Former BOS Chairman Weighs In on County Rail to Dulles Funding

The text of a letter to the Fairfax Extra from Jack Herrity follows:

Fairfax County, with little public notice and without public hearings, has just made a future budget commitment of approximately $50 million of the known cost overruns on the proposed Metro extension to Dulles International Airport and has done so with no cap on the amount of the ultimate commitment to which the county is now exposed.

This was done in a Nov. 1 letter written by County Executive Anthony H. Griffin to Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer. It appears from certain artfully crafted language in the letter that the county's commitment might actually have been made some time ago. Specifically, the letter said:

"Fairfax County has also committed to fund its share of increases to the estimated project costs that may arise during final design, negotiation of a full funding grant agreement with the Federal Transit Administration or due to other circumstances. We intend to either use a pay-as-you-go approach using general revenue or through bonding approved through a referendum."

Regardless of one's view on the merits of the proposed Metro extension (and I readily concede I am not a fan of this project), this is an appalling letter. The commitment leaves no wiggle room. If new costs emerge during "the final design" phase (an engineering phase of the project that is still well down the road) or "due to other circumstances," the county is on the hook for a share of those costs.

The original projected cost of the Metro extension from West Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue was $1.5 billion, with the county's 25 percent share projected to be $375 million. The projected cost overrun is already calculated to be $300 million even with the cost reductions the project developers have promised to produce at the end of their preliminary design phase. That translates into an immediate budget commitment of approximately $50 million that the county executive has just made on behalf of the county Board of Supervisors and county taxpayers.

A tax district in the Tysons Corner area has been established for the purpose of permitting the county to assess additional taxes to pay the county's share of the cost of the Metro extension. But the developers and landowners who agreed to the tax district also were careful to include a $400 million cap on their exposure to Metro costs.

Because the county is responsible for 25 percent of a total $1.8 million price tag, it is on the hook now for about $450 million, or $50 million more than the tax district has agreed to pay. And it only goes up from there. Show me a major road or transportation project where cost projections have not increased steadily.

While it would be strange, there is nothing inherently wrong with the taxpayers of a jurisdiction agreeing to be responsible for some or all of the cost overruns associated with a particular project. But county taxpayers have not been given a chance to debate the making of such a commitment on the Metro extension, much less vote on it. The county executive has done it for them with a few strokes of his pen.

In an Aug. 8 editorial, The Post suggested that Dulles rail was starting to look like a politician's "vanity project." We hope that is not the case. But when commitments of this kind are made without public involvement, it is pretty hard to conclude that the politicians behind it have the interest of the public in mind.

John F. "Jack" Herrity

Fairfax

[Herrity, a Republican, is a former county supervisor and Board of Supervisors chairman]

By  |  January 5, 2006; 12:23 PM ET  | Category:  Government , Transportation
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