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Monday, April 30, 2012

Press release: Rep. Frank Wolf Introduces Bill to Create Permanent MWAA IG, April 30, 2012

Update (May 4, 2012):  A link to the text of this bill has been added at the end of this post.  
Washington, D.C. (April 30, 2012) – Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th) today announced he has introduced legislation to create a permanent inspector general for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA).
Wolf said he introduced the bill (H.R. 5322) in anticipation of the May 15 release of an interim report on the contracting, governance and transparency practices of MWAA being conducted by the inspector general at the U.S. Department of Transportation.  Wolf requested the review in February 2011 after MWAA rejected his December 2010 request to hire outside auditors.  He believes the interim report will show the need for a permanent inspector general.
Wolf said he has grown increasingly concerned by some of the board’s recent actions, citing the fierce battle over the location of the Metro station at the airport, which would have added significant cost to the project, the ongoing fight over a labor preference for Phase II and members continuing to serve after their terms have expired.        
Wolf’s bill amends the Inspector General Act of 1978 by creating a special post with the sole duty of providing long term oversight of MWAA.  Only the U.S. Secretary of Transportation can appoint and remove the IG and no additional action from any jurisdiction on the state or local level is required for this position to be established.  MWAA would be required to pay for the IG.
Wolf has repeatedly stated that the Dulles rail project is the most important transportation project in the Commonwealth and must be completed on time and at, or under budget. 
“The continued growth of the Dulles corridor demands that this project be successful,” Wolf said.     
Concerned sources are speculating that Rep. Wolf may have received a preview of the DOT Inspector General's audit of MWAA management practices and that the audit showed them seriously deficient.  The DOT IG report is scheduled for release on May 15, 2012.   

UPDATE (May 4, 2012):  Here is the text of Rep. Wolf's MWAA IG bill


Some Doubt Phase 2 Will Ever Be Built, Reston Patch, April 30, 2012

Washington Post outlines how money, politics and labor agreement may doom second part of Rail to Dulles.

With a meeting between stakeholders in Rail to Dulles and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood coming up on Wednesday,  The Washington Post takes a look at just how far off the tracks Phase 2 of the project has become.
Here are some key comments from Dana Hedgpeth's Washington Post article:
 After more than 10 years of planning to add 23 miles of Metro rail line in Northern Virginia, the second part of the Silver Line project could be dead before a spade of dirt is turned.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Virginia, and Loudoun and Fairfax counties are at a stalemate over pro-union labor deals, concerns about costs and an inspector general’s investigation of the authority.
“This project will die if the stakeholders cannot get together and resolve their differences,” said Leo J. Schefer, head of the Washington Airports Task Force, a group of business leaders that supports the Silver Line.
If the project ever does start, it won’t start on time.
. . .  The biggest problem, according to Schefer and others: chest-thumping and good, old-fashioned politics.
“Underlying all of this is party political extremes that are being put ahead of public purpose,” Schefer said.
Politics have been a huge part of the issue in recent years, but underlying the political posturing of both parties is the fact that the Silver Line project has tripled in cost since the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was published in 2004.  As the costs were skyrocketing, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) pulled the plug on federal funding--planned at half the total cost of the line--in 2008 when it determined the project was not cost-effective.  At that point, then Governor Kaine and other elected officials intervened to get a $900 million downpayment on the line, and so it began. 

The key difference is that Dulles Toll Road users must now pay what the federal government won't in addition to the 25%--a more than generous share in our estimation--it was booked to pay in the FEIS.  That means toll road users are stuck paying 75% of the cost of Phase 2 of the line, especially if neither the federal, state, nor local governments nor MWAA (whom the rail is intended to serve) will agree to contribute to the construction and financing costs. 

Reston 2020 neither wants toll road users to be stuck with three-quarters of the bill nor a Metrorail line that ends at Wiehle station in Reston.  It has offered a number of alternative financing ideas for Phase 2 and encourages its prompt construction as soon as those alternatives are in place.  We all need rail to Dulles and we need those who will benefit most to carry the load.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Coming Soon: RCA Online Voting, Reston Patch, Colin Mills, RCA President, April 26, 2012

On Monday, we had our monthly RCA Board meeting.  At the meeting, we discussed a number of exciting new initiatives that we're moving forward.  I'm sure I'll be telling you about many of them in this space in the coming weeks.

But perhaps our most complex project is one that will directly affect you.  We're changing the way we do our voting.  RCA is joining the 21st century, and making it easier than ever for you to cast your vote in our Board elections.

