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Dulles Rail Project Already Harming Virginia

By Greg L | 27 November 2007 | Fairfax County | 9 Comments

The five billion dollar mass transit boondoggle of metro’s “Silver Line” to Dulles airport isn’t even approved by the Federal Transit Administration, but already the MWAA is performing utility relocation for the project according to the DC Examiner. Meanwhile, instead of encouraging development, businesses in the area are fleeing in anticipation of major gridlock coupled with heavy roadway tolls. Spending an ungodly amount of money on a transportation project that makes things worse and increases commercial vacancy rates is hardly what folks probably had in mind when they talked about this as an “investment”.

Instead of early birds flocking to Tysons Corner to take advantage of Dulles Rail’s many supposed benefits, businesses have actually begun bailing out. More corporate tenants have left Tysons than leased office space there this year. This unexpected exodus is most likely being driven by the anticipation of five years or more of major construction chaos and tolls of up to $5 per trip to pay for it. But there is another, more ominous explanation.

McLean Citizens Association Board member Mark Zetts says Tysons Corner will never become a successful transit-oriented development center like Arlington’s Rosslyn-Ballston corridor because Tysons is sealed off by already overcrowded interstates, while the R-B area has 40 access lanes — one every quarter of a mile — that facilitate the smooth flow of traffic.

We’re going to spend more on this one mass transit project than we’re going to spend on transportation over a two year period in the entire state. It will require endless public subsidies for operation, and it won’t help improve safety or ease congestion at all. To top it off, the project was awarded without competitive bids. What a phenomenal waste of taxpayer dollars.

UPDATE: Bacon’s Rebellion joins in:

Tysons Corner needs to be part of the Washington heavy rail system, but not in the way that has been contrived. Our best hope now is for the project to collapse under its own weight so we can start over. Otherwise, it is destined to turn into Virginia’s answer to Boston’s Big Dig.

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  1. Anonymous said on 28 Nov 2007 at 5:13 am:
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    I think it is time for a homework assignment. The project was bid under the Public Private Transportation Act (PPTA). While some may argue the value of the Act itself, it is a unique funding mechanism for public projects that doesn’t require the actual work to be bid out. Other projects such as the Rt 28 corridor have been built using the PPTA also, but I don’t hear anybody complaining that they were built without competitive bids.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think above ground rail is a terrible idea and the DC Examiner article seems to be pointing out some of the unintended consequences.

    It is though important to have an intellectually honest argument. There are many more ways to attack the prudence of this project than by claiming that there was no competitive bid.

  2. Riley said on 28 Nov 2007 at 10:02 am:
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    They should just scrap this whole thing and do the Rapid Bus Transit between the Pentagon and Dulles that is a fraction of the cost and can be implemented within a few months. If this money is really burning a hole in their pockets, build another bridge or two to cross the Potomac from Virginia to D.C. and then bury 14th Street in the District and have exits come off that as it heads north, similar to I-395 under the Capitol. That way traffic won’t be backed up all the way to Springfield on I-395 because of the traffic lights on 14th Street as soon as you cross the bridge into DC. Those are the only things that will remove the main source of gridlock in NOVA.

  3. Dave said on 28 Nov 2007 at 11:14 am:
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    Open up the airport lanes to all traffic, this seems like a no brainer to me.

  4. Turn PW Blue said on 28 Nov 2007 at 1:43 pm:
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    Take a look at PPTA, specifically 56-573.1


    While there is indeed an exception that allows for non-competitive procurements, clearly the spirit of the law is that competitive processes be used.

  5. Turn PW Blue said on 28 Nov 2007 at 1:44 pm:
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    The airport lanes aren’t a state highway. They are owned by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

  6. Anonymous said on 28 Nov 2007 at 3:16 pm:
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    Good information…and this is why it is a homework assignment.

    Consider the following…

    The Act provides for procurement procedures consistent with either “competitive sealed bidding” or “competitive negotiation.” The Department may not use procedures consistent with competitive negotiation unless the Department provides a written determination to the Secretary of Transportation that such procedures are advantageous to the Department and to the public based on (1) the probable scope, complexity, or urgency of a project; (2) risk sharing including guaranteed cost or completion guarantees, added value, or debt or equity investments proposed by the private entity; or (3) an increase in funding, dedicated revenue source or other economic benefit from the project that would not otherwise be available. Written approval of the procurement process is required by the Secretary of Transportation before the Department Administrator may sign an interim and/or a comprehensive agreement.


    Before we can throw out the ‘there was no competitive bidding’ argument, let’s establish that the method used violated the above. Are we insinuating in some way that the Secretary of Transportation is somehow complicit in corruption?

    I’m not saying I totally understand the situation in it’s entirety, but the statement by Greg needs a little fleshing out and definitely isn’t as simple as ‘it should have and wasn’t,’ as proposed.

  7. Turn PW Blue said on 28 Nov 2007 at 3:52 pm:
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    For the Dulles Rail project, the two exceptions used were urgency (Federal dollars are going to magically disappear if not allocated by a specific date) and scope (only Bechtel is qualified for a project of this scope). Both of these are specious arguments. I’m not saying there was outright corruption as much as laziness. It’s a whole lot easier to no-bid contracts than go through all the complexities of an open procurement.

  8. Dave said on 29 Nov 2007 at 9:31 am:
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    The MWAA is a public body no? Anything is possible, only federal law and MWAA regulation keeps it open only to airport users. The MWAA itself was created via state and DC legislation. Change the law. It just seems insane to be proposing 5-10 billion dollar construction projects when there are 4 lanes just sitting there, underutilized relative to the rest of the areas roads. Instead of funding multi-million dollar studies of tunnel vs. raised, how bout a study of opening the lanes vs. spending biliions?

  9. I want less traffic said on 30 Nov 2007 at 8:15 am:
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    Several billion dollars and five years of construction traffic? In the long run it will probably be worth it in gas savings alone. Most transportation departments put the true cost of driving at a dollar a mile and gas keeps going up. If ten thousand people end up using this line to save 10 miles of driving per day (each way) that would be $50 million a year in driving savings. Not to mention saving traffic fatalities and the environment. Each gallon of gasoline causes 19.6 pounds of CO2 emissions.

    But there is another mass transit solution available right now for free. The VRE train goes to Union Station in the morning then comes back empty to Manassas and Frederickburg. Why not put office buildings at these VRE stations and take tens of thousands of car trips off rush hour by filling the train with people both ways? It will eliminate an estimated $300 million in VRE subsidies by doubling ridership. Each VRE line could be turned into a Ballston or Clarendon.

    Although the Fredericksburg line is terribly jammed, the Manassas line (Norfolk Southern) is so underused that extra trains can run at short intervals all day long, creating 13 Metro stations.

    Does a free solution make too much sense?

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