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What will Metro really cost Loudoun? If county officials know, they aren’t saying

As the Washington Metrorail system readies to move into Loudoun County, the annual costs associated with the transit authority's operations and construction are becoming frighteningly real and worrisome for local officials.

Chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) indicated last week she had been given “real and honest numbers” on what Metro would cost going forward -- numbers she said would be impossible to pay for Loudoun and other jurisdictions.

But despite her provocative statement, Randall isn't disclosing any figures, nor is Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn), county administration or Metro (WMATA).

Loudoun will officially join the WMATA (Metro) compact when the transit system arrives in Ashburn in 2020. At that point, the county will be expected to contribute funds for annual operating and capital costs.

As of September 2016 -- well before Randall's statements last week -- Loudoun’s share is estimated by county staff at more than $11 million annually.

Over the last week, Randall and others familiar with the new figures have suggested the current estimates are well above the $11 million mark, possibly double.

“The numbers are startling, and they are concerning,” Randall said last week.

When pressed, she declined to provide a ballpark figure.

Buona, who voted in favor of opting in to Metro five years ago, said since 2012 construction costs, the tax district responsible for paying for Metro and the price of building Metro have remained relatively unchanged.

What has changed, Buona said, are the annual operating and capital costs. Buona said he's been briefed on the costs, but he too wouldn't release specifics.

The Ashburn supervisors said it was “premature” to release the numbers because they were too “fluid.”

“What I will say is that the amount that we think we’re going to have to pay annually is substantially higher than back in 2012 when I voted for Metro,” Buona said. At that time, it was estimated the county would pay anywhere from $20-$25 million per year once Metro arrives in Loudoun.

Metro's $3.1 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2018 carries with it a nearly $300 million operating shortfall.

That shortfall, WMATA officials say, was caused in part by expense growth, a declining ridership as a result of service issues, the transit system’s year-long SafeTrack maintenance program and “other factors,” including an increase in telecommuting, low gas prices and more transportation options.

Metro says a fall in ridership has also “significantly” reduced fare revenues.

From fiscal 2017 to 2018, the jurisdictional funding for capital costs in D.C., Maryland and throughout Northern Virginia have shot up between 90 percent to more than 200 percent.

The city of Alexandria saw the highest jump. In 2017, the proposed jurisdictional funding in the city stood at $11 million, but jumped more than 236 percent in 2018 to $37 million.

In Fairfax County -- home to several new Silver Line stops including Wiehle-Reston East, Tysons Corner, Spring Hill and Greensboro -- the jurisdiction saw a 180 percent increase in capital costs. That amount stood at $36 million in 2017 and jumped to $101 million in 2018.

Overall, the jurisdictional funding for capital costs grew by 98 percent.

The fiscal 2018 proposed jurisdictional operating funding ballooned from $866.5 million in 2017 to now $997 million.

The City of Alexandria, Arlington County, the City of Fairfax and Fairfax County saw the highest increases in operating funding, growing anywhere between 17 to 21 percent in just a year’s time.

Where does Loudoun stand?

When the Board of Supervisors voted 5-4 in 2012 to remain in Metro's Silver Line plans, they agreed to fund a proportionate share of construction of the Silver Line, build at least three parking garages at the two Silver Line Stations and fund the annual operating and capital costs as members of the WMATA compact.

Loudoun’s funding commitment for construction of the Silver Line extension was set at 4.8 percent, or $274 million, both the overall project. At the time, the construction costs had been set to come out of the federal TIFIA loan program through the U.S. Department of Transportation; non-TIFIA debt; and the newly established Metrorail tax district around the forthcoming stations in Ashburn.

To date, the county says it has used $83 million from its TIFIA loan to pay for construction costs, which it will start paying interest on in fiscal 2019 and principal payments in fiscal 2023.

In 2014, the Board of Supervisors approved a capital improvement program budget that included $130 million in revenue bonds for building the parking garages at the Silver Line stops.

