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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fairfax's Transportation Funding Crisis--and a New Toll Road???

There have been a large number of news articles in the last couple of weeks pointing the crisis in state and local transportation funding, especially here in Fairfax County.  Most of these articles have keyed off two events:
  • Three weeks ago, the leaders of Virginia's "urban crescent" counties (basically the counties along I-95 & I-64 from Arlington to Hampton Roads) sent a letter to our state leaders noting the state-wide funding crisis.   The essence of their letter was that state secondary and urban system construction funds have been eliminated and that, by 2017, no state funds will be available for highway construction.   In the meantime, the state’s existing highways and byways fail to meet the state’s standards of maintenance and the state hasn’t budgeted to meet those standards.   And transit funding from the Commonwealth is far short of what is needed.   As if to put an exclamation point on the situation, Virginia was downgraded from #1 to #3 most “business friendly” state primarily because of the decaying and congested state of its transportation infrastructure. 
  • Within the last week, Fairfax County has announced a "Countywide Dialogue on Transportation", including a series of public meetings to present the issues and opportunities to citizens, a long list of tax alternatives to fund the $3 billion shortfall in County funds for transportation over the next decade, and an opportunity for citizens to take a survey to state their views on what is important.  A few comments:
    • I encourage all of you to attend one of the public meetings the FC Department of Transportation is hosting.  We all need to understand the scope and depth of this important problem for our county and community.  There will be one in Reston at the North County Government Center on October 3 at 7PM.  If you can't make that one, check the schedule for other dates and locations that are convenient for you.   
    • The county's transportation needs survey of residents essentially requires that you read the materials provided on the county website or attend one of the public meetings if you are to make an informed response.   
    • A series of funding options--new or added taxes--that range from the absurd to the reasonable.   One that caught this reader's eye was a state law--HBOB 3202 passed in 2007--that permits no fewer than seven new/added taxes for funding transportation needs.  Yet, as the pitchman in those "as seen on TV" says, "But wait, there's more!"  Check it out; some make sense, some don't.
I'm only going to address one funding proposal:  Turning the Fairfax County Parkway into a toll road.  Simply put, Restonians would be taxed no matter what direction they head to leave Reston:  East and West on the Dulles Toll Road and North and South on the Fairfax County Parkway Toll Road.  So in addition to the diversion of traffic from the Dulles Toll Road due to huge toll hikes, Restonians and those coming to Reston would divert from the Fairfax County Parkway Toll Road to, yes, Reston Parkway.  Having just seen a presentation by FCDOT that forecast four minute delays (actually, 241 seconds at Sunrise Valley Drive at the "peak of the peak" period) on Reston Parkway in 2030 due to local development alone--no consideration of tolling the Parkway, I don't even want to think about what tolls on the Fairfax County Parkway Toll Road will add to local congestion, pollution, and diminished quality of life.   (I won't even go into the absurdity of their calculation for the average household.)

It's your community.  Make your voices heard.  October 3 at the North County Government Center is a good place to start.  

Friday, September 21, 2012

Rescue Reston Rally, 4PM, September 29, National Realty Parking Lot--BE THERE!

Reston National Golf Course Residents say "no" to development plan, WUSA Channel 9 News, September 20, 2012

RESTON, Va. (WUSA) -- A golf course is at the center of a controversy in Reston.
It's a case of big corporation against the residents of the Reston golf course community.

Reston National Golf Course is off Sunrise Valley Drive and Soapstone Drive.

The landowner says they should be able to develop the land, instead of having the golf course.

But for folks who came to live in this planned community, the first post-war planned community in the country, says not so fast. . . .
 Click here for WUSA's full news item.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

MWAA Releases Toll Rates to 2014, Reston Connection, September 19, 2012

Community groups concerned about raises and effect on local traffic.

Alex McVeigh
— The Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority has released its scheduled toll rate increases for the Dulles Toll Road up to 2015. Effective January 1, 2013, tolls at the mainline plaza will be $1.75 (up from $1.50) and the ramps will be $1.00 (up from $0.75).
There are two options currently being presented by MWAA for toll prices from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2014. The first would raise the cost at the mainline plaza to $2.50, with no increase on the ramps. The second would raise the mainline plaza to $2.25, and the ramps to $1.25.
There are two similar options for rates from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 2015. Option A calls for a mainline plaza raise to $2.75 and the ramps raised to $1.75. Option B would raise the mainline plaza to $3.00 and the ramps to $1.50.
ACCORDING TO MWAA, “toll increases beyond 2015 will be analyzed based on actual financial performance and potential receipt of any additional funding.” . .
. . . Reston 2020, a committee of the Reston Citizens Association, has released their own take on the increases, which they believe will only serve to increase traffic on Reston’s other roads.

