Tuesday, May 14, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
Virginia transportation officials are pressing ahead with plans for a major north-south highway connecting I-95 in Prince William to Rt. 7 in Loudoun County, even as state transportation data shows the far greater demand for lane capacity lies on east-west routes, with the exception of Rt. 28 where it intersects ...
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
The federal government may provide a substantial loan to the agency running the Silver Line rail project to Dulles International Airport, enabling the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) to lower projected toll rate increases on the Dulles Toll Road that are expected to cover 75 percent of the rail project’s estimated Phase 2 cost of $2.7 billion, a Virginia congressman said.
MWAA, along with Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, plans to submit a letter of interest by September 30 to the federal government for a loan under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation (TIFIA) Act, which established a program that lends money for major transportation projects throughout the country.
Based on recent discussions with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Representative Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said he expects a loan to come through soon
“I’m very confident we’re going to be able to lock down a TIFIA loan for a fairly substantial percentage of the cost of the construction of Phase 2 by the end of this year,” Connolly said. “We know that [the loan] can’t exceed 33 percent of the cost of the project. It is my hope that it will be somewhere between 25 and 30 percent, but we have to see. We are in competition with other projects around the country as well.”
Effective January, the cost of a one-way, full toll is projected to rise to $2.75. In 2015, it increases to $4.50, with scheduled increases of $2 every five years.
“One of my goals is to move us from zero federal assistance to a substantial federal assistance so we can get the pressure of the toll users and the toll rates,” Connolly said.
There is currently no federal funding for Phase 2 of the Silver Line, which is expected to begin construction next year. The state of Virginia is providing $150 million. Fairfax and Loudoun Counties have allocated substantial sums, but three-quarters of the cost is expected to come from Dulles Toll Road users.
Because the project, which will extend to the airport and beyond into Loudoun County by the end of the decade, did not meet Federal Transit Administration criteria for expected ridership, the federal government was reluctant to provide any funding at all. After the project was split into two phases the government allocated $900 million for Phase 1, which will end at Wiehle Avenue in Reston, Va.
“One of the flaws in the financing of this project is that the Commonwealth of Virginia really hasn’t put up its own money. It has used our money in the form of toll revenue to finance its share and airports' [authority’s] share of this project, and that puts real upward pressure on toll rates,” Connolly said.
The Reston Citizens Association, which says it represents 58,000 Fairfax County residents, sent a letter on Monday to the MWAA’s chief executive officer, calling the recent public hearings the agency held “inadequate” considering the anticipated impact of higher tolls. The association is asking the MWAA to reduce the toll burden to 25 percent of the Silver Line’s Phase 2 cost.
The letter “details the harm the proposed toll hikes will do to the well being of toll road users, to the already serious congestion on local roads, and to the potential economic and tax revenue growth in the Dulles Corridor.” Opponents of the current financing structure say drivers attempting to avoid the higher tolls will seek alternate routes to work, further congesting already jammed secondary roads.
“[The] MWAA has a responsibility to address the variety of community concerns we enumerate and more. It is a far broader responsibility than building a 16-mile railroad. We are anxious to help you find new funding sources,” the RCA writes.
“The public needs to be heard. I think the Reston [Citizens] Association is absolutely correct,” Connolly says. “I share the Reston Association’s concern about the lack of accountability at MWAA.”
The MWAA's proposed toll hike is also the subject of a recent class action lawsuit, which argues that the agency does not have the legal right to raise tolls on drivers to pay for trains.
In recent months the embattled MWAA has publicized measures it has taken to improve transparency after reports of profligate spending and unethical practices by some members of its board of directors.
Friday, September 07, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
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,” said Bayush Radadaya of Ashburn, who drives the Dulles Toll Road to work. “Right now I can afford it but once it doubles I cannot because gas prices are so much.”
Unlike a typical public hearing where residents take turns speaking into a microphone to a panel of officials, the event inside a high school cafeteria in Ashburn was informal. MWAA officials were on hand to answer questions, residents could read about the project on posters displaying charts and maps, and submit written comments into a cardboard box.
“You can throw a comment on a card but I’m not quite sure you necessarily have input,” said Pete Sabbatino of Ashburn. “The most input you are going to get is if someone read’s your comment card. It’s being dictated to you.”
