Chamber: Blame State for Metro Toll Hikes

Loudoun Chamber president Tony Howard makes the case for additional state transportation funding and cooperation in the General Assembly.

Last month, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority held several public hearings to gather public input on the proposal to raise tolls on the Dulles Toll Road to pay for Virginia‘s share of the Dulles Rail Project. 

Though these toll hikes are planned to fund Virginia’s share of the project, MWAA was the one vilified by the opponents of this project.

On Oct. 17, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors will stage a public hearing on the proposal to create two special tax districts in eastern Loudoun to pay for the County’s share of the project.

No doubt the loyal opposition will again be out in force to oppose these tax districts and the completion of the Dulles Rail Project that is favored by 80 percent of Loudoun residents.

But even amongst the majority of Loudoun residents who favor Dulles Rail and other transportation investments, there are valid questions and even strong resentment over the state of Virginia’s transportation program.

The toll rate plan and proposed tax districts represent a new reality in Virginia, one in which the Commonwealth neglects its responsibility to fund transportation improvements and local governments are forced to raise the money needed to build new road and rail capacity.

But this is a reality that Virginians need not accept. Our Commonwealth is facing a crisis that is threatening our economy and quality of life, and it is the job of every Virginian to do something about it.

Consider this evidence of Virginia’s dysfunctional transportation program:

  • Dulles Toll Road tolls may go to $4.50 for a one way trip in 2015, just to cover the State’s share of the Dulles Rail Project [Editor’s note: That’s in addition to tolls collected on the privately operated Dulles Greenway.]
  • While Northern Virginia’s businesses and commuters are responsible for more than 90 percent of the cost of Phase 2, Virginia’s contributions will barely pay for two years worth of interest on the bonds to finance the project.
  • Virginia’s transportation construction budget will be bankrupt by 2017, when maintenance needs will consume all of the Commonwealth transportation dollars;
  • Loudoun’s Supervisors are considering using County money to fund local transportation projects beyond Dulles Rail, a job that has been a state responsibility since the 1920s;
  • Loudoun received just $182,000 in state funding for our secondary road needs last year, and a measly $1,000 this year.

These stories are a testimony to the crisis that is consuming Virginia’s transportation program, and to the failure of Virginia’s elected leadership to provide the money that is necessary to avert this crisis.

So what can be done? It starts with leadership and compromise.

Virginia needs leaders in Richmond who are willing to make the hard choices and to compromise on a solution.

Republican leaders have to accept that tax increases – especially those dedicated to road and rail construction – are necessary.

Democrats have to accept that transportation, as a core responsibility of state government, deserves a share of Virginia’s General Fund budget.

Of course, there are leaders in Richmond, including many of Loudoun’s representatives, who are willing to cross the aisle, and even cross their own leadership, to address this issue.

Sadly, they are in the minority. 

The majority of Virginia’s elected leaders are failing to meet their financial and moral obligations to adequately fund infrastructure projects.

It is a situation that won’t change until a majority of Virginia’s drivers, businesses and taxpayers get fed up with the toll hikes, bankrupt construction budgets and failing roads. 

We must awaken to this crisis and demand the leadership that is needed to fix this mess.

Tony Howard
President & CEO, Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce

