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MORE: New Metro estimates are in, and they aren’t pretty

Courtesy Photo/Fairfax County Times
After an outpouring of questions from constituents and the media on how much Metro will cost Loudoun, county administration worked over the past week to gather the latest estimates.

Officials presented those numbers to the Board of Supervisors' finance committee Tuesday night -- and it wasn't pretty.

Loudoun supervisors and county administration have characterized the figures -- which start off at $50.8 million in fiscal 2020 for Loudoun’s annual operating and capital costs -- as “worst case scenario” numbers that are not final projections.

The latest estimates highlight a $27.9 million increase in annual payments than what was presented to the board last year.

Still, supervisors say they won't know the true cost of Metro until the system is physically in the county, which is slated for 2020.

“I think [the projections] will change quite a bit,” Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), who also serves as the vice chairman representing Virginia on the Metropolitan Washington Council Of Government’s board of directors, told the Times-Mirror.

The new projections are based off of a Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments’ report in October and numbers WMATA provided to the county back in 2012 when Loudoun approved bringing Metro into the county.

County staff’s presentation came after several supervisors, WMATA and county staff said they couldn't provide a ballpark on how much Loudoun would pay in annual operating and capital costs, even though some said they had been briefed on the figures and knew they were high.

According to the latest MWCOG projections, starting in fiscal 2019 the county will pay $12 million in annual operating and capital costs.

The next year, the number jumps to $50.8 million. It then drops a couple million in fiscal 2021, then increases to $51.6 million in 2022; $55.3 million in 2023; and $58.4 million in 2024

Overall, from 2020 to 2025, the annual costs increase by 62 percent to $82.1 million in 2025.

Letourneau thinks the county’s latest projections will decrease. He noted that the current MWCOG numbers include the Metro bus service, which Loudoun has opted out of.

“This is an absolute worst-case scenario, and even in this worst case scenario, it includes a component of Metro that we are not paying for,” Letourneau said.

County administration noted that both the 2012 WMATA projections and the latest MWCOG projections did not include Metro’s proposed $3.1 billion 2018 budget, which carries with it a nearly $300 million operating shortfall.

The county also released Loudoun’s current funding plan for Metro, which holds a 147 percent increase in deficit based on projections from 2020 to 2026.

According to the funding plan, starting in fiscal 2020, the county could face a $28.3 million deficit; an $8 million deficit in 2021; a $12.4 million deficit in 2022; a $22.2 million deficit in 2023; a $24.4 million deficit in 2024; a $47.2 million deficit in 2025; and a $69.9 million deficit in 2026.

The latest funding plan includes gas tax revenue, 30 percent of Northern Virginia Transportation Authority funds toward capital contributions, General Obligation bond financing toward capital contributions and revenues from the Metrorail tax district and Metro parking garages.

The deficit did not account for other streams of revenue or dedicated funding sources -- something supervisors have pressed for from Congress and the General Assembly.

Opting out?

Earlier this month, Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said that if the county pulled out of Metro it would lose out on as much as $1 billion. On Tuesday, Blue Ridge Supervisor Tony Buffington (R) asked what would need to happen for Loudoun to opt out.

Buffington, whose district includes constituents in Brambleton who will likely use the Silver Line, as well as constituents out west who are strongly opposed to Metro, said he has received both praise and complaints about Metro. He wanted to get a better picture on what would need to happen in order to exit the compact.

“We talk a lot about what it will cost … when it comes, but we haven’t talked about the process for opting out and what it would take it we wanted to go down that road and what it’s cost would be,” Buffington said.

County staff outlined a tricky process.

In order to get out of Metro, Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia -- members of the WMATA Compact -- would need to pass an amendment to the compact. Congress would also need to sign off.

Even if Loudoun could get itself out of the compact, County Administrator Tim Hemstreet said, the county would still be on the hook for the federal TIFIA loan it has taken out to pay for the Silver Line’s construction and the three parking garages.

Therefore, Loudoun would still need to finish its portion of construction on Metro and pay back the debt on the TIFIA loan. To date the county has used $83 million of the loan.

“The board could always default on the loan. The challenge with that is we don’t want to have [poor] credit ratings ... so that creates a pretty significant financial challenge for the county,” Hemstreet said. “I certainly wouldn’t recommend that you default on that loan.”

Letourneau asked county staff to continue to update the projections and try to take the bus numbers out.

County staff will present the latest Metro projections to the board’s Transportation and Land Use Committee on Friday.


Adding to just how quickly this 19th century technology is approaching obsolescence:

“We also have to come to grips that the marketplace has changed,” Wiedefeld testified. “That has nothing to do with rail, that has something to do with this marketplace.” Wiedefeld said this commuting pattern change can also be seen on the roads. “If you look at any of the highways on a Monday and Friday, it is a totally different experience than it is on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.”

