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Loudoun Chamber Breakfast Focuses on Silver Line Benefits

A trio of panelists promoted the opportunities they believe rail to Loudoun represents as partners await Loudoun’s decision.

Attendees of Wednesday's Loudoun Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast discussion on proposed Metro service to Loudoun heard more about a study that touted the positives impacts and that the commonwealth might be willing to pay more than the $150 million recently approved.

While the breakfast session focused on the study Stephen S. Fuller, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, performed on the projects financial impacts to the region, Virginia Sec. of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton told the audience the state may contribute more once some things are worked through with the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority.

“The governor, who is from Northern Virginia, knows is it critical to extend rail to Dulles and beyond to Loudoun County,” Connaughton said.

Chris Browne, manager at Dulles International Airport, said the project would help the airport double its traffic and become a global hub.

“I think it’s important to recognize that Dulles is not a fully mature facility,” he said, adding that the goal is to expand from the 25 million passengers in 2011 to more than 50 million in the future, a prospect more difficult without rail. “Without it, Dulles will not achieve its intended goal of being a world class airport.”

Many other airports have saturated their space, so Dulles offers significant potential, Browne said. Connaughton built on that, describing the potential for the region, and Loudoun in particular.

“We are one of the most competitive states in the United States when you look at all the economic indicators,” he said, adding that the airport is a source of potential investment for Loudoun. “It’s bringing in international investors that use that gateway on a daily basis.”

Two significant issues regarding MWAA for many supporters of the project have garnered much attention: incentives for a project labor agreement, or PLA; and membership of MWAA’s board of directors. While recent changes in the law call for MWAA to have two additional members from Virginia, the state and that body disagree about when it takes effect. MWAA believes it does not take effect until July, after the Loudoun Board of Supervisors decides whether to participate.

Connaughton said Virginia seeks more influence because he views Phase 2 of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project as a Virginia project that should comply with Virginia laws that currently do not permit state funds to be used for projects that have PLA incentives. In past statements, he suggested the project might be in better hands with the state. Wednesday he said the state at least wanted to have appropriate influence on a project that’s entirely funded within the state.

“This is now a Virginia project,” Connaughton said. “Things have changed dramatically.”

While he did not reiterate wishes to take over the project, Connaughton told the chamber audience that if concerns with MWAA’s management are worked out, Virginia may pitch in more to help keep the cost of fares on the Dulles Toll Road, a primary source of project funding, down.

“This is something we’re more than willing work with, and work with the General Assembly to keep the tolls down,” he said.

Fuller, who earlier this week released his rail study, continued to describe starkly different futures for Loudoun, depending on its rail decision.

“With that connectivity, no county in the Washington Metropolitan region can compete with Loudoun,” he said. “Without it, it’s a lot more like Frederick, MD, except for the airport.”

In addition, Loudoun’s amenities and diversity makes it the most attractive county in the region with rail. With or without rail, Loudoun will do well, he said, but there’s potential to beat competitors to the east in drawing certain business investments.

“No other area in this region can come close for 20 years,” he said.

When asked why his study appears to be much rosier than a fiscal impact study by Charles Robert Lesser & Co. for the county, he said the Lesser report “understated the fiscal benefits.”

“They are not really accounting for the non-real estate benefits,” Fuller said. “There’s a lot of other economic activity.”

Many eyes are on the Loudoun Board of Supervisors, who have the option of not participating in the project. Many board members have stated they are reserving their decision until they complete a series of work sessions and hear from the public; however, comments made during past meetings reflect somewhat on their views.

Supervisors Ralph Buona (Ashburn), Suzanne Volpe (Algonkian) and Ken Reid (Leesburg) attended the breakfast.

Opponents and supporters both had Volpe’s ear. She arrived with Robert Whitfield, a critic of the project who was denied entry to the event. She then sat next to Connaughton during the event.

Buona has expressed support for the project, although he continues to push for the most financially beneficial arrangement for Loudoun. Reid issued a statement Wednesday saying he supports rail to Dulles, but not to the two stations planned in Ashburn. Supervisor Shawn Williams has made speeches from the dais that appear to make his support for the project clear. County Chairman Scott K. York (At Large) is a long-time supporter of the project, although he has concerns about the PLA incentives. Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (Sterling) opposes the project.

The leanings of Supervisors Janet Clarke (Blue Ridge), Geary Higgins (Catoctin), Matt Letourneau (Dulles) and Volpe are unknown. Letourneau’s public statements appear to show a serious interest in the project’s potential to bring workers to Loudoun if it really drives business investment to the county. Higgins’ greatest concerns appear to be whether the new line creates a logjam at the Potomac—and whether there’s a significant construction need there—and the impact of WMATA’s union workers on the budget.

From the dais, Clarke has questioned the cost of related infrastructure and the county’s liability to pay for it as well as how rail would impact the county commuter bus service. Volpe and Reid have expressed similar concerns about the potential loss of bus service as well as a more expensive and longer commuter for their constituents.