To pay for Metro’s annual operating expenses the county will pull from several sources: the Metrorail service tax district, otherwise known as the Silver Line small area; local gas tax revenues; and, if revenues are not sufficient to cover costs, from the general fund or “another funding source.”

First-term Supervisor Ron Meyer (R), the current Broad Run supervisor, thinks the previous board negotiated a “bad deal” in bringing Silver Line into the county.

Meyer, who has voiced general support for Metro's extension into Loudoun, worries it will be difficult for the county to afford the “burgeoning costs” of Metro “without doing something more than what we have in place.”

“My goal would be not to raise taxes on anyone period, but obviously it might not be achievable because of this deal that was signed onto before I joined the board,” Meyer said. “And so we’re going to have to use the smartest means possible to do that.”

Ken Reid, now a Leesburg town councilman, was serving on the Board of Supervisors in 2012 and cast the tie-breaking vote to bring Metro to Loudoun. He said he doesn't regret his decision.

“I voted to bring Metro into this county under the guise that it would be paid for by that tax district,” Reid said. “Everything – both the operating and the capital costs of Metro. And if the politicians in this state can’t get their act together to force Metro to operate more effectively and change the compact, then that’s a real problem.”

Dedicated funding source
During Randall’s declaration about the concerning figures, she said Metro needs “dedicated sources of funding” from the federal government and the General Assembly.

When asked if such a dedicated funding source would be possible, Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R), a member of the House Transportation Committee, told the Times-Mirror Metro’s “increasing costs, poor service, and safety record are unsustainable.”

She noted that it has become clear that “major structural reforms are needed,”which will require “fundamental changes” to Metro’s compact.

The congresswoman said she would continue to work toward getting Metro “back on track,” but did not say whether a dedicated source of funding would be possible.

Comments


Thanks SGP for doing that.  I will have to go look at the documents.

My concern with autonomous vehicles is that the number of vehicles is currently limited by the number of licensed drivers on the road.  If you don’t need a driver, then you can greatly increase the number of vehicles thus clogging up the network.  I imagine that will happen and then there will be autonomous driving restrictions that will force zombie fleets to move at night while we humans sleep.  Regardless, there is tremendous disruption on the very near horizon.

So, let’s pour money into a 19th century mode of transportation soon to go the way of the do-do bird.


FOIA response from Loudoun County is back.  I have loaded documents on Google drive and provided a link on my Virginia SGP Facebook account.  Review away.

Btw, it appears as though the basic outline for operating costs are these (see Item 2):

1. Revenues in Loudoun related to Metro (tax district, parking fees, etc.): $40M/yr

2. Costs of Metro: $68M/yr in FY2020

3. Current project deficit BOS will have to fill with our taxes: $28M/yr

4. This deficit rises to $80M+/yr by 2025.

And I’m not sure if this includes the full capital costs of repairing everything but I didn’t spend a whole lot of time reviewing the materials.  At $600M in just 6 years, seems like we could just buyout the Greenway for not much more and solve more of our traffic problems.

I agree with those who tout the self-driving cars.  It’s not that the cars don’t require a human driver, it’s that they greatly INCREASE throughput as (i) they can travel much closer together and (ii) don’t need to park cars at destination but can go part themselves at a less congested site.  Add that to Uber-type services and our current road system will be able to easily hold 2x the traffic they now support.  Disruptive changes are often underestimated.


I think it is important for everyone in Loudoun to understand the following.

1. Chair Phyllis Randall ran on a campaign of “ethics”.  While not explicitly stating she would be transparent, most would agree transparency was implied.

2. Today, Randall has critical new information about the cost of Metro.  Many don’t believe the politicians were honest about the true costs when the BOS voted to approve Metro to Loudoun.  Yet, even today, Randall doesn’t believe she has to provide Metro cost information to the public until she is ready.