THEIR REPORT claims that the hikes will move more than 40,000 vehicle trips onto nearby roads by 2015, which includes 10,000-15,000 trips in Reston.
This will lead to more congestion, pollution and maintenance requirements. The RCA proposes that toll road users be responsible for a fixed 25 percent of costs, which would prevent tolls from rising above $2.85. . . .
 Click here for the rest of this article.

MEETING: County Meeting on Crescent's Future Oct. 1, Reston Patch, September 17, 2012

What does the future hold for 16-acre apartment complex near Lake Anne Plaza?

Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins will host a community meeting Oct. 1 about proposals Fairfax County has received for future development at Crescent Apartments. . . .
Meeting time is 7 p.m. at Reston Community Center Lake Anne.
Crescent is a 1960s-era, 16-acre, 180-unit development across the street from Lake Anne Plaza.
The county guidelines to those submitting a proposal (to redevelop the apartments):
  • Create a high quality development that complements the existing Lake Anne Community 
  • Ensure diverse housing options exist in Lake Anne including workforce, senior and affordable housing 
  • Enhance pedestrian, and bicycle connections throughout the Lake Anne area 
  • Increase the viability of the Lake Anne Village Center by adding new residents
The redevelopment of the complex, which was acquired by the county in 2006 as part of an effort to add affordable housing units, is part of ongoing discussions for the redevelopment near Lake Anne. . . .
 Click here for the rest of this article. 

Letter: AAA Opposed to MWAA's Toll Plans, Fairfax Patch, September 16, 2012

"It was a rotten formula at the start whose stench only gets worse with each passing year and the skyrocketing tolls that come with it."

With another increasingly expensive round of toll fee hikes in the offing for users of the Dulles Toll Road, according to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), AAA Mid-Atlantic wants to reiterate clearly and loudly its opposition.
We understand that someone has to pay for the $6 billion cost of the construction of the Silver Line, but the overriding question in our mind is just who that should be. At last check, local motorists, via their tolls, are being forced to shoulder nearly 60% of the costs of this project. . . .
. . . We urge MWAA, as it prepares for its latest round of hearings, to slow the escalation of these fees. The costs of a project of this magnitude that will benefit an entire region should not be borne so disproportionately by the drivers on the Dulles Toll Road.
It was a rotten formula at the start whose stench only gets worse with each passing year and the skyrocketing tolls that come with it. As the latest round of toll hikes for a round-trip on the Dulles Toll Road prove, they don’t call it the “Silver Line” for nothing, but we think it’s now more deserving of a new name: “Platinum Line.”
Lon Anderson
AAA Mid-Atlantic Managing Director of Public and Government Affairs.
 Click here for the rest of AAA's letter. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Comment on Dulles Toll Road Toll Increases, RCA Reston 2020, September 16, 2012

If you can not see the document in the box below, click on the title and it will take you straight to the document on  Sorry for any inconvenience. 
RCA Reston 2020 Comment on Dulles Toll Road Toll Increases

Commentary: Reston's Future: Who Should Decide? Colin Mills, President, RCA, Reston Patch, September 13, 2012

You're probably heard by now that the Board of Supervisors approved that 23-story office tower this week.  And if you've been reading me regularly, you know that RCA, RA, and ARCH were united in opposition to the tower proposal.  We met with Cathy Hudgins last week to discuss our concerns about the proposal, which reflected the comments of our constituents.  Supervisor Hudgins heard our views, but went ahead and voted for the tower anyway.

Naturally, I'm disappointed by this decision.  Our Supervisor went against the opinion of our leading civic organizations, as well as the vision outlined by her own Reston Master Plan Task Force and the views of County planning staff, which recommended denying this application.  I believe that, contrary to the claims espoused by the developer and endorsed by our Supervisor, this is not an example of transit-oriented development.  It's too far away from the Metro station, and as a result it's going to worsen the traffic on Reston's roads.  And it's likely to hamper efforts to build denser development closer to the station, where it would do us more good.  This is the wrong place for a building this size.

That said, I can understand that Supervisor Hudgins was in a difficult spot, due to the unusual circumstances of this parcel of land.  The parcel received a rezoning approval and Comprehensive Plan amendment from the Board of Supervisors back in 1978.  It was lumped into the approval process for South Lakes Village Center, believe it or not.  And the approved zoning for the parcel contained no restrictions on height and density.  It's the only parcel in Fairfax County with no such restrictions.