All supervisors have stated that they have not made their final decisions.

In his statement, Reid said Fuller’s study has “pie in the sky projections.”

Whitfield, who was excluded from the meeting, said despite his work with notollincrease.com and Chris Walker in the past representing opponents, he has been excluded from meetings with leaders and MWAA.

“I just think it was improper to exclude differing points of view,” he said.

Wednesday’s event was sold out in advance. Whitfield arrived with Volpe, who asked at check-in if Whitfield could have Delgaudio’s seat. Delgaudio did not RSVP, according to those working the check-in desk and Tony Howard, president and CEO for the Loudoun Chamber. Howard also said he had a legal opinion supporting the decision.

“To me, the overarching important issue is not the PLA, it’s the toll road tolls,” Whitfield said, adding that he’d like to be able to raise that issue with leaders. “The toll road users are the primary funders of this project.”

He also criticized the way Fuller’s study was funded—by a contribution to the Center for Regional Analysis by property owners.

“Obviously, they’re the ones that have the most to gain,” he said.

Delgaudio, who did not attend, issued a statement questioning the exclusion of Whitfield and a colleague with Loudoun Opt Out.

“It may not be illegal to have private meetings with elected officials about how business can benefit from a multi-billion dollar boondoggle,” Delgaudio wrote in the statement. “But it sure looks bad.”

[Correction: Robert Whitfield said excluded opponents from meetings about rail was improper. A typo in the story has been corrected.]