3. If Randall won’t divulge the latest cost info on Metro, what else is she not telling us?


How can anybody consider Chair Randall to be an honest official in Loudoun?  She admittedly keeps information from the voters and taxpayers.  She admittedly censors citizens who might criticize her on her Facebook page.  She doesn’t want to call out other Loudoun officials who vote raises for their own households without disclosure - a misdemeanor violation of the Virginia conflicts of interest act as determined by a special prosecutor.

Who in their right mind would ever vote for this dishonest politician ever again?


Glad to hear FOIA is in the works. As for Facebook - I’m one of the last of the dinosaurs - I don’t do Facebook! Yet.


Shiloh, read Chair Phyllis J Randall’s Facebook page on this topic recently. Already in the works.


Looks like it’s time for a FOIA request.


Reid voted for metro for personal and political gain.  Look at his campaign reports prior to his vote and look at them over the months to follow.  Lots of happy contributors. Reid was not the tie breaker.  Let’s face it there were 5 votes needed to pass.  Reid just lied to everyone with his claims of opposition to Metro and then votes for it.  The whole board knew the district would not work because there would NEVER be enough money within the district to pay for it.  That’s why the gas tax is being used to pay for part of it.  And guess what Leesburg your gas tax that was paying for stuff in Town is now going to eastern Loudoun.  Reid knew that also.  So when the Leesburg Town Council cries about the budget this year, just tell Reid (and the rest of the board) he cost all of us money.


Loudoun BOS, knew at the time they voted for this that the numbers and time line were not realistic, but for whatever reason, (certainly not giving favors to big supporters) we needed it even though it hardly comes into Loudoun at all. If they would have put the amount that Metro is going to really cost us into widening 7 and other roads the general population use we would be much better off.


“What sort of rational person would say Loudoun would be better off without yet another way to move people between here and there? “

If all things stayed the same, you might have a valid argument.  But, as FredSanford said, Metro brings more, more, more housing.  If you are adding more people to the transportation network than you are removing, then you aren’t fixing the transportation network, you’re making it worse.

And, yes, roads are a better investment.  BMW stated their 1st automated vehicle will be on the road in 4 years.  Once we get autonomous cars, nobody is going to want to ride an unreliable, unsafe Metro when you can have a car drop you off at the door and then go find its own parking space.


“you do not have the right to withhold this information” sounds just like what current manipulators in white house are doing.  leaked report says the border wall will cost $21.6 billion — almost twice what tRump promised - talk about a lemon & budget busting boat anchor - taxpayers paying for this mistake? or just make up alternative facts for white house bs conference.


What sort of rational person would say Loudoun would be better off without yet another way to move people between here and there?  Our traffic issues and the obvious disaster of previous solutions like the please-take-my-money-to-support-a-public-private-partnership-rip-off-like-the-Greenway should have taught us something.

What’s the alternative?  More cars on the roads that don’t seem to increase as our population grows? 

Please, keep some of these cranks we see commenting here as far away as possible from setting public policy


“Whatever the cost to Loudoun, it will more than be made up for in property taxes of all the businesses and residential units that will be moving in…”

Think about that statement.  First, the cost of Metro is some astronomical number so scary the pols won’t even say what it is.  Here is the scariest I know: Metro stated they need $25B!! to catch up on deferred maintenance.  That would mean Loudoun would have to cough up 4.8% of that, which is over a billion by itself.  Add to that the regular annual operating costs that seem to be tens of millions more annually than estimated.

Now, if you say we are going to overcome this with growth and we lose money with every house that is built in the County where does the County gain in all this?  All that growth needed to make up the cost has costs in new schools, new roads, etc.

It certainly seems to me Metro is the budget busting boat anchor that is going to take the County’s finances down, down, down.


Whatever the cost to Loudoun, it will more than be made up for in property taxes of all the businesses and residential units that will be moving in to capitalize on a rail system next door to an international airport, a highly educated workforce,  internet crossroads, data center central, and short ride from the seat of global power.