Given that zoning, the developer had unusual leverage in developing a plan for this site.  Now that it's approved, we'll need to mitigate the negative effects the project will have on traffic and development in Reston.  I understand that Supervisor Hudgins is working with the developer to limit the amount of parking on the site, which is a step in the right direction.  I will be happy to support her in efforts to reduce the negative impact of this development for our community.
More importantly, we should be looking beyond this individual project at the larger picture of development in Reston.  This parcel's peculiar zoning means that it shouldn't serve as a precedent, so fears that this approval will turn Reston into Manhattan might be overblown.
But the discussion about this building reflects the bigger issue: What is Reston going to look like in the future?  What principles will guide its development?  And who will decide those principles?

Shaping Reston's future development was supposed to be the job of the Master Plan Task Force.  Our Supervisor put together the task force so that developers, planners, and community representatives could build a vision for the future of Reston together.  (I serve on the Task Force as an alternate.)  But the Task Force has been at work for well over two years now, and we haven't approved any plan language or finalized our development recommendations yet.  And so far, we've only looked at the Toll Road corridor and the areas around the Metro stations; we haven't even considered the rest of Reston.  At the rate the Task Force is moving, Reston may be redeveloped before we issue our recommendations.  Also, given the fact that Supervisor Hudgins voted to approve a development that flew in the face of the vision developed by the Task Force's Town Center sub-committee, will she ultimately go along with the Task Force's final recommendations?

The Task Force may be slow in forming its opinions.  Not so Reston's founder.  As you may know, Bob Simon supports the proposed office tower, and has not been shy about saying so.  The development fits right in with what he thinks Reston should be.  Among the people I've talked to who support the tower, one of the more popular arguments is: "If Bob Simon's in favor of it, that means it's right for Reston."

I greatly admire Bob Simon.  Without his vision and hard work, Reston wouldn't exist.  And I'm very glad that he's still around to offer his opinions on how Reston should develop.  But he is not the master developer any longer.  His views certainly deserve consideration, but they are not the last word.

Bob created a vision for a New Town.  In my view, it's a great vision.  And over the last 50 years, Reston's citizens have brought that vision to life, and shaped it in ways Bob probably couldn't have dreamed of.  A lot has changed in that time; Bob freely admits that Reston hasn't developed exactly as he envisioned.  In 1963, when things got started, Reston was Bob's town.  In 2012, it's our town.  We as Restonians have spent 50 years building this community, and we as Restonians should be have a strong voice in shaping its future.

So let's have the discussion.  Bob believes, and has said many times, that density builds community.  Cathy Hudgins appears to share that view.  It's a defensible opinion, and I welcome the opportunity to hear their case.  But a lot of Restonians don't agree with that view, and we should be heard in that discussion as well.

Which brings me to the most encouraging news to emerge from all of this.  For the first time in recorded memory, RCA, RA and ARCH united to form a common position and advocate for it jointly.  Yes, we lost this battle, but we gained something important: The leaders of our three organizations have agreed to meet regularly, discuss the issues facing our community, and when we share a common view, we will band together and speak up together.  And being able to speak with a united voice can only benefit Reston.

We learned some important lessons from this experience.  For one thing, we came together fairly late in this process, and we've learned the importance of starting earlier.  We're also going to work on expanding our communication with the citizens of Reston, spending more time educating the public and rallying support for our positions.  We're also going to talk among ourselves about strategy, and the best ways to influence these decisions.

But we know, and I want all of you to know, that we are committed.  We're not going away.  We take this seriously, and we are goign to do everything we can to ensure that our vision for Reston is heard and incorporated into the plans for the future.

Is the decision on this office tower a setback?  Sure.  But by bringing our civic organizations together, we'll gain more than we've lost.  And I look forward to working with my colleagues to promote constructive discussions and a well-thought-out plan for Reston's future.

Tolls Must Have Limits, Del. Ken Plum, Reston Connection, September 13, 2012

The notion that the user of a public service should be the one to pay for it makes sense in theory. But when the service is a roadway and the payments are tolls, the system can feel a bit unfair and clearly needs limits. It made sense when I voted to approve an authority in the early 1980s to build a toll road in the Dulles Corridor to provide traffic congestion relief for western Fairfax County and to open the area for economic development. Using the toll method of financing meant that we got the road and expanded it decades before it would have been considered through the usual methods of road financing. It even made some sense that toll collections be used as a percentage of financing for the extension of Metrorail in the corridor, since the mass transit system would help relieve future traffic congestion on the Toll Road. But there has to be limits on the use of tolls, and clearly the level of tolls proposed for the Dulles Toll Road is too high. . . .
Click here for the rest of Del. Plum's commentary.

