what does it mean?

2.  Why would WMATA--which has been on the grill for its poor safety and reliability record--even contemplate accepting a rail line (even for testing and training) that does not meet all the contractual requirements of "substantial completion"?

3.  Does this mean that DTP is paying $25,000 per day penalties for the late delivery of the project (after April 9, 2014)?
If "yes," then who is benefiting from the roughly three-quarters of a million dollars in penalties that may be forthcoming?  Are they being applied to the grotesque share of the Silver Line debt carried by Dulles Toll Road users?  If not, why not?
If "no," why isn't DTP paying a penalty for its late and shoddy work? 
4.   What are the specific terms of the various "side deals" that are needed to arrive at this Rube Goldberg "substantial completion" arrangement?

5.  What will be the impact of this near-bogus acceptance inspection process of MWAA's application for TIFIA financing, financing that could save toll road users as much as a third in huge future toll growth?

6.  Who will pay for the extra costs created by having people monitor the Silver Line trains rather than RTUs for the next year or so?  If not DTP, why?

7.  And, oh yes, when will the Silver Line to Reston be open for business????

UPDATED: Silver Line substantial completion???

UPDATE (10:37AM):  Here's is a new WAMU report on the Silver Line substantial completion:
The main contractor responsible for the first phase of the Silver Line has handed the project to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, signaling that the project is closer to completion and passenger service.
The first phase of the project had been delayed due to a number of problems, including faulty speakers and computer systems. Without fixes to these, MWAA had refused to take the project from the main contractor, Bechtel, the first step before Metro could take over and start passenger service.
WAMU's transportation reporter Martin Di Caro broke the story this morning, but warns that works still has to be done before Metro can start running full passenger service on the new line.
The report finishes with Martin DiCaro's series of tweets on the topic. 

DiCaro's tweets focus on a series of side deals enabling Silver Line construction acceptance and knowing full well that the Silver Line is not "substantially complete."  Even WMATA is involved.  Most needed repairs will be done in a month, but, as DiCaro says, "So if now you are asking when will #SilverLine open, the answer is I don't know. I am not in the guessing business, but summer is possible. . . However, considering all the work and testing that remains, it is irresponsible to throw dates out there, like July 4."

Talk about making a farce of an otherwise legitimate, and much needed, acceptance inspection process!


ORIGINAL REPORT:

From Twitter:

BREAKING: An official with knowledge of negotiations says MWAA will accept Bechtel's submission of "substantial completion."
 We'll report more as Martin's report is corroborated.

This is not unexpected, but the acceptance has to have a number of strings attached because (a) the speaker and wiring system has not been replaced, (b) the RTUs won't be replaced for a year, and maybe more.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Get Involved In Reston's Future - Run For RCA, Colin Mills, RCA President

This is an important and exciting time for Reston.  As we celebrate our community’s 50th anniversary and our founder’s 100th birthday, we’ve been looking back at our past and ahead to our future.  And as we look ahead, it’s clear that major change is in store for our community. 

The Silver Line will soon be open, and that will trigger major redevelopment that will bring great opportunities and great challenges for Reston.  Our original village center, Lake Anne, is about to begin a major revitalization.  Our other village centers may have redevelopment awaiting them as well.  We’re going to see thousands of new residents and new jobs in the coming decades, which will bring new vitality, but also new demands on our infrastructure.  We’re going to need roads, schools, fields, parks, and open spaces for those new Restonians, and we’ll need to provide them with limited resources and without damaging the quality of life for existing Restonians.

There’s a lot going on! And it’s a great time to be involved.  There’s no better evidence of that then the large field of candidates (myself included) who ran in the recent Reston Association election.  If you’re interested in all the change in Reston and want to be involved, I’d encourage you to get involved in planning our community’s future by running for the RCA Board.

RCA and our 20/20 Committee have been on the front lines of the planning and development issues that are shaping our community.  We were active participants on Phase 1 of the Master Plan Task Force, and we’ll be back again for Phase 2.  We’ve done studies and issued papers on how to meet the transportation, recreation, and environmental needs of the coming development.  We’ve stood up for our citizens to protect our resources, whether that means standing up for our libraries or working with Rescue Reston to save Reston National Golf Course.  And we’ve held forums to inform our citizens and listen to their opinions on issues like the Master Plan and the proposed changes at Baron Cameron Park.

If you want to represent the community on the issues that will affect our future, there’s no better place to be than RCA.  We recently added some fresh voices to our Board; why not add yours too?

If planning and development isn’t your focus, don’t worry; RCA has a broader focus than that. Since 2008, our Reston Accessibility Committee has been a strong and tenacious advocate for Restonians with disabilities.  Our new Reston 411 series provides quick facts to keep our citizens up to speed on what’s going on.  And we're continuing to work hard on our community-positive traditions like the Citizen of the Year Award and our candidate forums.

If you have a community issue that you believe needs more attention, we’re always open to expanding our portfolio to better serve our citizens.  Join us and lead the way.  And we’ve planning to make a big push on improving our communications and fundraising in the next year; if you’re skilled in those areas, we’d love to have you on board.