For at least the last decade, RCA has held its elections at the Reston Festival.  This has worked pretty well for us, but we've had several concerns about it.  It's not easy to convince people to vote at the Festival; people who attend are typically there to have a good time, not to cast ballots.  Also, the Festival falls in July, when many Restonians are out of town.  If folks are out of town when the Festival occurs, they were out of luck when it came time to vote.  And finally, there's a very real possibility that the Reston Festival might not happen this year.

Given all of these factors, we decided that it was time to look at other options for holding our elections.  We noted that other community organizations, like RCC and RA, have had success holding their elections online, and they've seen much higher turnout as a result.  Given those examples, we decided to do the same thing at RCA.

However, unlike RCC and RA, we don't have the resources to hire an outside firm to conduct our voting process.  So we're doing things the RCA way: with elbow grease and a cadre of smart, dedicated volunteers. . . .
 Click here for the rest of Colin's weekly blog post.  

LTE: Reader Questions Logic of Rail to Loudoun, Ashburn Patch, April 26, 2012

Infrastructure costs, unknown commitments and uncertain expectations are the the focus of his concerns.

As expected, proponents of the Dulles Rail project are relying on the most optimistic projections to support the need to add rail to our transit options, while opponents point to the enormous cost and the selective burden faced by Dulles Toll Road commuters to cover the financing. Beyond the political theater, it would be fair to say that there is enough uncertainty to apply the highest level of scrutiny to the proceedings.
Having examined some of the documents on the Loudoun County website, most notably the Dulles Rail traffic and revenue projections, and the updated Fiscal Impact Analysis, I must echo the findings by Terry Maynard of Reston Citizens Association Board of Directors/RCA Reston 2020 Committee, who in a recent letter to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and Gov. Bob McDonnell, states that “The key point is that Metrorail to Loudoun will bring major infrastructure investment and financing costs with it that will outweigh—probably by far—the economic benefits that may accrue to the county over the next several decades.” . . .
Please click here for the rest of this letter by Robert M. Jones, North Fork, Blue Ridge District, Loudoun County.  He discusses a number of other issues that affect the costs and impact of extending rail to Loudoun County. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Metrorail Phase 2 Denied Opportunity to Compete for 2012 TIFIA Funding

In a press release late this afternoon, the Department of Transportation announced the five projects it has invited to compete for the very limited TIFIA funding available in FY 2012.  Phase 2 of the Silver Line is not among these "finalists." 

Here is the news release:

U.S. Department of Transportation Invites Five Projects to Apply for FY 2012 TIFIA Credit Assistance

In response to the Fiscal Year 2012 Notice of Funding Availability (FY 2012 NOFA), DOT received 26 Letters of Interest (LOIs) seeking more than $13 billion in credit assistance to finance approximately $36 billion in infrastructure investment across the country. While TIFIA’s limited resources mean that not all of the LOIs can be selected, five projects are being invited to apply for credit assistance. These projects include: the I-95 HOT Lanes project in Northern Virginia; the North Tarrant Express Segments 3a and 3b project in Tarrant County, Texas; the Port of Long Beach Gerald Desmond Bridge project in Long Beach, California; the SR 91 Corridor Improvements project in Riverside County, California; and the US 36 Phase 2 project, between Denver and Boulder, Colorado. The projects invited to apply are well aligned with the TIFIA statutory selection criteria. The invitation to apply does not guarantee that the project will receive assistance. The Department will evaluate each project to determine its creditworthiness and negotiate acceptable terms for providing credit support. Links to the press releases for the five projects invited to apply for TIFIA credit assistance are provided below.
Read the I-95 HOT Lanes Project Press Release
Read the North Tarrant Express Segments 3a and 3b Project Press Release
Read the Port of Long Beach Gerald Desmond Bridge Project Press Release
Read the SR 91 Corridor Improvements Project Press Release
Read the US 36 Phase 2 Project Press Release

Notes on the Reston Task Force Meeting, April 24, 2012

                                      R. Rogers
                                      25 April 2012

Highlights: 24 April 2012 Reston Master Planning Task Force Meeting

Summary and Comment:  The meeting provided an overview of the scope of the county transportation study on potential development in the Reston area.  It focused almost entirely on streets and vehicular movement with little on buses, bicycles, and pedestrians.  It previewed some of the issues that will come up when the results of the study are presented on 12 June.