While Reston 2020 clearly shares Del.  Plum's about the prospect of higher tolls, one has to ask why he waited until this late date to express his concern.  The writing has been on the walls for years.
  • In 2009, MWAA's traffic and revenue forecast consultant Wilbur Smith Associates (WSA--now CDM Smith) published a preliminary forecast pointing to tolls on the DTR reaching $11, a sum that Reston 2020 pointed out would be insufficient to pay off its bonds under the 2007 "funding partners" (MWAA, Loudoun, & Fairfax) agreement.  Of course, the "partner" that they decided should pay well over half the cost of the Silver Line was the one who was not at the table--the toll road user.
  • In January 2012, CDM Smith published the preliminary summary of its updated forecast, subsequently validated in its April 2012 draft, that showed tolls would need to go to $18.75, including tolls of $4.50 in 2013--the toll MWAA has now proposed for 2015. 
Certainly the man who is Chairman of the Dulles Corridor Railway Association (DCRA)--the principal lobbying group for rail to Dulles--knew what was coming.  Yet he and his local senatorial counterpart, Janet Howell, didn't say a thing about the issue of abusive toll hikes until opponents in last year's state senatorial campaign pressed the issue.  (To her credit, Howell was one of the leaders in trying to increase the state's contribution from $150MM to $450MM to relieve toll hikes, but she failed.)

So I ask what is Del. Plum doing NOW to make sure that toll road users aren't stuck with a doubling of tolls in three years?  And what if the federal government again turns down MWAA's request for TIFIA funding--which is likely?  And what is DCRA doing to prevent the toll increases?

E-Mail: Problems and Concerns, Joe Stowers, September 12, 2012

The following is the text of an e-mail Joe Stowers, Reston resident and one of its original planners, sent to Supervisor Hudgins.  It is published here with the author's consent.

    I'm writing for two reasons.  First to express my serious disappointment with the Board of Supervisors' decision yesterday to approve the Whealan PRC Plan for the 23-story office building.  I think most of the well-informed people in the community are convinced that this decision will long be seen as one of the worst planning and development decisions that has been made during your service as our Supervisor, because of the magnitude of the negative impact that it will have.

    My second reason is perhaps a more serious problem.  I am really distressed by what I heard during your explanation of why you moved to have this PRC Plan approved.  It demonstrated serious differences between your understanding of how planning and development should move forward and the direction that the most informed non-elected community leaders, such as many members of the Master Plan Task Force and its various participants have been moving over the last couple of years and more.

    Your statement showed that you are out of touch with what has been happening.  It has some of us worried that we have failed to communicate with you and may have been wasting our time and perhaps much of the County's Planning and Zoning and Transportation staff work in supporting the Task Force's efforts over the last couple of years.

    The best example of this is your view of how development should take place in Town Center.

    We all know that Town Center is a large area such as you described.  But for almost 10 years, beginning with Walter Alcorn's leadership of the Planning Commission's work in defining the County's policy on TOD through the current Task Force's work on scenarios being used for impact evaluation, we have been focusing more and more attention on the need to concentrate office development within 1/4 mile or less of the station areas because of the fact that people do not walk very far to jobs from rail stations.  One of the consequences of this has been the need for us to focus attention on promoting residential development in North Town Center and other areas beyond 1/4 mile and more from the stations in order to create a target balance of office and residential uses in the TOD areas.

    Incidentally, you completely misunderstood what I wrote and what I was trying to say about development  in the Spectrum area.  I was definitely not expressing support for increasing its density.  I was urging that building heights imposed by the County in the 1980s be increased to accommodate later-approved FARs without causing the ugly urban design of boxy rows of buildings that have been approved for that area as shown on the staff's slides of building heights presented at yesterday's hearing.

    At this point I have no specific recommendations for how to address the two main problems raised above.  We had a lot of discussion about this right after the hearing but came to no productive conclusions.

    Please let me know if I can be of any help in relation to these issues.