Naturally, you’ll want to know about the candidacy requirements.  In order to run for a seat on the RCA Board, you must be at least 16 years old, and you must live in Small Tax District 5 (the tax district that funds the Reston Community Center).  That’s it.  It doesn’t matter whether you’ve lived in Reston for 30 days or 30 years, whether you’re a homeowner or a renter, what political party you belong to (RCA is non-partisan), or whether you’re younger or older (as long as you’re at least 16).  If you want to improve Reston’s quality of life, and you have the drive to get involved, you can throw your hat in the ring.

There are five seats up for election this year:  North Point Director, Lake Anne/Tall Oaks/Town Center Director, South Lakes Director, Hunters Woods Director, and At-Large Director.  How do you know which district you’re in?  It depends on where you vote in state and federal elections.  I’ve got a handy chart below:
  • North Point: If you vote in North Point, Stuart, or Aldrin Precincts (at Aldrin or Armstrong)
  • Lake Anne/Tall Oaks/Town Center: If you vote in Reston I, Reston II, Reston III, or Cameron Glen Precinct (at Lake Anne or Forest Edge)
  • South Lakes: If you vote in Sunrise Valley, South Lakes, or Terraset Precinct
  • Hunters Woods: If you vote in Dogwood Precinct, Hunter Woods Precinct, or Glade Precinct (at RCC Hunters Woods)
In order to run for a District Director seat, you must live in that district.  To run for At-Large Director, you may live anywhere in Small Tax District 5.  All Directors serve 3-year terms (this is a change that we’ve made this year to bring RCA in line with other Reston organizations like RA and RCC).

If you’d like to learn more about RCA and what we’ve been doing, you can read some of my past columns on Reston Now, or you can check out the RCA website. The candidate filing period opens on April 28th (next Monday) and closes on May 23rd, so don’t delay if you want to run.  The candidate form will be up on our website once the filing period opens.

Once you’ve filed as a candidate, then it’s time to start campaigning.  Thanks to the online voting system we implemented in 2012, it will be easier than ever for your supporters to cast votes.

If you love Reston and want to be involved during this exciting time, consider running for the RCA Board.  There’s a lot going on, and we need our citizens to be involved.  I hope you’ll take this chance to help shape Reston’s future.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Gov. Terry McAuliffe gets a Silver Line update, Washington Post, April 22, 2014

Lori Aratani writes:
Officials at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority will announce Thursday whether the contractor building the Silver Line rail project has completed its work — or whether it will need additional time beyond the 15-day review period to make that determination.
MWAA president and chief executive Jack Potter made the announcement following a closed-door meetingTuesday with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. At the meeting, the governor was given a status update on the much-delayed $5.6 billion Silver Line rail project, according to MWAA spokesman Chris Paolino.
McAuliffe (D) had requested the briefing last week following repeated reports of project delays. Among his primary concerns: passenger safety on the rail line as well as ensuring taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.
“The governor is comfortable about the status of the project and is encouraged that lessons were learned during Phase 1 that will better position the project as it moves into Phase 2,” said Rachel Thomas, a spokeswoman for the governor. . . .
Click here to read the rest of this article.

Fixing Metro's Silver Line may take a year, but trains running by summer possible, FOX 5, April 16, 2014

We missed this news item from FOX 5's John Henrehan, but it suggest how the Silver Line Phase 1 might proceed.
DULLES, Va. -The manager of the Silver Line project says communications devices along the roadbed are not reliable enough. He has proposed a "Plan B" fix, but that fix may take a year.

A spokesperson at Metro says the transit agency could still run trains to the new stations, but only if human operators are stationed in a control room along the right-of-way.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is overseeing the Silver Line project, has only a week to decide whether to accept the rail line from the companies that built it. . .
Dan Stessel, a spokesperson for Metro, told us replacing the circuit boards could take as long as a year, but Metro could still run trains on the Silver Line. According to Stessel, the Airports Authority has agreed to pay Metro to staff (with a human) the train control room on the new Silver Line right-of-way. That would last until all the circuit boards are replaced.
Well, the week has long since passed and we still haven't heard a word from MWAA, DTP, or WMATA on the status of the Silver Line's "substantial completion."  If this report is correct about proceeding without a fix of the RTU problem (which seems almost certain), the line may run like like rail and subway lines did a half-century ago--with visual control over the trains--for at least a year. 

And, by the way, of any extra costs MWAA agrees to pay WMATA for staffing, MWAA will actually pay only 4% of while DTR users will pay half under the inequitable "Funding Partners" agreement.  The rest will be paid by Fairfax and Loudoun counties.


Click here for the rest of this article and the associated video. 

Will Governor announce "substantial completion" of Silver Line Phase 1--or NOT?

UPDATE:  Another alternative reason for the meeting with MWAA may be the signing of the final agreement between Virginia and MWAA to use the $300 million the state agreed to spend on Phase 2 of the Silver Line.  A lot of moving parts; stay tuned.  

