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Rail to Loudoun: One year later

Times-Mirror File Photo/Beverly Denny On July 3, 2012, Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors voted to remain a funding partner in the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project. Before the board’s vote, protesters and supporters lined up outside the county government center.
July 3, 2012. News crews and crowds of supporters and protesters descended on downtown Leesburg to hear for themselves how Loudoun's Board of Supervisors would vote on one of its biggest decisions in history.

A divided nine members of the board, all Republicans, were contemplating withdrawing the county as a funding partner for the second phase of the $5.5 billion Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, set to extend Metro's Silver Line to the Dulles airport and into eastern Loudoun County.

By the slimmest of margins, a 5-4 vote, Loudoun County remained in the massive infrastructure venture, keeping the county in partnership with Fairfax County, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) and both the state and federal government.

Now, a year has passed. And while the Loudoun Board of Supervisors voted to remain in the project, putting the county on the hook for nearly $270 million in construction costs, there are still several matters to address before Loudoun is ready for rail.

One high-priority issue outstanding includes ensuring viable, smooth transportation around the stations at Route 606 and Route 772, including adequate parking, said board Vice Chairman Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run).

Williams was instrumental in drawing up new tax districts around the Loudoun stations that helped ensure the project received the five votes in Loudoun it needed.

Since then, the board has focused on the county's master plan around the proposed stops – how will they be developed, will the parking be adequate and will commuters have easy access to the stops, Williams said.

Colleen Gillis Snow, a land use and zoning partner with the Cooley law firm, opined that the county still has its work cut out for it to ensure transportation and development around the stations is done successfully.

“I think we need Metro,” Snow said. “ … we absolutely need it to come to Loudoun County. But it's not enough just to run a train through,” she said, adding the county must work to develop it smart and create communities that are “Loudoun appropriate.”

The road network around the Loudoun stations at Route 606 and Route 772 in Ashburn will continue to be analyzed over the next couple years. One obstacle the Loudoun board will likely have to address, Snow said, is that the tract of land south from the Route 606 station, which falls in Dulles airport property, is essentially unusable right now.

As for parking garages, proposals for the two stations have been submitted and continue to be analyzed by county staff and the supervisors.

MWAA, the organization overseeing construction of the project, in April awarded the primary contract for phase two to Capital Rail Constructors for $1.18 billion. The Capital Rail Constructors team consists of Clark Construction Group and Kiewit Infrastructure South.

“This has been a very successful competitive procurement process,” Pat Nowakowski, executive director of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, said after the contract was awarded. “The winning proposal is well below our original estimates of $1.4 billion to $1.6 billion for this portion of the project, which hopefully will allow us to pass on additional savings to users of the Dulles Toll Road.”

Second phase construction is anticipated to be complete in 2018 or 2019.

Many conservatives, including Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, continue to scrutinize the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project for the enormous price tag it carries.

Dave LaRock, a Hamilton resident who rallied against the rail project last year, said he's still highly skeptical of the funding mechanism and cost associated with what he has called a major “economic development deal” rather than a transportation project.

“A lot of the comments I see in the papers depict me to being opposed to rail. That really wasn't the case,” LaRock said. “I had strong reservations about the financial arrangement, as did the supervisors.”

LaRock, now a Republican candidate for the House of Delegates after defeating Del. Joe May in last month's primary, believes the notion that Dulles rail will relieve congestion has been highly exaggerated. He said he's yet to see a thorough cost-benefit analysis which, to him, justifies the multi-billion dollar expense. Additionally, the project's reliance on revenues from the Dulles Toll Road is too heavy, LaRock said.

“A year later, not a whole lot has changed. The one thing that is very much on my radar is the financial arrangement.”

Pro-rail voices like Snow and Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tony Howard both speculate the mood of the local business community would be starkly different had the Loudoun board withdrawn from the project.

“When the vote came down there was a great deal of relief,” Howard said. “There continues to be a real sense of optimism.”

Had the Board of Supervisors opted out, Howard said, the county would've been sending a gloomy message the business community.

“The attitude would've been that we're not comfortable investing here,” Howard said. “ … I remember going outside the county last year and people saying to me, 'What is the Loudoun board thinking? How could they blow this opportunity?”

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LaRock purposely misleads again - he has said many times previously that he wants buses instead of rail….

As a business owner in Loudoun, I didn’t want metro in Loudoun. The dulles airport was as far as it needed to go. As a commuter. I will never use it since it doesn’t go anywhere near my job. And as someone who travels to Nats, Capitals and many other events in and around DC…..I won’t use because it adds about 30 min+ and not reliable or safe. More money is spent on all the chiefs within Metro.

