What the Redskins Can Teach Loudoun County

by Jack Mann on April 18, 2012 · 1 comment

in Economy, Features, Mobility

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Proponents of Phase II of Dulles Rail often appeal to the notion that having a metro station marks a community as significant. Metro seems to be a symbol to these people (like Shawn Mitchell), a symbol that Loudoun has “made it,” a franchise player for our faltering transportation lineup. These people would do well to take a cue from the Redskins’ recent history and re-think their position.

Dan Snyder’s Redskins have a long history of making terrible free agent acquisitions. Deion Sanders, Mark Carrier, Bruce Smith, Donovan McNabb, the list goes on and on — but arguably the worst decision of all was Albert Haynesworth.

When the Redskins signed Albert Haynesworth in 2009, they paid a hefty premium for the “most dominant defensive player in the league,” a player his peers felt was more terrifying than Ed Reed or Ray Lewis. They forked over a big chunk of the $100 million they promised him up front, leaving little room in their salary cap to make midseason pick-ups and leaving little incentive for “Fat Albert” to, you know, show up to practice and be a contributing member of the team.

Phase II is a huge acquisition, a big bet in a “rebuilding year” economy that will take at least $200 million off the table for other transportation improvements in Loudoun County in the near term, plus tens of millions in annual costs to staff and maintain the network. Rail means we’ll have to rely on our inadequate road network even longer before we start making improvements.

A study has been circulating that argues Loudoun County would see $386 million in new tax revenues from Phase II of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project. Proponents of Dulles Rail argue that this definitively proves that rail will be a good investment for Loudoun County, but the problem is that those tax dollars are spread out over 20 years and most of the costs will be up-front, making the project the infrastructure equivalent an expensive free agent.

Also, that study doesn’t take inflation into account or tell you that Loudoun spends almost $15,000 per public school student every year. The immediate costs of providing services to those almost 5,000 new residential units will negate any long-run, theoretical increase in existing property tax revenues.

Worse, even if Loudoun pays for part of it, the majority of MWAA’s share of the funding will come from toll increases on the Dulles Toll Road. Conservative estimates indicate that this will force 30,000 commuters on to local roads like Route 50 and Route 7 that are already hopelessly inadequate.

Loudoun needs millions of dollars in road improvements just to provide adequate access to planned rail stations. Since Loudoun County toll road users are likely Loudoun County taxpayers, the current funding scheme results in these people paying twice for a service that is unlikely to provide a positive return on investment…while likely making traffic even worse. Shouldn’t dealing with the fiscal fallout from this dirty bomb of an infrastructure project be payment enough?

Like Haynesworth, Dulles Rail will be a bloated disappointment that will never carry its own weight. Instead of evolving into a major asset, Dulles Rail will make the glaring flaws in our system even worse and public opinion will swiftly turn against it.

Unlike Haynesworth, you can’t eat the rest of a commuter rail network’s contract and trade it to the Patriots for a fifth round pick and some salary cap breathing room.

If Loudoun County opts to shell out the cash for this white elephant of an infrastructure project, they’ll have nobody to blame but themselves when Phase II turns out to be the latest oversized, overpriced non-starter to waddle its way into Ashburn.

dscott April 19, 2012 at 8:19 am

Let’s not forget that those who advance the metrorail project also say that Loudoun County & Dulles Corridor would never economically develop without it. It’s an interesting bit of circular reasoning since both areas are already highly developed in an of themselves, i.e. Reston, without any benefit of public/mass transportation. It is because areas like Reston, Tyson’s Corner and Dulles Airport exist that metrorail is desired not the other way around.

The real reason for the metro system is one of convenience, not economic development. But more importantly, notice once again that mass transit does not pay for itself but must be subsidized by tolls (on vehicles it is competing with) on top the fuel taxes that already subsidize bus service. Mass transit has never been economically sustainable otherwise it would have long ago dispensed with subsidies. Additionally, because of the subsidies to mass transit derived from the fuel taxes, roads have not been maintained or improved as they should be. As usual, the circular logic of liberals fails to acknowledge mass transit is only possible BECAUSE of individuals driving vehicles and does not save one penny of road maintenance from shifting people off the roads. The lack of road maintenance and upgrades is not from a lack of revenue, it is due to a diversion of those funds to mass transit projects that never pay for themselves.

The truth is metrorail is an expensive convenience. I’m all for convenience IF the person using it pays for it themselves and doesn’t have the gall to self righteously pick my pocket as though it were a moral imperative. There are only four rail systems in the entire country that are fuel efficient, that is uses less energy than 2 people riding in a car and the metrorail is NOT one of them. Even though the NYC rail system is fuel efficient on a per passenger basis, its costs are underwritten to the tune of 50% and we see how crappy the roads are in NYC due to this subsidy. Now you understand why Obama and Chu want the price of gasoline to rise to $8/gallon, then and only then could the subsidy be eliminated. Anything can be accomplished IF you spend enough money but is it sustainable? The answer here is NO!

The answer is NOT higher tolls, the answer is making those who ride metrorail pay for it in higher fares. Anyone using metrorail to get to the airport is saving money on daily parking, so why should their savings come at my expense? If you park your car for a week at Dulles Airport you will spend at least $50 so why would you demand daily job commuters not using the airport to pay for something they aren’t using? Why is this not in the cost analysis? Remember, the rationale to build the silver line was to link up Dulles Airport to the metro system just as Reagan National Airport. That the line has stops along the way is just a tangential benefit to add to the justification of building it in the first place. Moreover, the idea of reducing the vehicle volume into DC from Virginia using the rail system is rather silly when you look at the limited parking they are providing. That failure to provide adequate parking at virtually ALL of DC metrorail Park & Rides proves saving on road maintenance or the environment is NOT a consideration in its use and design. This is basically a project in search of a justification, not a problem needing a solution.

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