Tysons/Urban Streets

     The initial part of the session was devoted to an overview of design standard issues related to creating urban “complete streets," that is, opportunities for motorists, transit, bicyclists, and pedestrians.  This somewhat academic presentation will presumably be on the FC website.  One issue is the degree to which the suburban and rural mentality in VDOT will be a barrier to a more urban street network near the stations.

Reston Study

     Mike Garcia, a young FC Department of Transportation analyst, gave an overview of how the county is proceeding on the Reston transportation study.  Much of this had been presented earlier by FC DOT.

     Grid of streets. The study is incorporating some of the TF sub-com and Vision Com ideas about a grid of streets.  For example, the idea of a Reston Station Blvd between Wiehle and Plaza America is in the study (and apparently COMSTOCK has been getting property owner buy in). But other grid ideas were either altered or deleted as impractical (the deletions are apparently marked by dotted red lines on FC DOT maps—whether these will be clearer on the website remains to be seen).

     Bus service and TOD management were said to be in the study but little was really said about this. For example, the presenter said it would be “premature” to build bus lanes into any scenarios.  Joe Stowers put in a plug for work done by FC on bus connectors to Wiehle.

     Some proposed intersection improvements were shown on diagrams. There were differing TF opinions on their suitability in some cases (Wiehle area in particular).

     Pedestrian and biking issues were said to be part of the study.  Again little was said about what this entails.  There was no mention about ped/bike overpasses or underpasses at key locations.  Many of the intersection proposals seemed to involve major impediments to pedestrian movement, including the example of a free wheeling (no stop required) right-turn from westbound Sunrise Valley to northbound Wiehle.  It was also pointed out that this raised accident risks with traffic turning left on to Wiehle from Sunrise Valley and trying to shift quickly to right lanes for use of the Dulles Toll Road. 

     New construction: The major item mentioned was a grade separated crossing of Sunrise Valley and FC Parkway (one of the most congested intersections in Reston).

     Dulles Crossings: The study is also incorporating Soapstone and Town Center Parkway crossings. (There may be an impediment to Soapstone created by Metro power construction in the area—advance planning that will require re-routing.  Also, the Town Center Parkway will not link up to Edmund Halley, but go to the west side of the office building on the south side of the corridor and through to Sunrise Valley.)

     Priorities: Two scenarios re transportation will be assessed:
  • Partial build out, including Soapstone and intersection improvements.
  • Full build out assuming FC PKwy/Sunrise Valley grade separation and a Town Center crossing.
      In response to a question from Gerry Volloy, it was acknowledged that the proposed improvements, including much of the earlier RMAG recommendations on the Wiehle station, were not funded and most of it, including the Soapstone Crossing, is not in the county formal plan.
     Evaluation measures that will be used to assess performance were briefly mentioned.  These included level of service, particularly at congested intersections, drive time comparisons, system wide congestion, and peak levels of congestion. (Comment: Overall the study appears to focus on automobile traffic rather than walkability and public transportation.)

     Other issues: Assurances were given that the study will take into account the possibility of diversions from the DTR due to substantial toll increases.

     In response to a question from Kohann Williams about better road access to Lake Fairfax Park from the Wiehle Ave area, FCDOT said it was not included and Heidi Merkel said the Parks Department was opposed to it because of potential damage to protected areas. (Comment: The idea that 35,000 new residents will not have good access to the most significant county park adjacent to the Reston TOD areas seems strange to this observer. Many TF participants, however, are strongly opposed to it.)


     The 22 May meeting will focus on public security and utilities.

Toll Roads Are the Future in Virginia per Sean Connaughton

In an interview with Peter Samuel, editor/publisher,, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton highlighted that virtually all future major road improvements/construction will have to be financed by tolls--"the ultimate user fee"--including I-95 through a possible public-private partnership (P3).

In other comments,
  • Connaughton called for a new Potomac River road crossing west of the American Legion Bridge.  
  • Connaughton noted the state's interest in keeping down costs on Dulles Metrorail and said that the financial arrangements for Phase 2 would likely fall through if Loudoun bows out.
In a larger sense, the article implicitly raises questions about how much Virginia (or the country) can expand its road network to accommodate a larger traveling population in the future--both physically and financially.  Toll roads may be part of the answer, but that doesn't address the implications for fairness and equity.  Tough problem.  Good read!

