News and notes from Reston (tm).

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Next Stop, the Woodshed: Metro Silver Line Feud Enters Double Secret Probation

The Metro station at Dulles International Airport could be located aboveground and cost $582 million or located underground and cost $912 million.jpeg

The ongoing brouhaha about the second phase of the Dulles Metro extension -- you know, the one that will actually extend Metro to Dulles -- entered a fun new stage yesterday, as Principal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood got all the involved parties in a room and brought out the paddle urged them to come up with a solution that will cut costs in the next 30 days or face Double Secret Probation a potential loss of federal funding for the project:
A lot is at stake for all of the funding partners if the second phase stalls or does not get built. Among those risks for MWAA is losing a rail station to the airport.

Loudoun County risks more than $200 million in net revenue through economic development near the new stations. Fairfax County risks overwhelming its Reston station because Loudouners would drive to Wiehle Avenue to ride the train. With the risks in mind, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova said Fairfax is still committed to finishing the second phase of the project.

“We already have a lot of skin in the game,” she said. “We worked very hard to get phase one under construction.”
Which is why we think we'll ultimately see an underground station at Dulles. As others, including a seasoned medical practitioner, have pointed out, the airport authority ultimately calls the shots:
There is no threat to the construction of a rail line out to Dulles International Airport. It’s going to get built. The key decisions to do this were made years ago. Today’s politicians are haggling over the details.

The decisions that got us to this point included choosing a a heavy rail line over bus rapid transit, choosing a route through Tysons Corner rather than taking a straight shot at the airport and choosing to put the airports authority in charge of the construction.

If politicians didn’t want the airports authority to be the decision-maker on the location of the airport station, they shouldn’t have put the airports authority in charge of building the railroad.

And since we’re on a course to invest more than $5 billion in taxpayer and toll-payer money in this railroad, we also should care about putting the station close to the potential riders.

The Dulles Metrorail project is a hybrid. It’s partly about making sense out of that space station we call Tysons Corner. It can’t be the 21st Century economic hub that people envision if everyone has to drive in and out of the place.

But Dulles Metrorail is also about Dulles. To succeed, the airport transit system has to be competitive with other ways of getting to and from the airport. It has to be easy to reach when you pluck your bags off the luggage carousel and look for the exit.

Individual politicians may see some political interest in sticking it to the airports authority over the station’s location. But the D.C. region’s interest is in finding a way to put the station within a few football fields of the terminal while keeping the cost as low as possible.

But the politicians who have been bashing the airports authority will have to stop pandering and join in some serious discussions about revenues and costs. The problem isn’t the location of the station. The problem is the cost of the project.

Instead of shaking down the Toll Road users, could there be another revenue source? Could there be a surcharge on using the airport station? Metro already crossed that threshold last year by creating a financing plan for station improvements that allows for a surcharge on riders entering or exiting a particular station.
In the same vein, the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance continues to point out what it calls the elephant in the room: the fact that Dulles Toll Road users are now going to be tapped for more than half the funding for the total cost of the $6.25 billion project. (If the airport authority relents and builds its station above ground, it will be a reasonable $5.95 billion, or maybe 50 cents less per trip, but that basic fact remains unchanged.) When the project was first announced, it was assumed the feds would pick up half the total cost, but it ain't exactly high-rolling times in D.C. anymore.

Despite all this, airport authority officials are starting to sound more conciliatory.
Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Chairman Charles Snelling, chief of the board that decided in favor of the underground station, told The Washington Examiner that the decision is not final. His tone represents a shift away from more adamant past statements in favor of the underground station.

"There are problems that need to be addressed," Snelling said. "We don't want high tolls any more than anyone else."
Fortunately we are Here to Help. Maybe he and other MWAA officials can throw some extra quarters (and it'll have to be a whole bunch of quarters) into the basket for the next driver every time they go through a toll plaza, Oprah/Pay It Forward style, and everything will be just fine. Problem solved -- and with 29 days to pick out the color swatches on those rad subway seats, the end.


  1. I think they should skip the second half of the rail line to Dulles, and instead build a giant catapult at the Wiehle Ave station that would fling the passengers to the terminal from Reston.

  2. I think you have left out the Loudoun controversy. They are threatening to pull their contribution to the project if they don't get their underground stop. Cannot believe this is crumbling now. If they cancel part II then they better just adjust and make it go straight to the airport.

  3. The whole damn thing is a white elephant and boondoggle that will always require huge subsidies from Toll Road users and the general funds of FFX and Loudoun.

    18 stations from Metro Center to Dulles, bring a pillow and blankie its going to take a while (I'd say bring a lunch but there's no eating on Metro; remember when Metro cops arrested a school girl over a french fry); a design that permanently precludes express trains; no headway left downtown meaning every train to Dulles is one less train to Vienna or Franconia.