Terry Maynard May 10, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Dr. Fuller's presentation was very disappointing in its reliance on dated info and hugely optimistic growth forecasts. Reston 2020 notes some of these at the end of its white paper issued yesterday and discussed here on Reston Patch (see http://reston.patch.com/articles/reston2020-tolls-biggest-issue-for-rail). Here's the short version of those points: --Fuller sees average annualized growth in Loudoun at nearly double digits this decade (9.2% w/ rail, 8.5% w/o), which is really over the top in our sluggish return to economic growth. --The huge (in economic terms) 0.7% annual difference in the return between with & without rail makes this even more unrealistic since, at best, rail will operate for only the last two years of this decade. --His forecast for the 2020-2040 period is similarly, but less severely, over-optimistic. --His forecast is underpinned by year-old data. The result is he forecasts gross regional product growing to $1.1 billion in 2030 while January 2012 data used by GMU CRA indicates it will grow only to $774 million by that date. Where did that extra $360 million--roughly 30%--come from??? NTL, his paper & presentation strengthen the case Reston 2020 makes that the key beneficiaries of the rail line, specifically rail-area landowners, ought to be major contributors to its construction. OTOH, Dulles Toll Road users should a much smaller portion of the line's cost.
Dusty Smith (Editor) May 10, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Thanks for weighing in, Terry. I had intended to include a link to that story, which we also posted in Ashburn.
Dusty Smith (Editor) May 11, 2012 at 12:44 PM
While it's true there is no federal money in phase two, Fairfax will contribute, and Loudoun will contribute if it participates. The state has approved $150 million for it and has hinted more may come. But yes, under the current financing proposal the tolls from the Dulles Toll Road pay the lion's share of the cost.
Bob Bruhns May 11, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Regarding the pie in the sky projections - did anybody at that meeting ask where the claimed $72.2 billion 2020-2030 figure came from? "Report Shows $72 Billion Loss Without the Silver Line" Leesburg Patch, May 9, 2012 http://leesburg.patch.com/articles/report-shows-72-billion-loss-without-the-silver-line#comments I saw it in the text, in the May 9, 2012 C.R.A. paper - but it sure didn't come from the supporting table in that paper. Take a look - the claim and the table are near top of page 2. "The Impact of Metrorail on Loudoun County’s Economic Future" By Stephen S. Fuller, Ph.D. Center for Regional Analysis, George Mason University May 9, 2012 http://cra.gmu.edu/pdfs/Loudoun_MetroRail.pdf
Dave Webster May 12, 2012 at 06:57 PM
Bob, I think you have to estimate the difference between with and without Metro for each year beginning in 2020 and ending in 2030. According to the chart, the difference in 2020 is approx. $3B and the difference in 2030 is approx. $11B. If we go from 2020 to 2030 and add in the intervening years with an increasing progession we get something like: 3+3+4+5+7+7+7+8+8+9+11 = 72. The entire study is based upon two assumptions: 1. That metro rail will bring 40,000 professional and business jobs to Loudon which presently don't exist, and 2. that the economic forecasts for the area without Metro are accurate. Professor Fuller is essentially guessing what the economic conditions will look like between 2020 and 2030. If he wants to posit that Loudon is better off with Metro than without, fine. But coming up with a phantom figure of $72.2B is a bit much.
Rob Whitfield May 12, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Dusty: If you had checked with me before posting, I could have helped you avoid several errors in your story. I said that it was IMPROPER to exclude people with differing viewpoints from a meeting at which public officials, including the Virginia Secretary of Transportation, were speaking on a major public policy issue. Tony Howard several months ago excluded me from a Dulles Rail meeting which was announced as a joint meeting with Loudoun County Economic Development Commission by EDC Transportation Committee head Ted Lewis. Mr. Howard also failed to respond to my question last year about the increases in tolls that the Loudoun Chamber supports to pay for Phase 2. Supervisor Delgaudio asked me to represent him at the Wednesday event as he could not be there. Just after my attempt to register for the meeting was denied by Mr. Howard and his staff, Supervisor Volpe arrived. I asked her to confirm with Supervisor Delgaudio my role at the meeting. Since 2008, I worked with the late Chris Walker for the Dulles Corridor Users Group to promote cost effective transportation solutions as alternatives to Dulles Rail. My understanding is that Ken Reid worked with Chris Walker in 2005/2006 for a related entity. As I do, he supports expanded express bus service. As to being excluded from meetings, most important decisions on Dulles Rail since 2005 have been made in closed door meetings, including the six+ meetings by USDOT Secrerary Ray LaHood during the last year.
Bob Bruhns May 12, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Ah. Thanks, Dave. OK, so if I go linearly from $0 at 2012 to $816 million at 2016, and then increment every subsequent year to (0.5781 + (preceeding year's amount)) ^ 1.017442, I get a reasonable looking curve that matches Dr. Fuller's figures at 2012, 2020, 2030 and 2040. And if I then add that up from 2012 to 2040, I get a total accumulation of $267.3 Billion (a figure I remember seeing somewhere, but not from the CRA report), for 2012 to 2040. So why wasn't that figure quoted in the CRA report? Why was only the $72.2 Billion projected accumulation from 2020 to 2030 mentioned? I'm guessing that $267.3 billion would have seemed too ridiculously unlikely. All I can say is that people are able to make remarkable projections based on very optimistic assumptions. So why can't they notice that construction prices in Dulles Rail Phase II are much higher than the prices of comparable jobs? Can we really project such rosy figures when our top people can't even see that the prices are two times what they should be, and can't understand how that hurts us at the toolbooth and at tax time? And federal spending in this region will be falling rapidly. We will lose a big chunk of our expected income because of that. Was that factored in? I don't think so.
Bob Bruhns May 13, 2012 at 05:00 AM
Pro-rail enthusiasts may claim 40,000 new jobs - but in 2010, FTA predicted 10,000 new transit riders on the Silver Line by 2030. And that prediction appears to be dropping. In 2004, 29,100 new transit riders were predicted in the Dulles Rail Environmental impact Statement. Do a web search for ' New, lower rider estimates for Dulles rail expose big costs ' and you can see the December 28, 2010 Examiner article.
Greg DiMuzio May 13, 2012 at 01:53 PM
This is a business perspective rather than one from the average tax payer/consumer. If business, MWAA, the airlines benefit, let them pay for the metro-rail using a tax overlay or other device. Let's see if they are willing to take the risk. The answer is no as taxing and tolling us into the distant future removes their risk. Richmond has made it clear that they they won't support the program with any significant funding. Another thought, can anyone imagine the impact to the residents of the surrounding area if the volume of air and passenger traffic increases twofold as predicted in this article. The roads won't be able to handle the load and gridlock will be inevitable. New roads will be needed to move traffic around the region. Another taxpayer burden. Aircraft noise abatement procedures will fail as well. Consider the fate of Ashburn as it gradually evolves into a clone of Chicago or Dallas; truly a nightmare. More infrastructure, more schools, more county services and more taxes. Soon we will replace New York as the highest taxed region in the nation. The supervisors need to stop and reconsider. There is no need to rush. Rather, the situation demands an independent systems analysis to assess the costs, benefits, threats and opportunities of an expanded metro and exponentially increasing Dulles Airport footprint on the county. An up to date and unbiased plan providing a coherent, time phased, voter approved approach is needed to be successful.
Dusty Smith (Editor) May 13, 2012 at 02:57 PM
The quote (proper instead of improper) was a typo that I thought I caught before posting the story. It has been corrected. I apologize for the error.
Dave Webster May 13, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Bob, I don't know why the 2020-2030 time period was isolated and the amount $72.2B was chosen by Prof. Fuller to tout rather than the overall figure. I note that elsewhere Prof. Fuller stated without the Silver Line, Loudon County "loses hundreds of billions of dollars in foregone economic activity." http://www.wtop.com/654/2856289/Loudoun-supervisors-undaunted-by-Silver-Line-report Prof. Fuller appears to have become an advocate rather than a dispassioned observer. In my opinion, his predicted dollar figures are on the high end of the scale and should be discounted unless he is willing to come down to Earth and give a reasonable range of possible outcomes.

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