Rob Whitfield October 02, 2012 at 11:39 AM
Tony Howard shows his lack of awareness of facts about Dulles Rail. Maybe it's time for the Loudoun Chamber to hire a new Executive Director. Under Governor Tim Kaine, the Commonweath transferred the Dulles Toll Road to MWAA in 2008, without first obtaining Virginia General Assembly approval or demonstrating the financial feasibility of the Dulles Rail funding plan. The value of the Dulles Toll Road revenue producing asset, built and funded by Virginians, has been estimated by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to be $3.52 billion. Not chump change even for the Chamber of Commerce. The toll estimates provided by MWAA to Virginia and Federal Transit Administration in the 2006 to 2008 period to pay for Dulles Rail were less than $5 each way. Not great, but far better than the $17 each way now projected. Last year, I asked Tony Howard, and the heads of the Greater Reston Chamber and Herndon Dulles Chamber: "What level of tolls do you support to help fund Dulles Rail?" He declined to answer then or since. Six months ago, I sat at a Committee for Dulles lunch with Kurt Krause, the current Loudoun Chamber Chairman. I asked the same question. Krause responded glibly: "We don't have to answer that question." MWAA is governed by an unelected Board, comprised of mostly out of state members. Last year, I suggested that a non-partisan group be established to consider options to toll funding. No response from any officials was ever received.
Kevin Chisholm October 02, 2012 at 12:17 PM
I am not so quick to attack the man, but rather ideas. Ideas are always fair game for criticism. Mr. Howard is not the reason we have this argument for paying for Metro. Finding the ideal way to pay for this public infrastructure is not easy. I think the topic is rather complex, really. First, I think such systems are of national importance and should get Federal money. Unfortunately, that is not the case with Phase II. Number one mistake.
Thad Hunter October 02, 2012 at 02:40 PM
In five weeks we can hold Tim Kaine accountable for starting us down this perpetual toll path: http://defeattimkaine.com/profiles/blogs/unlimited-dulles-tolls-tim-kaine-s-transportation-legacy
joe brewer October 02, 2012 at 04:13 PM
you are right on thad
No Toll Increase October 02, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Tony Howard is indeed to blame here. He and his Loudoun Chamber buddies bought and paid for our Loudoun Board's approval of the project. Without their lobbying, Dulles Rail Phase 2 would have fallen through and we would have been spared this mess. He didn't start the funding failure, but he completed it. Loudoun and Fairfax are being railroaded, and Tony Howard is one of the conductors. There still are options for killing this project off... visit notollincrease.org for more information.
joe brewer October 02, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Maybe the leaders here should have taken care of the funding issues before crawling into bed with a bunch of dirtbags?
Thad Hunter October 02, 2012 at 07:50 PM
1. Terminate MWAA for cause and replace them with an actual transportation project manager. End the agreement with DC and MD. 2. Submit legislation and deed the federally-owned strip of land adjoining the Dulles Toll Road back to Virginia. 3. Virginia pulls down the stupid buffer and expands the number of lanes on the Toll Road – they can still keep a hot lane and they will get more toll revenue. 4. Terminate the Silver Line at Dulles. 5. Give operational control back to the actual metro operator MWATA. 6. MWAA can go back to what they do best: collecting airport landing and parking fees. 7. Try to resolve the Greenway exorbitant tolls. 8. See what the actual Silver Line usage is and make a decision to stop or go forward based on actual hard data. The land is not going anywhere and we might have another economic pull back in the near future. We just need to apply some common sense.
leesburg patron October 03, 2012 at 02:45 AM
just a quick comment or possible question. it seems the percentage of loudoun residents who favor the loudoun rail project has increased with each respective firm that is interviewed or provides data and now is at 80%. i live in central loudoun and do not support the extension into loudoun, none of my many friends in loudoun support the rail, none of my co-workers who work in eastern loudoun and primarily reside in western loudoun support the rail into loudoun, except one, none of my neighbors support the rail into loudoun..... i think you get the picture.... can anyone lead me to water and explain how the varying statistics were developed. i have never received a phone call, knock on the door, questionarre, etc. and am baffled at the statistics. any help will be greatly appreciated.
Thad Hunter October 03, 2012 at 04:16 AM
There was a valiant grassroots effort earlier this year, but residents never got the true picture and the key issues were not seriously debated. At worst this was always about special interest money, at best it was a leap of faith that metro would generate economic development. Go to the Virginia Public Access Project, select Local and look that the donations from interest groups, developers, construction companies, etc. have been be given to Loudoun BOS http://www.vpap.org e.g.Scott York the Loudoun BOS Chairman received $55,255 from Voters for Loudoun's Future. Second, the “polls” were taken by marketing groups who were in alliance with the developers. There was no independent firm chartered to conduct a poll. Third, there was a strong grassroots effort led by LoudounOptOut (aka Tax Pig) to educate the public. And it seemed like the vote would be to opt-out by 5-4; but Ken Reid flipped his vote at the last minute. http://loudounoptout.blogspot.com/ Fourth, there were a number of public input meetings this May-June. I spoke at the main one; and the Comstock Partners and unions dominated the meeting. Many of us made impassioned pleas for reasons such as: Dulles Tolls will go up even more Traffic will get worse Funding was not approved (and still isn’t) MWAA is a corrupt organization Here was my LTE/rant: http://ashburn.patch.com/articles/lte-opt-out-on-upcoming-metro-vote