Yeah, what does Loudoun need a train for? Isn’t it patently obvious no train is needed since you can drive Routes 7, 28, and 50 at the speed limit during rush hour? It’s also patently obvious Loudoun’s growth from 35,000 to almost 400,000 has had no effect on travel times. I still don’t get why Route 28 was widened from two lanes. They were just fine, back in the day.


Since July 2012, we have been getting a flip-flop story about when the Phase 1 project will be complete.  Will it be late 2013, or early 2014?  This is of critical importance for some reason, or the story would not be flip-flopping back and forth.

Since July 2012, we found out that the Tifia credit assistance that was supposed to help so much, had fallen into a black hole.  Have MWAA, Fairfax County and Loudoun County finished fiddling around, and is this credit deal actually getting locked in?  There was talk about a ten-year loan rate of about 2% a few months ago, after the Fairfax County and Loudoun County Boards of Supervisors learned that the Inspector General had revealed that no Tifia application had even been produced.  But since then, the FED started talking about reductions in the ‘Quantitative Easing’ program that has been propping up the economy.  As a result, the ten-year rate has generally risen to 2.5%, and it spiked at 2.7% just this past Friday.  This is not looking good for us!

Still, the Tifia story is a mostly a smokescreen.  It can only help us to get somewhat reduced finance costs on a maximum of 33% of project cost, and we were told years ago by Congressman Gerry Connolly that it would probably only cover about 25% of project cost.  The Tifia story is only reported when people get skittish about the high price of this project, and then it disappears into some black hole once people are mollified, whereupon apparently not much is done to complete it.  Ray LaHood kept saying that Tifia availability was looking real good, yet somehow it never completed - and now Mr. LaHood has stepped down as Transportation Secretary.  Bye bye!!!  The reality is that we only get the truth about the Tifia loan when somebody blows a whistle.

So we are being sidetracked by this Tifia smokescreen that STILL may or may not happen, and it is only about 25% of the project cost - and the benefit of this Tifia smokescreen is fading!  And what about the rest of the borrowing?  If the best borrowing rates are rising, it seems likely that the remaining funding is also likely to get more expensive to borrow.  You know, it’s interesting that we aren’t reading reports about this.

A few more things:

Since July 2012, the ‘mixed-use’ story that we were sold, seems to be changing.  The Dulles World and Kincora projects in Loudoun County will advance their housing plans, but not the commercial portions of their construction plans.  Will the commercial elements be scaled down or eliminated as well?  That is certainly possible, witness the remarkable scaledown of the commercial elements in the Vienna Metro Town Center plans.  In general, residential construction seems to be making money - but commercial construction, not so much - so the ‘mixed-use’ story has changed.  What next?

Since July 2012, all those pen name posters that flooded the online media to support the rail project have vanished.  Could they have been industry-paid trolls?  Remember how they said that Metro would be soooo wonderful and reliable?  But if you get a Twitter account and follow the region’s transit reporters, you will see that reliability is so poor that it can not even be considered to be a joke.

Since July 2012, we learned that the 7000-series rail cars that we will be paying for, will not be assigned exclusively to the Dulles Rail / Silver Line, but they will be be used all over the WMATA system - meaning that we will be PAYING for the new 7000 series cars, but we will be GETTING some mix of 7000, 6000, 4000 and possibly even the old, old 1000 series cars.  Isn’t that nice.

Since July 2012, we learned that MWAA has been arranging to compete with Loudoun and Fairfax Counties by leasing land on tax-free Dulles Airport property near the Rt 606 Metro station.  How is that working out for the counties?

Since July 2012, we found out that there is an ongoing issue with the sensors on the Metrorail system that detect the location of the trains.  Apparently the Dulles Rail / Silver Line does not have enough working units to test Phase 1 of this line, so the sensor modules have been shuffled around so that the rest of the testing of the rest of this new line can be done.  This is NOT good news.  Interestingly, this story has also slipped into a black hole.

Since July 2012, the Washington Examiner has ended its local news coverage.  So we have one less whistleblower, when we need whistleblowers as never before.

And since July 2012, we learned that WMATA wants $26 BILLION to upgrade the Metro system.  I wonder how much of that $26 Billion will come out of Loudoun and Fairfax Counties.

Oh well.  A few of us tried to warn you, but you didn’t listen.  What can I say.

Here are some unanswered questions on Dulles Rail:

1. Why should Dulles Toll Road users pay for a majority of Dulles Rail capital costs? Why should Dulles Toll Road users pay any of the Dulles Rail costs when the direct beneficiaries of rail service and Dulles Airport Access Road users are paying nothing towards capital costs?

2. Why should Dulles Toll Road users pay for Dulles Rail capital costs while MWAA has paid nothing towards Dulles Rail from its Aviation Enterprise funds to date and as yet has no approved funding plan for its share? MWAA has also failed to fulfill its obligations made to Virginia in January 2006 to complete $300 millon in capital improvements to the Dulles Toll Road.
3. Why was no public hearing ever held after the Dulles Rail capital structure was materially changed by MWAA when estimated construction costs for Phase 1 from $1.8 billion in 2004 to $2.8 billion in 2007?