He said fewer people are commuting in the traditional sense as more workers are telecommuting and employers are decentralizing their workplaces to make getting to work easier.
Metro has been facing stiffer competition from other modes of transportation, especially in cars.

“Clearly Uber, Lyft and those things have played a role in this,” Wiedefeld explained to the committee, adding that the price to drive has effectively been cut in half thanks to lower gasoline prices.

We need a bridge to the future, not a Metro to the past.  Dump Metro.

The dumbest deal in the history of our county. They had to slather lipstick on this pig in order to get it passed in 2012. Fast forward to 2017, and in 5 years this deal has gotten worse, projections by all involved have grossly missed the mark by percentages that are embarrassing to even those who can’t do basic math. Those in county Government to include the elected officials that supported his Boondoggle should be shown the door.

I honestly don’t know how Matt Letourneau and others can even think that these numbers will come down or flatten out. He is either stupid , which he is not he is a smart guy, embarrassed that he got snookered, as he should be, or being too cute by half only telling parts of the story.

Matt, the numbers include the bus service , so what ! What you fail to disclose is that these numbers driving your contractual obligation are generated by a dysfunctional entity that fails every known matrix known to man, to include millions in incorrect projections within just the last 6 months. They are in a fiscal free fall and you want to tell us its OK because we aren’t on the hook for bus, only the 2.5 miles of rail. Really ? After all of this bad news, missed projections and grim forcasts , you want to hang your hat on the fact we aren’t on the hook for the bus portion of their operations?

Look folks, in an attempt to salvage some credibility, Matt and the rest of the Choo Choo crew will have to keep putting lipstick on this pig right up until the day it falls and crushes them.

These geniuses sold you a bill of goods with fairy dust and tales of economic development.

Not one of these guys should be re-elected. We can’t afford them.

The Silver Line is the worst case of Political Malpractice ever foisted upon the taxpayers of Loudoun County.

It’s bad enough that the subsidy required is more than twice what it was expected to be, but even worse is the jump in the expected 2025 subsidy. It would be one thing if we were playing catch-up on the deferred maintenance and deferred pension contributions and then things would get better, but they will only get worse.
The system has been a funhouse filled with smoke and mirrors from day 1, and the deferred maintenance to both track and rolling stock, plus the deferred pension contributions, were all intended to mask the fact that Metro is a kind of Ponzi scheme, in which somebody (US!) will be left holding the bag: the numbers don’t and never will add up.
The system cannot afford to pay its accumulated bills, and that will never change. The only move which seems to offer a way out is reorganization under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code.
In Bankruptcy, the clause in the Compact which allows it to be cancelled in Bankruptcy should be invoked, and the current contracts (including with the unions) should be invalidated. Pensions might have to be turned over to the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp.
We should seek to have Metro reorganized into 3 operating companies (VA, DC, and MD), which would own the track and stations and employ the track and station personnel, as well as buses and bus drivers. An additional “umbrella” company would own and operate the trains, as well as central office personnel. The regional companies would be responsible to the governments of their jurisdictions, and would have to operate under the laws of the jurisdiction
If for any reason that can’t or won’t happen, we should make a pitch to MWAA: since they own most of the route of the Silver Line, and since VDOT’s own projections showed Metro having exactly 0 impact on commuter traffic in the Dulles Corridor, why don’t we tell MWAA: “since Metro is that great and key to Dulles’ future, why don’t you have a little more” and transfer the County’s interes in the Loudoun segment (and all the liabilities too) to MWAA? That way, ticket surcharges can pay the ballooning deficits…

Government at its finest

Loudoun is going to pay out the nose for a paltry 2 1/2 miles of track.  Think about that. 

Are all these new financial problems worth that pathetic length of service?  At the right price, it may be worth it.  But we aren’t getting much for the money are paying and will continue to pay.

brambleton Matt - hows that private Greenway working out for you? You want the METRO to also be a private sector money maker, like the Greenway? Contemplate that thoroughly and then let us know your feelings.

There are some fundamental aspects of MWAA/WMATA that could be changed to alter the funding scheme - that takes higher powers in Congress. It requires leadership from our elected officials. They aren’t providing it nearly enough.

Very well said, Debbie. This is not the Metro in Denver, or Phoenix, or Seattle. This is the METRO in the nation’s capital, the one that serves so many Federal employees and passengers directly related to the Federal government business. It also hosts millions of US and foreign tourists each year, who come to their (or the US) capital to see a world-class American City, in my estimation the 2nd or 3rd oldest large City in this country (Philly and Boston older as established City’s, given DC wasn’t really a thing until 1790).  And with all that, the Fed Govt. should be the majority funding of this system. Extending out to Dulles and Loudoun is as meaningful as the extensions to the Maryland burbs of Shady Grove etc. in the mid-1980’s.