Click here for the rest of this good interview report on Virginia transportation issues.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How Smart Growth Lost Its Way, The Atlantic Cities, April 24, 2012

In this article, Kaid Benfield argues that placemaking is more than meeting the numbers, although they must be met to achieve the quantitative goals of "smart growth."  She highlights the qualitative factors that make "smart growth" smart placemaking.  Here are some excerpts:
I want to follow up on yesterday's article about placemaking.  Reacting to an excellent essay by Ethan Kent, I posited that that the creation and strengthening of great places - great people habitat, if you will - should be a very important part of a “new environmentalism."  Indeed, I wrote that to a great extent it already is, having been taking hold at least since sometime in the 1990s. Today, I would like to take that point further and argue that great placemaking should also become a very important part of, or even a possible successor to, what we have been calling "smart growth." I don't think that it is currently an important part of the smart growth agenda, unfortunately, or that it is to nearly the degree that it should be. . .
. . . We now have oodles of research quantifying the benefits of smart growth to the environment. If we build this way, we will reduce carbon emissions, air pollution, land consumption, and water runoff compared to a continuation of the sprawl paradigm that shaped our landscape in the last half of the 20th century. We have to do this.
And yet. Something has been nagging me about smart growth for years. I believe that, at least for those of us in the policy world, the smart growth agenda has become a bit formulaic and even clinical . . .
. . .  the fact that we are increasing dwelling units per acre, reducing vehicle miles traveled per capita, and reducing tons of carbon emissions compared to sprawl does not mean that we are making great people habitat. We may be creating smart growth, while in some cases doing little for people or doing less for the natural environment than we could be. . .
Our communities of the future must not only reduce carbon emissions, save land, and encourage use of transit, walking and bicycling. They must also contain beauty, warmth, places of solitude and reflection. They must be significantly more dense than sprawl, but also sometimes forego additional increments of density in order to maintain light, limit noise, provide privacy, and respect a human scale. They must be conducive to engaging the intellect and the spirit. . . . .
Click here to read the rest of this excellent article.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Letter: Appreciation for Loudoun Due Diligence & Critique of RCL Analysis, Terry Maynard, April 22, 2012

 April 22, 2012

Dear Honorable Members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors,

As a person active in trying to address the huge financing issues surrounding the planned construction of Phase 2 of the Silver Line on behalf of Restonians, I want to take a moment to commend you for your serious examination of the benefits and costs of extending Metrorail to Loudoun County.  All the more so in light of the unanimous, uninformed, knee-jerk re-affirmation of the current financial arrangements for Phase 2 by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. 

I have no idea whether, in the end, you will approve or disapprove rail to Loudoun; certainly the debate has been robust.  More than the debate, however, I commend you for carrying out serious due diligence on rail’s pros and cons as well as its options, listening to the concerns of your constituents (which is far different than staging public meetings and hearings that are ignored), and examining your vision of an optimal future for Loudoun County.  Thank you for taking your job seriously.  You and your constituents ought to be proud of your efforts even if some will disagree with your final decision.

As part of your due diligence effort, you commissioned a follow-up study by Robert Charles Lesser & Co. (RCL) to carry out a fiscal impact analysis of the planned rail line to Loudoun.  I have read it, including the appendices, and have to say that it is a dis-service to your efforts to at understanding the true costs and benefits of the proposed rail line.  I do not intend to go into a detailed critique here, but I must identify one outrageous omission:  The study admits that it does NOT include the public infrastructure investment costs associated with bringing rail to Loudoun.  The result, as you are well aware, is that the study says there will be substantial economic benefits for Loudoun County—close to $400 million over the next three decades. 

Your County Administrator Tim Hemstreet has already pointed out this shortcoming in the analysis, but let me add:  A cost-benefit analysis that does not include capital costs and the associated debt servicing costs is like eating a chocolate cake that is nothing but frosting.  It creates a stupendous sugar high, but ends with a huge headache when the spike crashes and leaves you empty; in this case, fiscally, not physically.   Nonetheless, the RCL report has had the desired sugar-high effect:  Area media picked up the RCL’s headline $386 million benefit and broadcast that number all over their reporting, creating an inaccurate, positive image of the economic benefits of Metrorail for Loudoun.  

I believe that an economic assessment that comes closer to the mark is one prepared by Tom Cranmer, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, and displayed graphically on the LoudounOptOut website; although I do not agree that “opt out” is necessarily the right answer for Loudoun.  (Fairfax does need the Silver Line to be completed at least to Dulles, but not under the current unacceptable financial arrangements for Dulles Toll Road users.)  I cannot vouch for the specific outcomes Mr. Cranmer identifies—a more than $700 million shortfall over the same three decade timeframe—but I know that he is highly competent at this kind of analysis, his one-page report is transparent, and I don’t see any glaring errors in his assumptions or calculations.  I am quite confident that he is directionally correct.   I would recommend that your staff take a close look at Mr. Cranmer’s spreadsheet analysis, discuss it with him, and come up with its own assessment, even if it causes a sugar crash headache. 

