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Dulles Rail Decision Near

Virginia officials know the Washington suburbs need the Metrorail line that would run through the rapidly developing centers of Tysons, Reston and Dulles. They're prepared to deal with any objection the U.S. Department of Transportation raises so that they can win the $900 million federal contribution that is crucial to construction of this very expensive project.

central7 station (2).jpg Rendering of a planned Route 7 station in Tysons Corner. (Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project photo)

But DOT just doesn't want to let this one go. In The Post, Amy Gardner writes about a meeting scheduled for today between Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and Congress members from Virginia and U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters.

Last week, Peters laid out a lot of her philosophy on transportation policy in her dissent from the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission, which she chaired. The commission's report, endorsed by the nine congressionally appointed members but not by the three appointed by the White House, lays out our transportation troubles and proposes solutions.

The solutions tend toward the bold -- raising a lot more money through the gas tax before moving to a different tax system based on vehicle miles traveled, a restructuring of the transportation policy making system so that it's based on congestion-busting rather than everyone getting their favorite project -- but it's still in the mainstream, judging by the reaction.

The Peters dissent criticized the commission for not supporting concepts it actually does support, such as greater private investment in transportation projects and tolling as a means of raising revenue and controlling congestion. Overall, it makes a case that the federal government should not have so great a role in creating the 21st century transportation network. Rather it should encourage projects based on private investment and tolling.

It's a case for HOT lanes and against Dulles rail.

Virginia has shown bipartisan support for private investment and tolling. But the state also is showing that this isn't going to be the full solution to reviving a transportation network that has fallen far behind the times. Virginia just gave up -- at least for now -- on its longstanding plan for a public private partnership to improve Interstate 81, which is much in need of improvement. Besides the HOT lane plans on I-95/I-395 and the Beltway, what have we got? Those are very encouraging projects, and they are advancing, but they're not a transportation network.

Many commuters would like to at least entertain the hope that things will get better in their lifetimes. The last time we saw a big, organized improvement in the nation's transportation system was during the construction of the interstate highway system, a program spearheaded by the federal government.

I admire many of the ideas for rethinking how a transportation system gets created, the concepts involving a greater role for supply-and-demand in deciding what projects to build. Those ideas are laid out in such books as The Road More Traveled by Ted Balaker and Sam Staley, and in Street Smart, edited by Gabriel Roth.

But the magnitude of the demand for getting people around this region and this nation far exceeds the supply of private plans and resources. Only an aggressive commitment by the federal government can help us scale this steep slope.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 24, 2008; 8:55 AM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
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We wouldn't have an interstate highway system or Metrorail if our federal government hadn't led the way. I am so tired of Republican politicians putting people who hate government in charge of government agencies.

Posted by: spotfoul | January 24, 2008 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Have you made it known in your column or on this blog that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is holding up dedicated funding for metro?

I know he has a philosophical objection to funding bills that aren't offset by other measures, but still. This is one guy from OKLAHOMA that is holding up funds for a system that is essential to the operation of the government. Without it, how would thousands of workers make it to the DoJ, State, GAO, or even Dr. Coburn's office?

Have you interviewed him? Have any of the other Post transit reporters?

Posted by: Melissa | January 24, 2008 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Not to mention the pro-transit portion of the Commission's report that was stricken by the Bush administration.

Posted by: Steve | January 24, 2008 12:12 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad this subject is being debated, systems like our transit system are "commons" whether they are privately owned and priced, or publicly owned and managed. As such we "commoners" need to be considered as well as any business models or the wishes of the well heeled to convert public money and ownership to private accounts and property.

Her solutions represent a failure to understand the fundamental principles of the democracy she was elected to serve. which is that she represents a commonwealth that includes fundamental rights for non-property owners and poor people as well as aristocrats. One of those rights is to traverse highways and get from point a to point b unmolested.

Yes a business model is needed to ensure that the market can set the prices for those goods shipped within this giant Marketplace called the United States and to ensure that these roads, rails and other shared networks are financed and available at reasonable prices to ordinary folks. So her considerations are valid.

But so are those of more socialist and "populist" / commoner leaning people as well. Dulles rail has as much a place here as does "hot lanes." It is not theft for people who participate in a system to pay the costs of maintaining that system. These things do not exist in isolation or solely for the benefit of the few and well heeled.

If we wanted to live in the British system we'd have let the Tories hang George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.