            Joe Stowers

Thursday, September 13, 2012

State Must Meet Its Transportation Responsibility, Local Leaders Say, FairfaxNews, September 5, 2012

Fairfax County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova led the mayors and chairs of the Urban Crescent yesterday in sending a letter to top Commonwealth leaders urging them to meet the state’s responsibility to adequately fund transportation and head off the “transportation funding crisis currently facing the Commonwealth.”

The letter, addressed to Gov. Robert McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and members of the General Assembly, points out the poor condition of Virginia’s secondary roads, the looming end of highway construction funds needed to match federal dollars, and numerous other challenges that are the state’s responsibility to meet. . . .
This article is a good overview of the letter from the Urban Crescent coalition.  You may read the article here in its entirety.  

To read the full letter, click here.     Here are some of the ugly details in the letter:

  • State secondary and urban system construction funds have been eliminated.
  • By 2017, no state funds will be available for highway construction, and the
    Commonwealth will be unableto fully match federal funds.
  • Approximately 26 percent of VDOT‐maintained roadways statewide are in poor condition, according to VDOT. However, that number is 34 percent for the Urban Crescent, including 39 percent in Northern Virginia, 36 percent in Hampton Roads and 31 percent in Richmond.
  • Only 66 percent of Virginia’s secondary roads currently meet pavement performance targets. The cost, using VDOT’s estimates, of meeting VDOT’s goal of 82 percent of secondary roads in fair or better condition could be $1.3 billion to $1.8 billion.
  • As localities continue to address congestion by providing more transit options, transit funding provided by the Commonwealth is far short of what is needed. 
  • In the Richmond area, commuters waste 20 hours per year stuck in traffic 
  • In Hampton Roads, commuters waste 34 hours, and in
  • Northern Virginia, commuters waste 74 hours. 
  • The morning and evening rush hours in the Urban Crescent last as long as two and a half to even hours each day.

Users Talk Tolls at Reston MWAA Meeting, Reston Patch, September 13, 2012

Airports Authority collecting public opinion, but will it be enough to control rising Dulles Toll Road rates?

MWAA CEO Jack Potter speaking with Dick Rogers, RCA Board and Reston 2020 member, at the RCA Reston 2020 display outside South Lakes High School.  
Citizens came to South Lakes High School in Reston Wednesday night to talk about tolls and there were plenty of people there from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) there to listen.
Wednesday night's event was the second of three public meetings organized by the group that oversees the Dulles Toll Road and the construction of the Metrorail's Silver Line.
But will public opinion be enough to slow the rise in toll road rates?
Under the toll rate proposal, the combined main plaza and ramp tolls, currently $2.25 for 2-axle vehicles, would increase to $2.75 in 2013, $3.50 in 2014 and $4.50 in 2015 in order to help fund the construction of the Silver Line Phase 2.
Advocacy group Reston2020 predicts tolls for area motorists will be $6.75 (in 2018). However, MWAA CEO Jack Potter says not so fast—through targeted government lobbying and finding alternate funding solutions, MWAA may be able to put the brakes on rising tolls and still get Phase 2 from Wiehle Avenue to Loudoun County built. . . .
Click here for the rest of this article.  

I will only add that, in a conversation with Jack Potter at the South Lakes open house (it was not a "public hearing"), he said he hopes 10,000 people comment in opposition to the increased tolls.  He said he wants to use those comments as ammunition when MWAA, Fairfax, and Loudoun counties file for low-rate federal TIFIA financing later this year.  

I strongly encourage all Reston 2020 blog readers to file a comment with MWAA.  You can do so at this link:

Advocates Disappointed By Hudgins' Vote, Reston Patch, September 13, 2012

Supervisors' support for 23-story tower goes against Reston planning principles, say citizen groups.

Groups representing Reston citizens said they were disappointed by Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins' support of the 23-story tower planned for Reston Parkway.
RTC Partnerships' proposal for the 330-foot tall building, which will replace the five-story "Reston Times" office building at 1760 Reston Parkway, was approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. . . .
For the comments of RCA and RA officials on Hudgins' vote and its implications for development in Reston Town Center, please click here.  

Lawsuit Says DC Airports Authority Can’t Raise Tolls To Pay for Rail, Transportation Nation, September 12, 2012

By Martin DiCaro
(Washington, DC — WAMU) The agency that’s running the Silver Line rail project to Dulles Airport is holding public hearings on its plan to dramatically raise tolls on the Dulles Toll Road to pay for the project. But a Federal Court of Appeals will consider a lawsuit that could derail the project.