Bob Bruhns October 03, 2012 at 05:55 AM
Isn't this really the fault of the Fairfax and Loudoun County Boards of Supervisors, and MWAA, and Tim Kaine, and even the FTA and US DOT, and the Chambers of Commerce that called for and approved this rail project on the pretense that the tolls would pay for it, KNOWING that there would not be federal funding for Phase II, and KNOWING that Virginia would not be paying more than another $150 million into it? Yeah, I heard some claims from people who should know better, that VA DOT head Connaughton said that there would be more funds from Virginia. Well I'm glad to know that Mr. Connaughton runs the Virginia General Assembly, because that wasn't clear before! Oh wait - he doesn't, does he. But apparently some bigwigs here in Northern Virginia weren't aware of that - or they figure that the People aren't aware of that. Oh, and the media wanted this project too - that's why the $53 million FTA blunder was carefully unreported, that's why the near-double cost of the Silver Line project is carefully unreported, and that's why the March 15, 2012 US DOT audit of the risk factors, including financial risk, is carefully unreported. Funny - every other audit of Dulles Rail was reported. Hmmm. Taxpayers really should have paid attention to the near-double general price of Dulles Rail construction, because those costs are heading home to roost. http://www.bruhns.us/civic/DullesRail/Dulles-Rail---Silver-Line-overcost-report---Bruhns.pdf
David A. LaRock October 03, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Tolls will never begin to cover the tab for this debacle. That is why Tony has started lobbying/panhandling in Richmond for tax increases. Tim Kaine will do likewise in Washington if elected...asking for more $$$ from a government that is broke. It ain't gonna happen. Pushing projects that require endless subsidies is a leadership FAILURE.
David A. LaRock October 03, 2012 at 02:36 PM
80% support is a phony stat. People were asking if they supported rail to reduce traffic. That question contains a false premise. Rail to Ashburn will make traffic far worse and compound the need for roads when there is no road money. That is why Tony is begging for a tax increase. Look out Ashburn! Your traffic problems have only just begun. Thanks also goes to Tony's Chamber buddy Ralph Buona.
Thad Hunter October 03, 2012 at 02:42 PM
@Bob: I agree with your list, and I would add one other group: Fairfax and Loudoun residents who don't pay attention to the decisions made by their local elected officials.
joe brewer October 03, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Is the chamber related to Obama in someway, blaming others for your own mistakes is cowardly. Does anyone have a idea when the Inspector Generals report will come out. Resind the severance for Reiley and fire Jack Potter!
David A. LaRock October 04, 2012 at 02:14 AM
Very impressive analysis Bob. You are a true citizen watchdog.
Rob Whitfield October 04, 2012 at 10:08 AM
The latest issue of "Loudoun Business" has a similar article by Tony Howard with a title "Blame General Assembly" rather than "Blame State." There is plenty of blame involved in the entire Dulles Rail debacle. Most would hope that some politicians would demonstrate leadership and fairness in decision making. That has not happened -by either Republicans or Democrats. Where is Delegate Joe May, head of the House Transportation Committee? Where is US Senator Mark Warner, who as Governor of Virginia pushed the rail project ahead of other transportation priorities? Where are Congressman Frank Wolf and Gerry Connolly? Where are our US Senate candidates, former Governors Tim Kaine and George Allen? Why did no politician or the Federal Transportation Administration demand studies of alternative funding mechanisms? What did happen at the eight or more meetings between USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood, FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff, MWAA and the other Dulles Rail partners? Why were the meetings held in secret violating the Obama Administration's "open government" regulations? Why have the public been excluded from most of the decision making on funding? At the chamber level, how come Comstock Partners, Patty Nicoson, Mindy Williams, and others seem to have had undue influence on the approval process? Why did the Chamber exclude me and others with questions about the rail project from a public meeting with Sean Connaughton and other key speakers at Dulles Airport?
joe brewer October 04, 2012 at 11:04 AM
Where is that 150 million slush fund that was oked in May. Did they use some of that money for Martires defense and Reileys severance?