More broadly, Mr. Cranmer’s analysis highlights the critical issue of public infrastructure investment requirements that accompany the construction of commuter rail.  Only now, nearly two years after the Fairfax County Board approved a plan for Metrorail-driven development in the Tysons Corner area, is the Planning Commission Tysons Committee (PCTC) wrestling with what needs to be done to accommodate that growth and pay for it.  The most recent estimates put the 20-year costs for the area around the four Metro stations at well over $2 billion (excluding debt service).  The partners in the PCTC effort have reached an impasse in deciding who and how those identified needs should be paid for.  
  • The landowners and developers say those costs should be covered by taxpayers (Tysons- or county-wide, plus any outside aid that may be available).  
  • Citizens groups say they are not going to make millions in profits from the resulting development there and that the developers should shoulder the bulk of the infrastructure investment costs since they will make the profits.  I believe they are right.
If nothing else, the Tysons deadlock highlights the need to include financing and implementation plans as part of any Loudoun rail-related development planning going forward.  Not to do so would be a serious failure like the one that is ongoing in Tysons and will probably occur in Reston where County staff has refused to consider implementation issues as part of the planning process. 

The key point is that Metrorail to Loudoun will bring major infrastructure investment and financing costs with it that will outweigh—probably by far—the economic benefits that may accrue to the county over the next several decades.   

A second point I will make more briefly about the RCL study is that it is based on overly optimistic assumptions about the future growth of the county and the region.  While I have not studied Loudoun’s prospective growth specifically—clearly its growth rate is the strongest in the Washington area albeit from a relatively small base—virtually all the employment and population forecasts I have seen overstate the likely growth of the region and its counties.  For the most part, this over-optimism is based in a failure to recognize the continuing impact of the last recession and the near-certain prospect of reduced federal spending in the Washington area over at least a decade.

The “go to” independent research entity in northern Virginia for years has been GMU’s Center for Regional Analysis (CRA) has begun to address the issue.   While I have not kept track of its forecasts for Loudoun County, its growth forecasts for Fairfax County have dropped precipitously in recent years.  I have attached a graphic that shows three population and employment growth forecasts for Fairfax County ranging from their 2010 forecast for the Reston Task Force (RTF, of which I am a member, and their two forecasts associated with their excellent “workforce housing” study of October 2011 and an update for the RTF in January 2012 in which we were told that they were cutting their October employment forecast by a third.  In short, GMU CRA has cut its Fairfax County economic forecast for the 2010-2030 period for employment and base population growth (no changes in workforce housing policies) by more than 60% in less than two years.  There is still significant growth, but hardly robust, and certainly something Dr. Fuller should address in his forthcoming presentations in Loudoun County as they may apply in Loudoun.

My broader caveat:  Never ask a real estate company for advice on development matters, especially where they have a vested interest.  If you want an objective assessment, you may want to turn to bond rating agencies for their insight since, in the end, rail to Loudoun will require substantial public financing.  There are also independent consulting firms that specialize in transportation-related economic impact analyses, including the Economic Research & Development Group, Boston, for example.  Although I can’t vouch for the accuracy of analyses by these groups, at least they don’t have a dog in the hunt. 

Closing on a more positive note, I again commend you for the efforts you are pursuing to understand the implications of rail to Loudoun County.  I appreciate that it is a difficult decision that is worth your considerable effort and one that may be decided by only a small margin one way or the other when you finally vote.  Whatever the outcome, Loudoun County can be proud of its work in coming to grips with probably the most important decision this Board will make during its tenure.


Terry Maynard
Reston Citizens Association Board of Directors
RCA Reston 2020 Committee

Governor Robert McDonnell
Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton
Selected Congressional Legislators
Selected Virginia General Assembly Legislators
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
Reston Citizens Association Board
RCA Reston 2020 Committee
McLean Citizens Association
Loudoun Times-Mirror (Editor)
Leesburg Today (Editor)
Reston Patch (Karen Goff, Editor)
The Connection Newspapers (Mary Kimm, Editor)
The Washington Post (Editorial Board; Dana Hedgpeth, Transportation)
Fairfax Times (Steve Cahill, Editor)
Mr.  Andy Rountree, CFO, MWAA
Mr. Tom Cranmer, FCTA
Dr. Stephen Fuller, Director, GMU CRA