People like ‘chefbb’ are, to use the term, deplorable, with such remarks. Use your freedom of choice to drive, pay tolls, gas, and parking, and the opportunity cost of your time to do that. Allow others to ride Metro, pay the fees associated with it, and perhaps do some work, read, or simply not be stressed by a trafficky commute. Hyperbole.

How many of you have calculated the dollar, social, and economic/business costs of NOT having Metro as a component of the regional transportation system? What is Loudoun and the region to do instead of the Silver Line extension? How can you make assertions of “terror taxation”, “over priced”(compared to what, “right priced”?), “expensive” (what is “not expensive”, what is just the right amount of cost?).  Aren’t houses and cars “expensive”, but we buy them all the time. A Cadillac is “expensive”, and it’s coveted. A Yugo was “cheap”, and mocked. Would you want to drive on a highway, or ride in a train, that was built “cheaply”? Would you feel safe? Do you not buy retail items daily at their advertised price - is that “expensive” or is it “cheap”?

Denver recently finished a rail line from downtown to its DIA airport which the Federal Govt paid over $1B toward.  Although nearly 50% of the ridership on the DC Metro is Federal employees, the Feds have not provided sufficient funds to support maintenance of the Metro.  When they built it “on the cheap” back in 1976, they only built two lanes, versus three so ongoing maintenance could not be performed without shutting down service.  Now it’s time for congress to pay up, and they have decided to place it on other more local funding (how hard did Comstock press this?).  In the end, Loudoun does need a Metro line, but the Feds should pay more (our tax dollars).  Another source of funds is to raise fees for DCA airport passenger “enplanements”  DCA cost per enplanement is about 1/2 of Dulles enplanments, and this would provide more funds from MWAA.  Bottom line- better creative funding and federal govt to pay more of their share, because the current funding is dis-proportionate compared to projects such as Denver.  However, I find it most disheartening for citizens to call DC “slumy” and “district of crap”  It is a very sad view of our beautiful nations capital and frankly, it is just not true.

Regardless of politics, can we all come together and admit that our government officials have no clue when it comes to things like this? 

Despite the very high fares compared to other cities, metro still has to beg Virginia, Maryland, and the District for more money.  It is simply UNREAL how badly they manage the system.

All of that money and they can’t even seem to clean the trains of the urine and vomit stains (much less buy new ones).  In addition, I work in Tyson’s and they can’t even maintain the new metro stops!  Weeds have now completely overtaken the initial landscaping (but yet I see workers just standing around) and they had to place long extension cords with mechanic lamps to better light the escalators.  C’mon, really?! 

Not only will it be expensive, but with all the stops, it will take LONGER than my current commute.  My hope is that enough people will choose to ride this monstrosity so that it will alleviate some of the traffic that seems to be ever increasing.

Only option IMO, will be for metro to go through bankruptcy and be privatized so it can get out of the government’s control unfortunately.

If Letourneau really thinks the costs will decrease, I’d like to play cards with him for money.

There is no such thing as a major public works project where the costs decrease—in fact, cost usually increase because the same fiscal responsibility practiced by any small business owner is never practiced by government when taxpayer funds are involved.

In this particular case, Metro is only now realizing how extensive the overhaul will have to be to make it safety compliant and reasonably modern and efficient.  For Loudoun to be stuck with that tab when we had nothing to do with the decay and mismanagement is unconscionable.

Regardless of the legalities, given the quantum change in the circumstances since we voted yes four years ago, the BoS should vote at least on a sense of the board resolution indicating a desire to either opt out or renegotiate.  Do your jobs.  At least lay down a marker that this is unacceptable and give the county some negotiating room.  Express, on the record, an opinion—it’s the least you can do and a good place to start.

Will someone go an find former Chairman Scott York and interview him?  I’d like to hear 1) His opinion of the current situation and 2) What solution does he have?  York made it his crowning glory to shove this through.  Now that Metro is at the point of utter collapse, how does he justify his decision?

There is nothing wrong with a metro but this boondoggle is the equivalent of paying $150,000 for a used Chevy Nova.  You’d have to be a complete fool….

Public transportation is not suppose to be economical.  We can all thank Ken Reid for giving us the gift that keeps on giving.

“Silver line is late coming, expensive, and sadly out of date from a technology standpoint.”

Sounds like Boston’s Big Dig… and that disaster dragged on for a couple of decades!

How about some accountability for the numbers presented to the BOS to vote on previously as compared to the new numbers (and how reliable are the new numbers)?  I cannot imaging buying something without knowing how much it is costing.  Shame on these folks for such incompetence and/or agreeing to such a bad deal (minus the majority of the details).