Bob Bruhns October 04, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Thanks. People should pay attention to people like Dave LaRock and NoTollIncrease, Rob Whitfield, Terry Maynard and Reston2020, and Tom Cranmer, people should read Thad Hunter's list above, and people should read my report too. This rail project is bogus, its financing is so badly planned that it will cause a flat-out disaster all by itself, and then WMATA will come around looking for funding for their $13.5 Billion maintenance and capital funding needs, just when federal spending in this region will see huge cutbacks. Not a good combination - less employment, and higher costs. And you can bet that the toll road tolls will be paid down by Fairfax and Loudoun County taxes. You're being snookered by this unworkable plan that your so-called 'leaders' are handing you. It's just a stalling tactic to make sure that when they lower the boom on you, all of the papers will be signed and the ground will be broken, so it will be too late to stop them. Some of this is just being downplayed, some of it is being totally covered up. You really should take a look.
Bob Bruhns October 04, 2012 at 11:31 PM
People need to rise up RIGHT NOW and demand an accounting from the estimators who handed us a near-double price for this rail project. Why aren't people questioning these ridiculous prices, that in instance after instance are near or over two times what they should be? http://www.bruhns.us/civic/DullesRail/Dulles-Rail---Silver-Line-overcost-report---Bruhns.pdf
Rob Whitfield October 05, 2012 at 02:36 PM
After today's Loudoun County Economic Development Commission's meeting, I offered to discuss Dulles Rail funding issues with Tony Howard. His response was: "I am not going to talk with you. Go play with your band of merry men." Nobody has ever suggested before that I am Robin Hood but I am known for talking to people with various views in an effort to reach solutions. Tony Howard seems uninterested in finding solutions or even discussing issues with anybody except those conforming to his view of the world and the local economy. I have been a Committee for Dulles member for 25 years, and was a CFD Board member for 18 years. I have attended most MWAA Board and Board Committee meetings since 2008. I don't recall ever seeing Tony Howard or other Loudoun Chamber Board members at a MWAA Board meeting. Who do you think is likely to have a better understanding of the issues? Even Mame Reiley, the former MWAA Board Chairman, who worked with Governor Tim Kaine to transfer the Dulles Toll Road to MWAA in return for the latter building Dulles Rail gave me the credit last year for helping MWAA see the need for reform and more openess in their deliberations. Some people know that, for over a year, I have worked behind the scenes to suggest an alternative funding solution for Dulles Rail Phase 2 and a non-partisan committee to study needs and funding for other transportation improvements in the Dulles Corridor and around Dulles Airport. What is the Loudoun Chamber doing?
David A. LaRock October 05, 2012 at 05:11 PM
"What is the Loudoun Chamber doing?" Panhandling.
David A. LaRock October 07, 2012 at 11:44 AM
Rob, thanks for all your effort. Unfortunately, it appears that Mr. Howard has led the Chamber in a direction where there is little attention paid to the long term well being of the community and the people served by the businesses in the Chamber. He/they endorse more spending and growth, even when the price of these is debt. He does not need to know what is going on when his plan consists of more spending and more taxes. I believe time will show that is no way to run a business or a community.
Bob Bruhns October 07, 2012 at 01:47 PM
The Chambers of Commerce wanted us to approve this near-double priced rail line. Do they run their own businesses that way? If so, they should step forward and tell us how they pay almost twice the going rate for office space, heating and air conditioning, energy, etc. What? They DON'T pay nearly two times what things should cost? And they DON'T borrow huge sums of money to pay for that? Well, then... why do they want US to do that? 'Tis a puzzlement.
Rob Whitfield October 07, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Bob and Dave, the Loudoun County Economic Development Commission as well as the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce demonstrated a complete lack of objective and factually based critical review of numbers involved in Dulles Rail. If the businesses in which these so called leaders are involved make decisions about costly investments in a similar manner to what was done for Dulles Rail, without regard to downstream costs, then we should be concerned. More likely, some involved at LEDC and the Chamber have current or prospective direct and/or indirect ownership interests in real property near planned transit stations. The guiding philosophy of those who favor heavy rail transit appears to be "other people's money first."
Bob Bruhns October 07, 2012 at 10:42 PM
I guess they know which side gets the butter. What's going on with the Loudoun County tax districts? The business people there better get on the stick and cap their tax contribution at the claimed $270 million, 1) Before tens of thousands of toll road refugees divert to the side roads, causing traffic jams the like of which we have never seen, and county leaders get Tifia loans (that have to be paid back by county taxpayers - imagine that) to pay the tolls down, 2) Before Loudoun County people realize that the $270 million does not include the $168 million for the three Metro parking garages, 3) Before WMATA comes around looking for $13.5 Billion for deferred Metro maintenance and capital needs, and 4) Before the prices all suddenly skyrocket, and Loudoun County is on the hook for 4.8% of the increases plus whatever additional percentage it takes on to pay down the tolls. Betcha Loudoun County's Ken Ried didn't think beyond the claimed $270 million and the claimed revenues from the tax amoeba district. Fairfax County is in the same hot water, but its pain will be more than three times as bad. Betcha a lot of people who voted for this mess are going to retire soon, and move away.


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