Fairfax Co VA endorses Phase 2 of Dulles Rail, 75% on Dulles TR tolls
By Peter Samuel
Fairfax county has given the OK to Phase 2 of the Dulles Rail project the financing of which is 75% on the toll revenues of the Dulles Toll Road. A county board of 'supervisors' (councillors) meeting this week voted unanimously to confirm the County's participation in the estimated $2.7 billion second half of the project which has generated concern about whether $2 billion of toll revenue bonds are serviceable.
Fairfax County with 1.08m people is the most populous in Virginia and in the Washington DC metro area (Washington DC only has 0.61m). Fairfax County support for Phase 2 of the project is a major step toward its implementation.
At the meeting this week the vote was unanimous in favor. Statements from supportive officials were lyrical: "It's about the future" and "This is the County's economic engine (and) also the state's."
One supervisor lamented the costs but said the project was too far advanced to stop it. (Actually Loudoun county to Fairfax County's west may well stop it at Dulles Airport.)
Thomas Cranmer director of the Fairfax county taxpayer's alliance observed that the vote was "based only on fuzzy feelings," rather than on any serious consideration of the project's financial feasibility or discussion of the higher tolls needed and diversion of traffic to local roads.
Cranmer calls the county board's approach completely irresponsible saying they are "willing to spend any amounts of other peoples' money on this project without insisting on even elementary financial analysis."
Kids in a toy store
He says the county officials are "like children in a toy store" obsessively focussed on the most expensive toy saying over and over "I want it, I want it...." regardless of its price.
The county is up for 16.1 percent of the cost of the project or at presently estimated cost $435m or $400 per person. Loudoun County is up for a similar cash contribution per head of population.
In addition being heavy users of the Dulles Toll Road the people of those two counties will face the heavy commitment of toll revenues to service rail construction debt, limiting the money available for maintaining and improving the tollroad itself. It is in urgent need of modernized toll systems, and improved ramps.
Tolls to multiply?
To service the rail debt tolls are due to double next year to $4.60 for cars for the typical mainline plus ramp toll trip and treble to $6.75 by 2018. Diversion of some 30,000 trips/day to local roads is forecast.
It is unclear where the revenue maximizing toll is or what it will yield. But there is no precedent for any tollroad of this modest size (2010: $88m toll revenue on 120k trips/day) successfully taking on the service of such a huge debt.
Some financial analysts see bankruptcy looming for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority on account of the obligations incurred on its a large multi-billion dollar 'toy trains' - the first the AeroTrain at the airport itself and the now the Metrorail Silver Line as Dulles Rail is called.
MWAA has not released the traffic and revenue studies from Wilbur/CDM Smith that supposedly justify the vast railway debts.
Neither the state of Virginia nor the federal government are contributing to Phase 2 of Dulles Rail.
In a recent sad drama for MWAA Charles Snelling chairman of the MWAA board and a leading promoter of the rail financing recently killed his wife, an Alzheimers sufferer, and then himself in a murder/suicide in northeast PA.