4. Why did MWAA and the other project partners never evaluate alternative Dulles Rail financing options including having Metrorail riders pay part of the capital costs through a fare surcharge?

5. Why have MWAA, US DOT and Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation repeatedly refused to update forecast data from the 2002 draft and 2004 final Environmental Impact Statement for Dulles Rail despite a steep decline in housing demand and construction in Loudoun County since 2006 and a similarly major decline in air passenger traffic at Dulles International Airport since 2005?

6. Why did the environmental impact studies not address the huge increase in traffic congestion that will result on Route 7 and many local roads between Herndon and Tysons from traffic diverted by those seeking to avoid Dulles Toll Road tolls projected to increase to $17 each way by MWAA? Why did the 2012 environmental impact studies not address the even greater “induced impact” traffic congestion caused by Fairfax County granting unlimited development densities for landowners adjacent to Metrorail stations in Tysons Corner?

7. Why has Virginia refused to prepare and make public a financial plan for Dulles Rail in accordance with provisions of Virginia Code Section 33.1- 12?

8. Why have USDOT, DRPT, MWAA, WMATA and other Dulles Rail partners refused to commission an independent feasibility study of projected ridership, revenues, operation and replacement capital costs?

9. Why have ALL the dozen or more meetings of the Dulles Rail partners held under the direction of USDOT Secretary RayLaHood and Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff been held in secret?

10. Why have USDOT, MWAA and WMATA been unwilling to discuss why they plan for Dulles Toll Road users to pay the majority of the $250+ million for a proposed WMATA railcar maintenance project at Dulles designed for far more railcars than will ever be needed for the Silver Line?

It is time for a Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission study to investigate a pattern of misconduct, possible fraud and other violations of law by many involved with Dulles Rail.

This was a clusterfu&& from the start. Our BOS let us down, Loudoun taxpayers. And with the corrupt MWAA running the show, only shows how corrupt all of DC and Richmond is regarding northern va taxes. I Know I will never use the metro from loudoun to anywhere. The stations are too far from my house and not going anywhere near my work place. I can get to Tysons in less than 30 min. by car. For a family of 4 to ride the metro, will cost $20+ to tysons one way. And I don’t have to worry about thugs standing around eyeing you up. Metro security is a joke.

Funny that in the text Tony Howard says “Had the Board of Supervisors opted out, Howard said, the county would’ve been sending a gloomy message the business community”. Gee am I naieve to think that the BOS should be trying to help the citizens who put them in office, not the damn business community? It is the citizens who will shoulder the increased development this ridiculous rail project will cost, not the business community. Shameful BOS…the worst ever!

You people seriously need to get a life.  The examples that you are giving are false and misleading.  The Pocahontas Parkway is a road that is built in the middle of nowhere and in Richmond, what does that have to do with us up here??  The Hot lanes are doing much better and are close to what was projected.  The dumbest argument is “When has rail ever reduced traffic”  WHAT???  Can you imagine what traffic would be like trying to get around if the almost 800K people a day that use Metro all of a sudden started driving.  I understand that there will always be those who are never satisfied with anything, but the 70% or so of people that live in the County can’t wait for metro, thank God there are some reasonable people that run the County and provided what the people wanted.

So where are all the supporters of this fiasco ?  They were certainly vocal on here less than a year ago, touting how great this was going to be for all of Loudoun.  Malarky !

like the leesburg bus service that is a huge loser, the politicians have to feel good about their legacy regardless of the outcome. numerous clients of mine keep pushing since they own property adjacent to the streams flowing with gold.

When did any subway, anywhere, reduce congestion?  In Fairfax, metro made traffic worse, everywhere in the county. 

I’m paying higher taxes to fund this turkey.  It cost me more, and will do nothing but add to the traffic problems, all for the developers.  Sickening.  Shame on the Board of Supervisors for sticking us with this mess.

Thank God for David LaRock and his message of truth!  If only the BOS cared about the truth, and the taxpayers1

Big money for developers near the stations (some of which passes on to supervisors campaign funding). 

Build out the area, make the money & move on, leaving the traffic and tax burden for roads, schools, and other infrastructure!

How many of those pictured above are going to pay $5.75 one way?

Let’s get to hooting ‘n hollerin’ on this one.  After all, there’s money to be made.  BIG MONEY, son.  Just get yourself down there to Loudoun County, and gold will roll out a that ol’ river.  Yep, it really will.  After all, there’s this Board of Supervisor group just wantin to vote to stuff your pockets.  That is, if you’re a developer.  You just don’t want to be that thing called a taxpayer,  No way.

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