Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Letter: Find Alternative Rail Funds Now, Terry Maynard, Reston Patch, March 28, 2012

As your readers know well by now from reading Patch, the Reston Citizens Association and its Reston 2020 Committee want the Board of Supervisors to withhold approval of Phase 2 funding for the Silver Line until alternative funding sources can be found.  We want Metrorail to be completed to Dulles Airport and beyond as soon as possible, but not with the onerous terms for a small number of Fairfax residents, including many Restonians, that are now on the table.
As it stands now, Dulles Toll Road users will pay 75 percent of the estimated $3 billion construction cost of Phase 2 and 55 percent of the total $6 billion cost of the Silver Line.  Although that may not sound too bad considering all the people who use the toll road (about 300,000 trips daily by our estimate—and declining by a quarter over the decades due to exorbitant tolls), that percentage, in fact, translates into $17 billion in tolls through the 2050 horizon to pay off the Metrorail bonds as laid out by MWAA’s traffic and revenue forecaster.  A look at the forecaster’s 2009 customer survey points out the implications of those large numbers. 
On average, Dulles Toll Road users will pay more than $70,000 each in tolls over the forecast horizon.  If you are a long-term heavy user of the toll road—a daily commuter (73 percent of all trips according to survey data), say—your burden will be higher.  And Fairfax County accounts for about half of the toll road trips according to the forecaster’s survey.  That means about 70,000-90,000 Fairfax residents—much less than 10 percent of the County’s population—will end up paying about $8.5 billion over nearly four decades to use the toll road.
That money could be used to send kids to good colleges, to buy a more comfortable home, to replace that tired old commuter car, to spend on needed medical care for themselves or a loved one, or even to spend on some niceties.  It is all money that will not be going into the local economy or state or county tax streams.  Instead, it will be dumped into toll baskets, electronically or physically, to pay off the toll road revenue bonds issued by MWAA. 
Meanwhile, in Richmond, a legislative initiative is proceeding to contribute up to $450 million to help defray the cost of Phase 2 financing.  While the contribution would certainly be appreciated if it occurs, it would reduce the toll road users’ cost by just 2.6 percent if distributed piecemeal as proposed.  The Governor’s offer of $150 million to help defray financing expenses was intended to pay $50 million per year for three years beginning next year.  According to MWAA, that would delay the doubling of the current $2.25 full toll from 2013 to 2015, and it would still triple to $6.75 in 2018.
Yet it is unclear how the proposed $450 million would be spent if it is approved by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor.  For example, if it were an upfront contribution to the construction costs—a “down payment”—it would have the greatest effect, cutting the Phase 2 debt (and toll costs) by about a fifth and overall debt by an eighth.  It becomes much less effective if it is dribbled out over several years, lessening toll increases for the duration only to see them balloon to multiples of the current level when the money runs out. 
And the Governor’s offer and General Assembly draft legislation appear to hang on MWAA not giving preferential treatment to builders who include Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) in their bids.  They see union-oriented PLAs as tilting the playing field unfairly in this non-union “right to work” state.  In an in-your-face response, the MWAA Board re-affirmed unanimously just last week that it intends to give bidders who use PLAs a ten percent score advantage in considering their bids.  So there may be no money coming from Richmond at all—and we may end up with a builder who is otherwise less qualified, and less cost-conscious, because of irrelevant “bonus points” awarded for a PLA contract. 
Meanwhile, at last week’s hearing on the matter, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors members bemoaned the exorbitant costs toll road users will confront under the current plan, yet they were the ones who agreed to this arrangement in the 2007 “funding partners” agreement without a public hearing and they are now the ones literally rushing to re-confirm their commitment. 
And all this burden is being lumped on the toll road user without ever—not when the agreement was made, not now that some details have been announced—having looked at the consequences for traffic diversion to already congested local roads, business and residential growth, and county revenue streams from property and sales taxes, among other potentially adverse outcomes as the cost of the Silver Line has grown. 
In stark contrast, the Loudoun Board has sought and received a fourth month to look at the potential consequences of continuing their planned commitment to Phase 2.  The Fairfax Board’s approach has been to avoid asking questions if they might not like the answers—and hurriedly approving this plan in one month before any potential consequences become evident.  The Board’s planned action is the very anti-thesis of “due diligence.”
Board members also said they need to keep trying to find alternative funding sources after they approve this irresponsible arrangement in their vote scheduled for the April 10 Board meeting, but any reasonably cognizant person knows that those efforts will evaporate or be pro forma at best after the Board has committed toll road users’ funds.
Moreover, any person with their wits about them also knows that alternative sources of funds will be even more difficult to find after County approval of this toll revenue financing scheme.  These potential sources know that the project already has the funds it needs, no matter how unfair, inequitable, and unwise the decision, and it’s not their responsibility to bail out the Fairfax County Board from its bad decision making.  The Board will have made this bed of financial broken glass, and toll road users will have to sleep in it for decades if alternative financing is not found before proceeding with Phase 2 of Metrorail.
For these reasons and others, RCA Reston 2020 continues to argue that the County Board should not re-affirm its commitment to the “funding partners” agreement until substantial alternative funding is in hand.
Our goal is that toll road users should pay 25 percent of the total cost as envisioned in the FEIS eight years ago—and still a hefty sum in light of construction cost escalations.  The balance could come from tolling the Dulles Access Road; it could come from leasing air rights over the Dulles corridor (especially around Reston Town Center); it could come from larger shares committed by each of the not-too-much “funding partners;” it could be further federal aid—grants or loans (TIFIA) with much lower interest rates; it could even be funds from WMATA for whom the Silver Line is being built; and other opportunities. 
It may take a combination of several of these approaches.  So far, however, no serious effort has been made on any of these fronts and, until those efforts are made and made successfully by our elected officials, Reston 2020 believes further work on Phase 2 should be suspended.  To do otherwise is to levy an abusive tax on a small number of Fairfax County residents who use the toll road, a tax that threatens to undermine the economic and other benefits the completion of the Silver Line may offer.  
We strongly encourage your readers to contact the offices of Chairman Sharon Bulova and Supervisor Cathy Hudgins as well as the Board of Supervisors more broadly to express their concern about the Board’s planned course of action.  And do not hesitate to contact either of our local state legislators, Senator Janet Howell and Delegate Ken Plum, or our Congressional representatives, Gerry Connolly and Jim Moran, with your thoughts.  Fairfax County deserves better from its elected leaders.

Terry Maynard
Reston Citizens Association
Reston 2020 Committee

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