The class action suit argues the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) does not have the legal right to raise tolls on drivers to pay for trains. Only an elected legislature can raise tolls in order to pay for something other than the maintenance and operation of the Dulles Toll Road itself, the suit claims. . . .

This article provides an excellent overview of the lawsuit now in Federal appeals court.  It is there because the plantiffs' claim was dismissed in district court.  You can read the full text here. 

From this reader's non-legal perspective, the case has merit.  I have no problem paying a user fee that covers the cost of operating, maintaining, and even improving the Dulles Toll Road.  If that were the case now, the full toll on the toll road would not exceed $1.25 (instead of $2.25) to cover the less than $60 million it costs this year to carry out those functions.  The addition of finance charges for Phase 1 nearly double that annual cost ($109 million in 2012 per MWAA) and our tolls reflect it.  Long term, assuming 2.5% inflation, tolls covering related costs would escalate to $3.35 rather than the $18.75 MWAA now forecasts for 2050.

The obverse of having toll fees cover only the cost of the service provided is for cynical politicians incessantly seeking re-election to turn over more and more of their taxing authorities on totally unrelated programs to toll collecting entities, such as MWAA.   In the end, we could see toll road users, state park users, Virginia ABC stores, and others charging huge fees to help pay for Virginia's education, social, and many other programs. 

Where's the line in the sand?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Proposed Silver Line Toll Hike Vexes Virginians, Transportation Nation, September 7, 2012

Higher tolls are coming to the Dulles Toll Road next January. The question remains how high.
The public had its first chance to weigh in on projected toll increases at an open house Thursday night organized by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), the agency running the Silver Line rail project that will heavily rely on increased toll revenues for its financing.
The Silver Line is a 23-mile rail link connecting Washington, D.C to Dulles International Airport and beyond into the Virginia suburbs. Its projected cost is $5.5 billion.
Effective January, the one-way full toll would increase to $2.75, then to $3.50 in 2014, and $4.50 in 2015, under current toll projections.  Rates would continue to rise two dollars every five years for the next four decades unless other sources of funding are secured to mitigate the toll increases.
“It’s ridiculous,” . . . .
For the rest of this article on the absurdity of MWAA's "public hearings" on the Dulles Toll Road, please click here.

Reston Task Force Meeting Draft Agenda, RCC--Lake Anne, 7PM, September 11, 2012


September 11, 2012

Task Force Meeting
Reston Community Center at Lake Anne


7:00 p.m. Public Comment Period

7:10 p.m. Administrative Items – Patty Nicoson, Task Force Chair

7:20 p.m. Fairfax Department of Transportation presentation of detailed analysis and discussion of Next Steps
  • Dan Southworth, Department of Transportation
  • Heidi Merkel, Department of Planning and Zoning
8:50 p.m. Next Task Force Meeting
  • Date and Location: To Be Announced
9:00 p.m. Adjourn – Patty Nicoson

Friday, September 7, 2012

Editorial: Day Late, Dollar Short, Fairfax Times, September 7, 2012

Next week, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority officials will play host to public hearings in Reston and McLean to get community input on proposed toll rate increases to support the construction of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project and improvements to the Dulles Toll Road.
Although Airports Authority officials deserve some credit for organizing the meetings, why they weren’t conducted three or four years ago — when Fairfax residents might have had a legitimate say in the scope of the project and how its gargantuan debt load is distributed.
A rocket scientist certainly isn’t needed to understand that unless people who represent toll road users have a seat at the table, an equitable solution to rail’s funding problems is unlikely. . .
. . . Under the current plan, Dulles Toll Road users will pay for 75 percent of Phase 2’s $2.8 billion price tag, a troubling formula that will dump thousands of cars on already congested side streets, as commuters attempt to save a couple hundred bucks per month and, just as important, negatively affect the local economy. It’s a safe bet that every extra dollar that goes into a toll basket is likely one that won’t be spent in a local restaurant or clothing store.
A central reason for the toll inequity has been the Airports Authority’s inability to keep toll increases in line with initial projections. . . .
Click here for the rest of this editorial. 

The editorial captures just about all the arguments RCA Reston 2020 has been making about the impact of increased tolls over the last four months:  reduced discretionary spending power of local families, added congestion to local roads, and a reduction in economic growth as families and businesses steer clear of the high transportation cost Dulles Corridor.

Commentary: Can city life be exported to the suburbs?, Washington Post, September 7, 2012

This lengthy opinion piece by Jonathan O'Connell explores the emergence of "town centers" as the answer to bringing downtowns to the suburbs. 

