“People from Northern Virginia spend an average of 67 hours per year sitting in traffic. And that costs our economy more than $1 billion each year.”
Those were the words of Gov. Terry McAuliffe in his speech to Virginia legislators earlier this week.
A few moments later, McAuliffe said: “For every project, we have to ask: One, whether its benefits are commensurate with its cost; two, whether the project can be executed on time and on budget, and finally number three, whether it has the support of local government and citizens in the affected area.”
Agreed. Where were Gov. (now U.S. Senator) Tim Kaine and the Virginia General Assembly in 2006 when these questions should have been asked and answered about Dulles Rail?
Gov. McAuliffe then said: “Before I leave the subject of transportation, let me say one thing about tolls — and specifically tolls affecting citizens who must cross the Elizabeth River from Norfolk to Portsmouth. I have been very clear that I support Virginia’s aggressive approach to public-private partnerships on major road and transit construction projects. But in the cases where tolling is necessary, we must ensure that they are fair and equitable and make sense from a business standpoint. The tolls on the Midtown Tunnel Project do not meet this test. They are too high and place too great a burden on commuters who have to use that route to get to work and get home each day. For this reason, I have directed Secretary Lane (Virginia Department of Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne) to develop a plan to revise the tolling rate schedule, and present it in detail to the Commonwealth Transportation Board on Wednesday for their immediate favorable action.”
The maximum peak hour toll originally proposed for the Midtown Tunnel Project now being built is $1.84. The Governor has proposed and the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved unanimously on Wednesday that tolls at the Midtown Tunnel be reduced during the construction period to $1 peak and 75 cents outside peak hours. Thereafter Midtown tolls are proposed to increase at a rate of 25 cents per year. The total cost of the toll buydown is projected at $82.5 million.
On Jan. 1, tolls for cars on the Dulles Toll Road increased by 75 cents to $2.50 each way at the Main Plaza. The tolls at the various ramps remain at $1 each way. No toll increase is planned for 2015. However, in 2016 and beyond, toll rates will rise rapidly to $6.75 each way or more to help pay for Phase 2 of Dulles Rail and accrued debt service on Metro Washington Airport Authority bonds issued in 2009 and 2010. MWAA and the Federal Transit Administration have repeatedly refused over the last two years of negotiations to reveal the potential impact on tolls of the $1.9 billion in Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act credit assistance to the Dulles Rail project. At year end 2013, the TIFIA interest rate was 3.91 percent.
In December 2013, MWAA announced a request for public comment by Jan. 20, 2014, on a proposed Passenger Facility Charge application for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to fund the Dulles Airport Metrorail station. In other words, MWAA has yet to approve a financing plan for its contribution to the Dulles Rail project from its airport revenues. Before allowing any further Virginia taxpayer funding of Dulles Rail, including Phase 2, a complete review and revision to the overall Dulles Rail capital plan is needed. Will “fast” Terry help Northern Virginians the way he seems intent on helping Virginians in Hampton Roads?
Last week, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority announced that it has finally accepted delivery of the first four Series 7000 rail cars for a testing program. Riders of the Silver Line, don’t hold your breath waiting for the 64 production cars for the Silver Line. In its statement last week, WMATA said: “The cars will be tested on the system over the next several months, and Metro will send data back to the Kawasaki production facility in Lincoln, Neb. to finalize the railcar design process. Full-scale production of the new cars is expected to begin in mid-2014.” Silver Line riders want to know when will the Series 7000 rail cars, being paid for mostly by our tolls, be delivered to WMATA and placed in service in Virginia?
Meanwhile, Silver Line passengers can content themselves with enjoying riding the 37-year-old Series 1000 cars which were deemed unsafe by the National Transportation Safety Board some eight years ago.
The writer is with the Dulles Corridor Users Group.