Anybody who thinks Loudoun will lose a dime because of Metro is an ignorant fool.


This is just the tip of the iceberg.

The real horror begins when all of those mixed-use monstrosities near the Silver Line stations open and eastern Loudoun is saddled with 15k+ more units of high density housing.


Home values lag where it’s a long drive into D.C.- Do folks in LC have issues with higher property values?  e.g. add 40% or so to your current property value or are the higher property taxes too much of an issue.  I don’t know the answer, but just curious what folks prefer.


Metro does not need dedicated funding—it needs to be put on a diet!  They are paying some 80% of their budget on salaries and benefits! That’s nonsense!  Yes, change the compact and put conditions on Metro getting more money.  Above all, do not charge all the taxpayers of this county for the Silver Line - -just the numbskulls in Ashburn who wanted it so badly


In between the time Loudoun, foolishly in my view, opted in to Metro and now much has changed.  A new manager has come in, a series of events/accidents have occurred, and it has become readily apparent that the entire system has decayed to the point that a major overhaul is needed for the system to remain viable.

None of that is Loudoun’s fault.  Loudoun County should not in any way be held accountable for the decades of neglect that preceded our entry into the system.  It is reasonable to believe that, had we known at the time how much overhaul would be needed in the system and that we’d have to foot part of the bill, at least one supervisor might have changed his vote. 

All of this is building to the following point—Loudoun should argue, in court if need be—that we should have the right to vote on this again.  If we signed an agreement that forces us to pay for refurbishment to the system that no one told us about at the time we signed, how can that agreement be valid?  That kind of undisclosed cost is a classic deal breaker in contract law—it’s the equivalent of finding out that your house was built on top of a spring that the builder never told you about or, more to the point, that he should have known about but his negligence failed to uncover. 

Before we get any further down the tracks on this, Phyllis should direct County legal to explore our legal options.  We bought a lemon.  Lemon Laws protect car buyers for good reason—the same principle should apply here.


This blame is clearly on the BOS who submitted to the jackal developers to approve Metro into Loudoun. It was not needed…and only serves the developers who are building near the Metro stops. Anyone with half a brain knew not to allow Metro to touch Loudoun County. Going to the airport is a mistake, no tourist will take Metro into DC with bags and kids etc. It does not work at other airports. Look at JFK, they built a skytrain and no one uses it. Do you think someone who pops off a plane from London or Tokyo is going to want to schlep their bags on a Metro for an hour ride into DC? No! That was another mistake. Now Loudoun is stuck with Metro and no way to pay for it…my thought? Let the scumsucking developer community pay for it…I don’t remember having a referendum to decide if WE wanted it!!


Phyllis, Ralph, I like you both but you do not have the right to withhold this information—if you’ve been given some astronomical figure that the County, meaning us the taxpayers, are going to have to pay for this, it’s your obligation to tell us.  Now.


So the pols went to the used car dealer who told him that clunker would cost only $3K.  But by the time they got out of the financing and “options” department, the final price said $9K.

And now the pols expect us to believe that “nobody could possibly imagine” that the true price would be more than $3K?!  And Ken Reid expects us to believe that the $3K price was realistic if only the current Metro managers were effective?!

Wow.  I can see Chair Phyllis J. Randall’s campaign slogan for 2019: “I’ll tell you the information when I am good and ready and not a month earlier!”


Why am I not surprised that Ken Reid, the one most responsible for this huge mess, would try to blame everyone else but himself.  Too bad Supervisor Umstattd was not on the board of supervisors then, because we would not have had this mess.  For anyone paying attention to this, she voted no when the Town of Leesburg weighed in on whether to support the Metro Silverline. I think we should be very afraid of Ken Reid being on the Leesburg Town Council now, with his past track record.  Who knows what, or when, we will be paying for his mistakes here in Leesburg.

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