The Airports Authority says public feedback will be taken seriously when establishing the new toll rates later this year.
“The benefit of the [open house] is that we have an opportunity to educate people about the project,” said MWAA CEO Jack Potter.
Toll revenues are projected to cover about 50 percent of the Silver Line’s total estimated $5.5 billion cost. The project was split into two phases; the tolls would cover 75 percent of Phase 2’s cost of $2.7 billion, under current projections.
Critics of the financing arrangement point to the lack of federal funding ($900 million for Phase 1, none for Phase 2) and relatively small contribution by the state of Virginia ($150 million). Potter says the airports authority is working to increase those figures, which would reduce the toll increases and give drivers a break. MWAA is requesting a loan under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program.
“It’s a 2.4 percent loan versus what we’re able to get in the open bond market of about six percent, so that would significantly lower our cost for financing the debt,” said Potter, who said Virginia’s contribution of $150 enabled MWAA to delay the $4.50 one-way, full toll rate until 2015. It was originally projected to take effect next year.
To Loudoun County resident Daniel Davies, the plan to finance a rail project out of the pockets of car commuters is unfair.
“"The toll rates plus what the toll avoidance is going to do to our communities and the traffic along Route 7 and Route 28 is just going to be gridlock,” said Davies, referring to drivers who will dodge the higher tolls on the highway by clogging already congested local and state roads.
Davies said he opposes the Virginia state legislature providing any additional funding for the Silver Line because the state already handed over the Dulles Toll Road to MWAA, an asset valued at more than $3 billion during the administration of Gov. Tim Kaine.
Read more TN coverage of the Silver Line here.
Wednesday, June 06, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
(Washington, DC -- WAMU) The next phase of the Dulles Rail project will not give preference to construction contractors who promise to hire union workers. The 11-1 vote by the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority means that the imperiled project will go forward, and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell will release $150 million for the project's next phase.
"Today's vote is a major turning point for the Dulles rail project," said Airports Authority Chairman Michael A. Curto in a statement. "This project is vital to the economic growth of this region and the Board is determined to do whatever is necessary to finish the project as quickly and cost effectively as possible."
Although the MWAA Board previously included a project labor agreement (PLA) as part of the construction plan, board members voted this morning to remove the PLA from the project in order to ensure continued state funding for the rail line. Only one board member, Robert Brown, voted to keep the agreement.
State funding is instrumental to determining whether Phase 2 of the Dulles rail project will be delayed. Today's vote came amid threats of the Commonwealth of Virginia and Loudoun County pulling hundreds of millions of dollars in funding out of the project. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and Republicans in the General Assembly have said the project labor agreement (PLA) violates the state's right-to-work law by giving a preference to contractors who would choose union labor.
Most Virginia construction workers are non-union. MWAA officials have publicly defended the PLA, saying that if Virginia withdraws its money, tolls on the Dulles Toll Road could double, and the project could be delayed. Also key for the project's future will be tonight's Loudoun County Board meeting. Board members heard from residents both for and against continuing funding for the project Monday night, and the board is expected to discuss the $270 million that represents Loudoun's share for Phase 2.
Loudoun has until July 4 to make a decision.
Tuesday, June 05, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
Phase 2 of the Metro Dulles rail project, known as the Silver Line, is either a boondoggle or the key to Loudoun County’s economic future, depending upon whom you ask.
Nearly 200 people packed a public hearing before the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Monday night to weigh in on whether the county should remain part of the $2.7 billion plan to connect Metro rail to Dulles International Airport and further into the county.
Loudoun County's financial commitment to Phase 2 will cost it $270 million. The Board of Supervisors has until July 4 to decide whether the municipality is in or out.
Vehement support — and opposition — for Silver line
In kelly green t-shirts printed with the words "Loudoun Rail Now," supporters outnumbered opponents at the public hearing. While fewer in number, anti-rail residents were nonetheless determined to convince the board to pull out of Phase 2. Bob Constantino even wore a prop inside the Loudoun government center: a Viking helmet.