Posted by: Chris Holte | January 24, 2008 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Dulles/Tysons rail is in Virginia and for Virginia. It should be paid for by Virginia.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 24, 2008 12:48 PM | Report abuse

95% of the country do not use mass transit

Even in DC metro 80% do not use mass transit

Mass transit is not the silver bullet that many wish it would be

The real people holding up progress are the bikers, NIMBYs, and enviromentalists who for the past 25 years have held up countless needed improvements to our infrastructure

Less than .1% of people bike to work

We need a comprehensive transportation solution based first on roads 80% with bus service in major commute zones 15% and other mass transit 5% only where it is cost effective.

Posted by: Reality Check | January 24, 2008 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Any chance the fares on the extension could be raised a little so the users pay for the system they use? Or do all taxpayers have to pay for the convenience of a few (thousands, but still a few). I would be willing to pay extra for using that line when I actually use it.

I guess I have the same question for the Purple line.

Posted by: SoMD | January 24, 2008 1:21 PM | Report abuse

"Any chance the fares on the extension could be raised a little so the users pay for the system they use? Or do all taxpayers have to pay for the convenience of a few (thousands, but still a few). I would be willing to pay extra for using that line when I actually use it."

Just it safe to assume that you support the HOT Lanes and tolls on the ICC, under the same principle?

Posted by: Woodley Park | January 24, 2008 1:59 PM | Report abuse

The Washington Metropolitan Area is an extremely affluent area. How are people expected to leave their Mercedes-Benz and Lexus sedans in their driveways and take public transportaion?

That will never happen. Building a $5 billion rail line to shuttle a few thousand back and forth to an airport is ridiculous.

I hope the FTA denies the funding.

Posted by: Opposed_2_Dulles_Rail | January 24, 2008 2:09 PM | Report abuse

"Dulles/Tysons rail is in Virginia and for Virginia. It should be paid for by Virginia."

Virginians pay federal taxes too....a lot more federal taxes than state taxes, just like the rest of Americans. If the feds don't want to invest in infrastructure, let them tax less so the states can tax more and do everything themselves.

Posted by: xtr657 | January 24, 2008 2:15 PM | Report abuse

As long as the federal government is chipping in for construction of the extension, it has veto power on everything. As long as the construction of the extension is run through the airport authority, and since the extension is attached to Metrorail, the federal government will have a large say on everything.

To be honest, it surprises me that anything at all Metrorail-related gets done. There are so many axes to grind.

Posted by: Downtown | January 24, 2008 2:16 PM | Report abuse

"Dulles/Tysons rail is in Virginia and for Virginia. It should be paid for by Virginia."

Then farm subsidies should be paid for by only those states with farms, the war should be paid for by only Red Bush-loving states, and federal taxes should be abolished.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 24, 2008 2:49 PM | Report abuse

If you look at the picture from the opposite angle you see grafitti on the side of the station and if you listen carefully you hear all those people in cars talking with realtors about moving *further away* from the Tysons area because of the all the blight the above ground station brought. If you look very carefully in the upper NE portion there is a woman running frantically across Route 7 from the Metro stop exit. The pedestrian lights provide a mere 20 seconds to cross and the first five seconds were taken up by drivers not honoring the red light.

And if you look carefully at the man going down to the escalator he is crying because his boss fired him for arriving at 9:45 instead of 9 and refusing to believe him that Metro had a major delay in the morning. As the boss said no one else in the office seemed to have any problem getting to work on time (since the other workers all drove to work and parked in the free parking lot at the office park.)

Posted by: hidden in the picture | January 24, 2008 2:51 PM | Report abuse

I live in Arlington, VA and travel by bus everyday to Tyson's Corner, a journey of 6 miles. While my morning commute only takes about 30 minutes, the evening is quite another story. It takes anywhere from 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours to get home in the evening because the bus route takes us around Tyson's Corner mall. On Dec 26, I (and all the other passengers on the 23A) spent 1 hr 20 min on the bus from Ring Road back to Rte 123 - this not counting the rest of the journey to that point and beyond. ANYTHING that can be done to alleviate this situation at Tyson's would be a bonus. Bring on THE TUNNEL!

Posted by: Margaret Dittinger | January 24, 2008 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Melissa, why should OKLAHOMA pay to develop Tysons? Are they planning to move DoJ, State, GAO, or even Dr. Coburn's office there?