“Wow, we didn’t see this one coming” said no one ever

No one is going to use this…it has not worked in other cities and won’t work here. Loudoun is not Falls Church or Reston…linking up with Metro just ties this area to the slummy/slimy DC area for real. The BOS who approved this should be tied to the front of the Metro cars for the entire ride into DC (District of Crap!) What a poor business decision, but that is what the BOS are known for…stupid, silly and disastrous decisions year in and year out. Writer RH must have been one of the BOS who voted for this, or a developer who will be the only beneficiaries…and yes the Sky is Falling!

A lot of good points in these comments… I do think metro is too expensive and poorly run compared to what I see in other cities. I am also excited for metro as a commuting option, and our region finally getting with the times and connecting Dulles to the metro system.

Metro could be cheaper and better run, but I still see a ton of value in it. I’m pro-growth. Metro is good for drawing people, business, jobs, taxes, etc into Loudoun and raising existing property values. I really don’t understand the anti-growth lobby that seems to constantly dominate these comment sections. I’m guessing elderly people with nothing better to do all day but curse the changing times, but I’m sure there’s more to it than that. As far as I’m concerned: build away. I like seeing construction. 

Silver line is late coming, expensive, and sadly out of date from a technology standpoint.  Using 30 year old technology, trains provide a terribly slow commute into DC.  Not any faster than the old W&OD; trains were 50 years ago.  Reston to DC takes nearly an hour, vs a 20 minute drive…

The sky is falling, the sky is falling….

You are going to have the usual dozen or so people on here that live with their head buried in the sand and complain, and complain.  Then you will have the thousands of people that will use the system, don’t have to sit in traffic, don’t have to buy as much gas, and don’t have to pay the ridiculous Greenway tolls and be very happy.

As stated many times in the article, these are WORSE CASE estimates, and will likely not cost as much. 

Two sides to everything…...

This is sad example of the failure to manage what should be a business not a governmental subsidy where Loudoun pays into a pot someone else controls the bureaucracy that consumes the funds.
First - it is well past time that ALL LAND used for non-national security activities are subject to Loudoun property tax. Airport and metro parking lots are highly profitable and should no longer be exempted from paying property tax.
Second - if Loudoun tax payers are truly paying for metro then Loudouners should have highly discounted tickets to use the metro and let non-contributing counties and other state residents pay a premium.
Is it really that hard to set up a business that at least breaks even?
Bob O__ Esq.

OK, this is basically a network problem. Lots of research in this area so maybe someone who works in this area can explain it better.

But cell phones used to work on dedicated channels where each phone got a time slot. This is somewhat analogous to rail.

Then someone invented CDMA which basically works the same way as Ethernet communications work. Everything is broken into little packets and they all race to their destination. Amazingly, the latter is much more efficient even though one might think traffic jams would occur.

A problem right now is the density of the road networks. Cars typically have one passenger and must leave ample space between cars. Then add in the congestion at the destination with finding places to park.

But just like phone companies increased the bandwidth from 2.4k to 128k, our road density can be greatly increased from autonomous cars that communicate with each other (much closer together) and park outside the city center.

The cost of maintaining Metro and the extra distance required just seems hard to justify.

Debbie I get what your saying but the Metro is way over priced compared to other cities mass transit lines. Look at fares in other cities. So much mismanagement over the years has gotten us to this point. Salaries are way out of control, management of capital expenditures for car replacements and other infrastructure has been a joke. The fact that customers are still riding in those old filthy cars is laughable. I would have supported the subway 1000% if it were properly maintained and managed up to this point but we all know it hasn’t been. I think Metro is in too big a hole now because of years and years of mismanagement to recover and run properly like other systems. Making the system larger isn’t helping either more salaries more infrastructure. More riders,less traffic? Doubtful will be interested in seeing the numbers especially as it relates to LC population growth. Lower the fares clean up the system and we might actually see it making a difference.

chefbb, why are you not including the cost of toll roads in your calculation?  Or I guess you can sit on Route 7 for hours during rush hour.  Although it is only anecdotal evidence, I have noticed many companies will subsidize the fees for taking the metro.  Good or bad, having a metro nearby raises your home’s value as any real estate agent can tell you.  VA would have to raise gas tax by 4 cents to be at the median of all 50 states in the U.S, and being near one of the most dense car traffic locations in the U.S. this seems to be a fairly good deal.  Different perspective, although I imagine most folks have a difficult time viewing it that way.

Its a small price to pay for tens of thousands of new residents and literally dozens of low-paying retail and service jobs.

Normal municipal project.

Developers, contractors, campaign contributors walk off with big money.  Taxpayers foot the bill.

Wow a lot of money to waste when no one wants to ride that filthy disgusting death trap called Metro. I imagine it will cost $6.75 each way with another $2-$4 to park or take transit. So basically $17 a day times 20. $340 a month hahaha sorry I’ll drive! (Gas and park fees are less) What a joke we should have never approved it! It’s overpriced garbage

Holy Moly. This is terror taxation. Get out now,

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