WTOP reports that Virginia Governor Terry McAulliffe will meet with MWAA officials about the Silver line today.
WASHINGTON -- Gov. Terry McAuliffe is looking for more details about Northern Virginia's long-delayed Silver Line at a meeting with leaders of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Tuesday.
The agency is responsible for building both phases of the rail project that will eventually connect downtown D.C., Tysons Corner and Dulles International Airport.
The meeting comes nearly three weeks after the contractor building the first phase of the project to Wiehle-Reston East Station said for a second time that Phase 1 is "substantially complete."
MWAA representatives rejected the initial claim of substantial completion in February after multiple problems were found, including flaws with a communication link and a potential fire hazard with hundreds of new speakers. . .
An announcement on whether DTP (Bechtel and sub-contractors) have actually achieved "substantial completion" as claimed by DTP is days overdue.  It is hard to tell whether the delay is due to lining up all the political ducks in a row so that a fancy public announcement can be made, which is likely the case with the Guv in the area, or the beginning of an inquisition of MWAA and DTP because they failed to meet basic benchmarks in building the line.

We strongly suspect that an announcement of "substantial completion" will be forthcoming today, complete with photo op and great stories about achieving this goal only nine months late.  On the other hand, we also suspect that the announcement will not include the number of caveats and conditions that underlie this announcementl,starting with the fact that it will take another 2 years and $2 million to get the RTUs to work right (maybe) and the speaker & wiring systems have not yet been replaced as required from the last failed "substantial completion" attempt.

We suspect that "substantial completion" is no longer about meeting basic engineering standards; it is about a political deal.  Do you want to ride on a rail line approved by politicians rather than engineers?

Office Space & Jobs: Fairfax County Economic Indicators show 2013 was a bad year and this year isn't starting well.

The March 2014 Fairfax County Economic Indicators, the county's official monthly economy tracking update, shows that the county did not have a good year last year and that first indications for this year are also weak.  Here is some of the disappointing news:

Direct office space vacancy increased year-to-year and is at the highest rate in more than two decades.  Overall vacancy rates (including sub-lets) may be the worst ever recorded, but FCEDA doesn't acknowledge that:


The county's Economic Development Agency reinforces this picture with a graphic in its FY2015 budget submission showing office  vacancies have risen for several years:


A key reason for this growth in office vacancies is the loss of jobs in Northern Virginia as reported by the US BLS over the same timeframe.  Most important, the major losses were in the professional & business services sector as well as the federal government sector, which comprise the largest users of commercial office space.  (Note:  BLS does not track employment by sector for counties in this data series, but FC comprises about 600,000 of the total 1.4MM jobs in the NoVa area and nearly half FC's jobs are office jobs.) 

 

Here's how the Fairfax Connection newspaper reported on the situation as presented at an April 10, 2014, county economic summit:

David Versel of the George Mason Center for Regional Analysis said that in the wake of the recession, there has been a continuing decrease in federal jobs.
"Federal government cutbacks that began in 2010 with the end of the economic stimulus have continued,” Versel said.
The area is now facing 22,000 fewer federal jobs than existed three and a half years ago, Versel says. Since its peak in 2010, federal employment has dropped by five percent. However, this is not because of mass layoffs, but because of attrition.
“Jobs get vacated, people retire, and they aren’t being backfilled,” Versel said.
Federal procurement, which Versel described as the driver of the area’s economy, has decreased as well.
“We are now down about 11 billion dollars in federal contracting activity in 2013 from where we were in 2010,” Versel said. “14 percent of our federal procurement economy has evaporated in the last 3 years.”
According to Versel, the private side has not responded very well to the wake of the recession.
“As a February of this year, we’ve actually only added back 170,000 jobs from the end of the recession. We lost 178,000 jobs during the recession,” Versel said. “On a net basis, we are down 8,000 jobs from where we were six years ago in 2008 when the recession began. That is not good news.”
Some implications:

First, the weak state of the office market is a core reason that next year's county budget is so controversial, almost certainly requiring an increase in the tax rate as has already been proposed.  It is just a matter of how much higher.

Second, longer term, the picture for robust office space occupancy (& development) is questionable, at least through the rest of this decade.  As has been reported previously, a combination of sequestration, budget balancing, periodic federal government shutdowns, cuts in federal contracting, cuts in federal employment, and federal office space consolidation are all contributing directly to high office vacancy rates.  More broadly, the use of internet technology to enable work-from-anywhere and the compression of office space per worker to (a) ostensibly improve employee collaboration and (b) reduce office space expenses are other critical ingredients in the lack of growth in the office sector.  

Third, for more than a decade now, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has counted on the coming of the Silver Line to be the primary source of new high-rise office and residential development property tax revenues since the county has largely run out of space for new housing development.  Otherwise, the county would have to cut spending significantly or raise tax rates prohibitively.  We're now testing the Board's judgment of a decade ago, and there is much reason to doubt that the boon will arrive, certainly not sooner, maybe not later. 

It is about time for the County to bring out "Plan B."