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Column: Blame Game with the Silver Line

After waiting 50 years for the rail link down the median reserved for it from Dulles Airport to Falls Church, construction finally began. Many actually believed it would be a reality shortly. Now, it is less certain. The same parties who delayed the project for many years are at it again, engaged in finger pointing, blocking Phase 2. In fact, the only thing being competently done is the Phase 1 construction, which is on schedule and on budget—thanks to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA).

The Silver Line’s design was deeply flawed before the job of building it was passed to MWAA by former Governor Kaine. The design process was hijacked by the land barons in Tysons Corner, resulting in a design serving Tysons Corner, but travel from Dulles to DC and vice versa not so much. Four stops in Tysons will leave travelers from DC and the Airport looking for alternatives to Metrorail. The line is routed around, not through, Reston’s Town Center, and the train won’t exactly take passengers to the Dulles terminal. It will drop them up the road to save a few bucks. The design screw-ups are courtesy of Fairfax County mostly, with an assist from the Feds.

Now, the main focus of inaction is on Phase 2, the part from Wiehle Avenue almost to the Airport. Now, we have a fight going on among Fairfax County, Loudoun County, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the Feds to avoid paying reasonably proportional (to benefits) shares of the cost. As my friend Terry Maynard of the Reston Citizens Association recently pointed out in an excellent white paper and open letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, the cost of Phase 2 is being dropped squarely on Restonians and other toll road users—a 75 percent of the $2.8 billion estimated Phase 2 price. Toll road users will see the current $2.25 one-way toll double in the next year, "triple by 2018 and continue spiraling upward to $18.75 in 2048." Terry argues this is grossly unfair. It may be. But, this kind of pricing could serve as a strong incentive to get folks out of their cars and onto to the train, a more effective congestion reducer.

Now those responsible for the mess seek to blame MWAA for the massive toll increases. MWAA was given the construction task by Virginia, but no revenue authority other than tolls to go with it. Gov. McDonnell now confirms that Virginia will pay little or nothing. Loudoun is threatening to drop out of the project altogether. The Fairfax Supervisors are ignoring the pleas of citizens about the toll burden. Having fouled up the design, their work is apparently done. And the Feds? Ask Congressmen Wolf, Connolly and Moran. These are your guilty parties, not MWAA.

Tom Davis and McDonnell even blame a Project Labor Agreement, a big positive factor in getting Phase 1 done right/on time. A PLA assures labor gets treated fairly—thus annoying Republicans. It’s time for the bad actors to stop pointing fingers at MWAA and labor, and start taking responsibility.