In the course of discussing the emergence of town center, it notes,  "The titan of town center developments locally, and in many ways nationwide, is Reston Town Center, a walkable neighborhood that is one of the densest parts of Fairfax County and has become a smashing commercial success."

It discusses similar--although much smaller--efforts in Leesburg, Georgetown, and beyond.  Noting the criticism of many that town centers are essentially sterile corporate wastelands, it ends with this quote from a developer:

“When you put the camera on and you put the actors on the stage, it looks like a real place.”

Its a thoughtful and thorough article.  Read it all here.  

MWAA aims to restore public confidence, Fairfax Times, September 6, 2012

Board plans to adopt stricter ethics policies for members

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board of Directors moved ahead with policy reforms Wednesday that they say are aimed at restoring public confidence in the authority and its leadership.
However, during the course of the policy discussions, some members suggested the board has continued functioning as a “good ol’ boys network,” with decisions being made behind the scenes and without the knowledge of the full board. . . .
Imagine that:  A mini-Board of insiders within the Board of insiders, all pilfering the public's purse.

Also, like the FairfaxNews article posted here yesterday, this article notes that all the so-called reforms the MWAA Board has proposed are aimed at pleasing DOT's Office of Inspector General, who presented a scathing draft report on MWAA in May.  None of MWAA's apologies are directed at the public.  

For the rest of this article, click here. 

Dulles Toll Road Public Hearings, NBC4, September 6, 2012

View more videos at:

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Commentary: The 23-Story Office Tower and Reston's Downtown, Colin Mills, President, RCA, Reston Patch, September 5, 2012

A rendering of RTC Partnership’s planned 23-story, 418,000 GSF, project at 1760 Reston Parkway in Reston.

When I wrote last month about the importance of Reston organizations working together, I didn't realize how much togetherness we were in for.

At RCA's marathon meeting in August, one of the documents we ratified was a statement regarding the proposed 23-story office tower on the site of the former Reston Times building, sometimes known as the "Town Center Office Building."  Our resolution endorsed the position that Reston 2020 took back in March, which called the proposed tower "the wrong building in the wrong place."

But we didn't just pass our resolution and call it a day.  We reached out to other community groups that had expressed opposition to the tower, specifically the Reston Association and the Association of Reston Clusters and Homeowners (ARCH).  Last weekend, leaders from our three organizations met and agreed on a common position.

And this week, for the first time, RCA, RA and ARCH will have a joint meeting with our Supervisor, Cathy Hudgins, in which we will speak with a united voice about this issue, as well as others like the Reston National golf course.  This is a huge step forward for Reston: rather than fighting over turf, our organizations are joining together to support our shared vision of Reston's future.

As ARCH President Jerry Volloy joked at our weekend gathering, "We've got to stop meeting like this.  People will think we're a community."

In opposing the planned tower, we are supporting the Fairfax County planning staff, which recommended rejection of the application.  The staff's report noted that the tower was much taller than the planned development around it, that it adds too much non-residential development for the location, and that it would worsen our traffic situation.  When we meet with Supervisor Hudgins, we will urge her to stand with her County staff.

In addition to the flaws pointed out by the staff, the tower would fly in the face of the plans that the Reston Master Plan Task Force is developing for the Town Center area.  The Task Force's Town Center Committee has developed a vision based on the principles of transit-oriented development (TOD), which is designed to maximize the value we get out of the Silver Line.  One key TOD principle is that the tallest and most intense development should be located as close as possible to the transit station, with development stepping down as you move away from the station.

If the proposed tower were located in the shadow of the station, it might fit with that vision.  But in fact, it's over a half-mile away from the station.  (Commonly-accepted planning wisdom holds that people generally will not walk more than a quarter-mile from transit to their destination.)  The vast majority of people who would work at this tower would not use Metro to get there.  (Indeed, the building's planners anticipate this, as they are including a parking garage with over 1,000 spaces.)  Rather than encouraging the use of the Metro, this tower will just add more cars to Reston's already-clogged streets.  With all the money we are investing in the Silver Line, why would we want to undermine that investment with a poorly-planned building?

The Town Center Committee's vision for the area around the tower calls for a mix of uses, with residential and office components sharing buildings.  But the proposed tower is all office space (with a smattering of retail), with no residential component.  Again, this will only lead to more traffic on our roads.

These are some of the points that our three organizations will make at our meeting.  I think we make a strong case, and I think it's that much stronger when we're all making it together.  I believe this heralds a new and powerful era of collaboration among our community organizations, and Reston can only benefit from the collaboration.