"During their time they were known for pillage, they were known for plunder and they were known for thievery," Constantino said of the Vikings. "It's my contention that the Metro Silver Line Phase 2 in the context of Loudoun County is virtual railway robbery."
Opponents do not support a project they fear might raise their taxes to benefit those who would ride the Metro beyond Dulles Airport. The county's long-term funding commitment is also a point of contention. Loudoun's operating budget for the future Metro stop at the airport itself would be $5 million-$7 million per year, even though county residents are not expected to heavily use it.
Supporters of the plan, including businesses, urged the board to keep its commitment to the project.
"…The long term benefits of the Dulles Rail project offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to Loudoun County," said Tony Howard, the president of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce.
Another pro-rail speaker, Mindy Williams, urged the board to see the Silver line as an opportunity. "The opportunity to increase the commercial tax base, the economic opportunity, and the ability to leverage the tremendous asset we have in Dulles airport…" she said.
Loudoun residents not the only ones divided
The nine-member board, composed entirely of Republicans, is split. Board chairman Scott York supports the project, but his colleagues on the board remain divided. The supervisors will weigh a variety of funding options, including the creating of new taxes, at another meeting Wednesday night.
Also on Wednesday, the board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is expected to decide whether to drop a controversial pro-labor provision -- a project labor agreement or PLA -- for the entire project that would favor bidders that choose a union workforce to build Phase 2.
The PLA is a sticking point for the Loudoun County Board, but even if MWAA drops it, the county's support is not a sure thing.
Supporters worry about missed opportunity
"The worst thing about saying, 'no' is you don't want the project to end at Dulles Airport," said Carol Wilte, a 20-year employee at the airport and rail supporter. "You don't want to add all that commuter traffic on top of all the travelers going to and from an airport that already has $25 million passengers."
Phase 1, which is nearing completion, will terminate at the new Wiehle Avenue Metro station in Reston, requiring passengers to take another form of transportation to the airport.
If Loudoun opts out of Phase 2, the project will most likely be delayed significantly while MWAA and the state of Virginia seek funding options, including charging significantly higher tolls on the Dulles Toll Road.
Wednesday, May 02, 2012
Here's his statement:
We have gathered here the Loudon county chair, the Fairfax chair, the WMATA chair and the Vice Chair of the Metro. We just had a very good meeting. And what we've decided to do is continue to stand behind this project; it's a very important project. There are a few things that need to be worked out. We'll probably have a couple more meetings, and then gather together again and find where we stand on things. The one sticking point, I think that probably is the biggest sticking point, is a provision called PLA, Project Labor Agreement. And the Virginia legislature, when they voted for their budget said that that was something that they prohibited on this project. So we're going to work with stakeholders, our friends from the airport and the Commonwealth and we'll work this out. There is actually an agreement that’s been signed by all of the parties. So the one sticking point I think can be worked out, and it will be worked out pretty quickly, and we'll proceed ahead.
Wednesday, May 02, 2012
As we've been reporting, Virginia is balking at a premium for union contracts on the project, and is threatening to pull funding.
Officials say Lahood, concerned that a crucial economic development project may be thwarted, has invited representatives from the Governor's office, MWAA, WMATA and Loudon and Fairfax counties to participate in the meeting.
Meantime, the Washington Airports Task Force issued the following statement today:
"We call upon all Dulles Rail funding stakeholders—MWAA leaders, federal, state and local government leaders, and WMATA’s management—to focus on resolving the issues concerning the second phase, in order to find the common ground that will enable Phase 2 of the Dulles Metrorail Project to move smartly forward to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County. In so calling, we applaud the further effort of U.S. Secretary Ray LaHood to save this project.
"The MWAA has managed Phase 1 essentially on cost and on time. It is now time to focus on the real issues, which are:
1) Funding Phase 2 without placing an unreasonable burden on Toll Road users.
2) Dropping the PLA preference, and instead requiring the contractor to provide a well-qualified and reliable workforce to build Phase 2 in a similar manner to Phase 1. The successful contractor should be left with the ability to use every tool in their toolbox to complete Phase 2 safely, within budget, on time and in conformance with Virginia’s right to work laws.