    Don't be suprised if Loudoun says thanks but no thanks to stations past Dulles after they see the subsidy they'll have to collect from their tax averse voters, every year.

    This project could have been FUBAR worse but it's tough to see how.

    But Bechtel is sure making a ton of dough off the Toll Road users.

    Just think, next, the users of the now free Access Road will be paying a toll forever too!


  4. Yep. To travel the Dulles Toll Road it will cost $10 each way nine years from now. And by 2040 it will cost $20 each way. And that figure is based on current costs. If costs escalate so will the tolls we pay for a road we already paid for.

    Who is responsible for this?

  5. If they don't build it to Dulles, they need to rename it from the Silver Line to the Mauve Line.

  6. The whole damn thing is a white elephant and boondoggle that will always require huge subsidies from Toll Road users and the general funds of FFX and Loudoun.

    Ya know, since the AIRPORT owns it, and it goes TO AND FROM THE AIRPORT, the naive observer might say that PEOPLE WHO USE THE AIRPORT should have to pay for it. What is stopping them from adding an extra tax to the plane tickets? It's not like people can (or would) avoid Dulles just to dodge that fee. If they need Congress to make it happen, well, make it happen already!

    Another way they could achieve the same result would be to charge tolls for using the middle lanes. You know, the ones that go TO AND FROM THE AIRPORT? Why shouldn't those people pay?

  7. Anon 4:40, the $20 DTR toll is pure hyperbole. Who would actually pay $20 to use the DTR? Right now, it's at $2 for me, and I refuse to use it except when I absolutely have to (which ain't often).

    I say, if we're going to have tolls, then let's use them for something more than paying the toll collectors. If getting people out of their cars and into the Metro is the goal, then a punitive toll seems like a reasonable measure to me.

    And if you don't want to take the Metro, you can always use Routes 7 or 50. There are alternatives to the DTR.

  8. Convict, if you can't afford $2, then just stay home.

  9. How 'bout a toll on the Dulles ACCESS road? The DTR serves folks who are NOT going to the airport. Charge the airport users instead of the airport non-users?

    If the Silver line ever opens, every parking space within a mile of the airport will be chock-a-block full by 8:00AM, just like at every other Metro station. Where will airport users park?

    No available parking at any Metro station, unlikely to find parking at the airport (except for the places they reserve for congressmen. Unless one lives walking distance from Metro, the only way to get to Dulles will be by taxi.

    I'm gonna' buy Washington Flyer stock.

  10. How about putting the fees on the cab companies that make out like bandits going free up and down the access way? And the flyer? And the shuttles?

    I'm with convict though. As the tolls go up, I figure out ways around without using DTR. It is amazing what you can accomplish on a bicycle if you put your mind to it.

  11. I don't understand all the emphasis on targetting toll road users, as if every govt expenditure must be exclusively targeted at the people who use it. We Restonites pay taxes on many things that we don't use. All those vdot work projects outside of Reston for instance. This is a shared burden. The county and the state tax payers should be helping out, as we nearby toll road dwellars have helped out them on their infrastructure projects.

  12. There are a lot of folks who use the toll road to go to work. The Silver Line won't get them to their jobs as there is no connecting mass transit system between the Silver Line stations and where they work. People who live in Reston and have to use the toll road to go to work should pay punitive tolls? Why?

    Eventually everyone who can't get to work except by using the toll road will have to leave Reston. Yes, convict? You like that kind of social engineering? That suits you?

    Wonder what that will do to property values here?

  13. This latest food fight is fun (?) to watch, but still a distraction from the real issues. First and foremost, there are too many cars on the roads in the region and we use far too much gasoline. Reducing the number of cars and the amount of gasoline consumed while allowing folks to move around the region has to be the primary goal. We need to follow the example of Paris and London and create a regional authority that controls all forms of transport -- car, rail, bus bike.. and empower it to make the changes necessary. Those changes almost certainly include tolls on all limited access roads, higher gas taxes and car taxes, greatly expanded bus service almost immediately, new light and heavy rail lines in the long term, new feeder bus service in the subdivisions, and tighter controls of new construction.

  14. James:

    "Tigher control of new construction?"

    Have you been reading any local papers the last year and a half? The county wants to double Reston's population and increase the numbers of people coming to work here every day by 100,000.

  15. The whole project should be trashed. The Toll Road should be returned to its rightful owner, the Commonwealth of Virginia. The current construction materials should be recycled. All of it should be replaced with a real commuter train, not a half-ass subway. The current project is just flushing billions down the toilet for no gain. Traffic will be just as bad.


(If you don't see comments for some reason, click here).