When RCA, RA, and ARCH meet with Supervisor Hudgins to dicuss the tower, we will ask her to stand up for her staff.  We will ask her to stand up for the vision of the Task Force she created.  And we will ask her to stand with our organizations, which represent the opinions of a broad swath of Restonians.  The tower makes for a pretty-looking rendering, but in order to do right by Reston, it needs to go back to the drawing board.

Future of Golf Course Up for Grabs? Reston Connection, September 5, 2012

Photo detail
The owners of the Reston National Golf Course have inquired of Fairfax County which development would be possible on the property, which has raised concerns in the local community.
Reston Association, Reston Citizens Association speak out, Rescue Reston group formed. 

By Alex McVeigh

— While Reston National Golf Course is a destination throughout the region and recognized around the country for its Nike Golf Learning Center, its future has become a topic of concern for local residents. The owners of the course, RN Golf Management, requested information from Fairfax County earlier this year on the exact zoning regulations for the property on which the 166-acre course sits.
On April 20, Mark Looney of Cooley, LLP, which is representing RN Golf Management, requested the information, asking for regulations, as well as "confirmation of the process one must follow under the Zoning Ordinance in order to establish uses other than a golf course on all or a portion of the subject property."
Cathy Belgin, senior assistant to the zoning administrator with Fairfax County, responded June 20.
"The property is shown as a resource in the category of ‘major open space, parks, golf course, nature center,’" Belgin wrote in her report. "Any alternative development of the property that cannot be construed as open space, parks, golf course or nature center would require an amendment to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan."
IN RESPONSE, RN Golf Management has filed an appeal . . . .
Click here to read the rest of this comprehensive and timely article on the dispute over the future of Reston National Golf Course.  

The outcome of this dispute will determine whether Reston is a planned community or just another bunch of sub-divisions for developer exploitation.  

"Distance Pricing" Talks for Greenway Fail; Need to be an MWAA Priority for DTR

In a comprehensive article in a recent Leesburg Today entitled "Another Greenway Toll Compromise Stalls," Erika Jacobson Moore writes about the breakdown in discussions between Loudoun legislators and Greenway management to institute "distance pricing" for tolls there.  

"Distance pricing" is simply paying for what you use when taking a toll road.  Toll road users don't have it on the Greenway, and we don't have it on the Dulles Toll Road.  It is the only fair way to charge tolls, but toll road managers, including MWAA for the DTR don't care.  
  • There nominal complaint about distance pricing--and the one they're using on the Greenway--is that it would cost a lot to install the new equipment.  Dulles Greenway management puts that cost at $6-8 million.  
  • The REAL issue, however, is that distance pricing would mean lower toll revenues as people using less than the whole toll road would pay less than a full toll.  In turn, that would mean toll road managers would have to raise the tolls on the toll road to meet their revenue requirements, primarily paying off debt.  
  • Also, they find it unattractive because they would have to raise the base toll rate--probably by a third or more--to make up for the lost tolls from partial length toll road users. 
This is especially a problem for Reston drivers who use the DTR.  Sitting about half way from either end of the toll road, they are paying about twice as much per mile to use the DTR as people driving its full length under the current tolling scheme.   So, while the average per mile toll rate for the Dulles Toll Road users is about $.17/mile--very near the national average--Reston area toll road users (who comprise about half the vehicles entering/leaving the DTR according to the CDMSmith report--see "DTR 2011 Weekday Traffic Profile") are paying as much as their Greenway counterparts at peak period pricing--$.34/mile.

So what is the first priority of the MWAA Board in terms of tolling changes (besides, of course, hiking tolls in multiples over the next 40 years):  It's peak period pricing.   That is, MWAA is exploring the idea of increasing the tolls even further during the busiest periods of the day--morning and afternoon rush hours.  They want to do that because they don't have to modify their current toll collection structure (other than changing the toll charged) and they will end up with greater revenues!  It's a true win for MWAA and, yes, once again, a huge loss for most Dulles Toll Road users.

Toll road users, the Boards of Supervisors in Loudoun and Fairfax counties, and our state legislators must all push MWAA  (and, for that matter, the TRIP II partnership that runs the Greenway) to adopt distance pricing to assure toll road users are treated fairly.  And that would be a change!

For more on the exorbitant price per mile paid by Reston toll road users, please click on "DTR Fact Sheet #4:  Exorbitant Reston Toll Cost per Mile."