"America has built its greatness upon a pragmatic approach to business, science and politics. Pragmatism means working together to achieve what is best for the common good, and surrendering extreme desires in the interest of that common good.
"Extension of rail to Dulles/Loudoun County is a “Game Changer” for the whole region. The Dulles Metrorail Project will link the Dulles Corridor to the rest of the region. This project will benefit:
Ø Virginia, through increased revenue from the support of economic and employment growth in Northern Virginia.
Ø The District of Columbia, through economic and employment growth, and improved access to its international gateway for tourism.
Ø Maryland, by linking the entire Metrorail system to a corridor that now constitutes 25% of the entire Metro Region’s economy, bringing Maryland employers closer to Virginia residents and vice versa.
"It is unconscionable to think that, as a region, we would not move swiftly forward with the second phase of the Dulles Metrorail Project. If we did allow the project to fail, how could we, as one of the nation’s wealthiest areas, expect to solve the bigger transportation issues challenging our region, including swift multi-modal access between activity centers, relief for our congested highways, and creation of an effective, fair, sustainable source of regional infrastructure funding? "
Thursday, June 02, 2011
(Washington D.C. - WAMU) US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood met yesterday with the partners behind the faltering Dulles Metrorail project, a nearly $6 billion venture to build a new subway line out to Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia. And according to several sources involved in the meeting, LaHood told them that a federal loan they were hoping for isn't likely.
TN Moving Stories: Montreal Bike Share In Debt; Amtrak to Senate: Gateway Tunnel "Critical" for Region
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
By Kate Hinds
Senate Democrats want the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the oil industry is fixing gas prices. (Marketplace). Meanwhile, their proposal to strip oil companies of tax breaks failed in the Senate yesterday (New York Times).
Politico writes: "Republicans have a messaging problem on gas prices. More Americans actually believe in UFOs and ghosts than blame President Barack Obama for causing their pain at the pump."
Montreal's Bixi bike share program, losing money and in debt, needs financial backing from the city. (The Globe and Mail)
Auditions for NYC's "Music Under New York" program were held yesterday; WNYC stopped by to take pictures -- and audio -- of the would-be subway performers. Take a listen!
CNN Money profiles the president of Alta Bike Share, the company behind the bike share programs in Boston and DC.
Workers move closer to their jobs, take transit, buy less, as a result of gas prices: (New York Times)
Loudoun County officials are exploring what would happen if they withdrew funding for the Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport. (Washington Post)
The Congressional Budget Office floated a mileage tax at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on “Financing 21st Century Infrastructure.” (The Hill)
Meanwhile, at the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing for the Federal Railroad Administration's budget request, Amtrak president Joseph Boardman said the Gateway Tunnel is "critical" to high-speed rail service. He added: "I think we're out of capacity in the Northeast Corridor...we have no place to put the New Jersey Transit trains that come into Penn Station." (Video below via Senator Lautenberg, YouTube)
The Freedom Rides turn 50 this year, and two original freedom riders talk will about that activism on today's Brian Lehrer Show. (WNYC)
Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.
In case you missed it on Transportation Nation:
-- high fuel prices squeeze Montana agencies (link)
-- DC wants to impose fees on intercity bus industry (link)
-- DC's mayor will announce new DDOT head today (link)
Friday, March 18, 2011
By Kate Hinds
(Washington, DC - David Schultz, WAMU) Cost estimates continue to rise for the second phase of the Dulles Metrorail project -- from Herndon to Dulles Airport and beyond. And now Loudoun County may withdraw its share of the funding for the project.
Loudoun County Supervisor Stevens Miller says a majority of his colleagues on the board think the cost of the so-called Silver Line is no longer worth it.
"Loudoun County's contribution to that project would be on the order of $300 million," Miller says. "But as of yet we haven't committed to fund that part. If we don't, then Phase II would be in complete jeopardy."
Board chairman Scott York says Miller is incorrect and that Loudoun will pay its share of the project -- just as long as its designers choose an above-ground aerial station at the airport.
"We have been communicating to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board that they had better well choose the aerial alignment," York says, "because of the fact that it is several hundred million dollars cheaper."
York says if the Authority chooses an underground station, Loudoun County will have a very serious discussion about opting out of the project.
You can listen to the story here.