Posted by: good grief | January 24, 2008 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Margaret Dittinger, move.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 24, 2008 3:32 PM | Report abuse

"The Washington Metropolitan Area is an extremely affluent area. How are people expected to leave their Mercedes-Benz and Lexus sedans in their driveways and take public transportaion?"

This was the exact argument against building Metro in the 50s and 60s. How do you think we got cushy seats and no eating on Metro rules? Many planners really thought "affluent" people wouldn't ride the trains. Now Metro moves 700,000 + on its trains each weekday.

Posted by: Tim | January 24, 2008 3:52 PM | Report abuse

The officers in DOT should live in Reston or Herndon and drive to work in DC for a while. Then they will see why we are so desperate.

We need the metro now.

Posted by: Albert | January 24, 2008 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Bob, this plan would not help commuters at all. If anything, it would just make life worse. It will cause further backups on the Orange line, increase congestion in Tysons even worse than it already is, carry very few passengers as designed to IAD, and cause Metro to further buckle with lack of proper maintenance and funding.

Don't support this waste of tax dollars!

Posted by: Steven | January 24, 2008 4:28 PM | Report abuse

We will hopefully bounce Mary E. Peters,our NO Transportation for US Secretary, out of her goverment limo on 21 January 2009. Virginians are getting the payback for electing a Democratic governor and senator from the Bushwhacker Jr.

The other side of the coin is that the Senator from Oklahoma is 100% right. We should be taxing our gasoline and our vehicles based on what the real costs are; and the $27 billion tax giveaway that increased the hugh profits of the petro-chemical complex,should also be returned, with interest, on 21 January 2009. If welfare is a bad thing,corporate welfare stinks,wake up and smell the coffee America. That pain in your posterior is not because the kids left their marbles on your couch.

Terry L. Burgess

Posted by: Terry Burgess | January 24, 2008 7:05 PM | Report abuse

Three cheers for U.S. DOT, which added some much-needed (albeit overdue) common sense to the Dulles transit discussion. It's nice to see that someone remembers the goal here should be TRANSPORTATION, and who is looking out for taxpayers as well.

"Rail to Dulles" managed to combine the worst of all options: skyrocketing costs and endless squabbles over routing; not enough passenger capacity to reduce highway traffic, but still sufficient to overcrowd the Orange Line (and squeeze out Arlington riders); untested transit management by the airport authority, and demonstrated management incompetence by the transit agency.

And did anyone seriously think that Dulles airport travelers would want to ride for 30-45 minutes (with luggage) on crowded trains making every local stop, when efficient door-to-door shuttle van service is readily available?

It's time to start work on REAL transit solutions that will move people, rather than expensive projects to benefit politicians and developers. The obvious choice is a network of flexible, efficient bus lanes, which can be built more quickly, and at far less cost, to provide much better transit service.

Posted by: Relieved in Arlington | January 25, 2008 2:34 PM | Report abuse

"The officers in DOT should live in Reston or Herndon and drive to work in DC for a while"

Why? Are you angry that they are more intelligent than to live hours away from their jobs?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 25, 2008 3:29 PM | Report abuse

There is a God! What a potential waste of public resources. Ask yourself this question "Ever know anyone that had a problem getting to or from IAD?" at least on the Toll road protion of the trip. Answer - NO. So what problem was this project trying to fix?

Now, Tyson's inbound to DC - that is a problem. Why not tee it up and see if the Fed's would help? Answer - not even close to enough support or importance to get past the giggle test which would be "Why don't you just add a few stops to your existing rail line and not apply for "mass transit" funding?"?

Indeed, why not?

Posted by: Ashburn Resident | January 26, 2008 7:24 PM | Report abuse

The problem with Dulles rail, other than its tremendous expense, is that it goes completely against the principles of mass transit. It is 30 miles from the city. Not even NYC subway does such a thing! What serves points farther from the city? Light rail! Why? Because it will have light usage. The highest density residential development along this route is Reston, everything else is low density car loving suburbanites. So the question is how does this project help the region? It does not! No one in DC or Maryland will take the train to Dulles. It is simply too long. I live in Reston, so it will be nice for me to take the train to Dulles. It benefits me, but at a cost of 5 billion? How does that add up? the county is purposefully trying to encourage development away from DC, which is not the right thing to do. A better solution would be to dump that 5 billion to do things like improve existing infrastructure, encourage growth inside the beltway, tax credits for TOD, dedicated funding for metro, I could go on and on. Exurban growth is the downfall of the DC area.

Posted by: Sivad | January 31, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse

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