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Dulles Rail Not So Dead

Remember when the shaky finances behind the Wilson Bridge reconstruction seemed to have doomed that project? Similarly, the future of the Springfield Interchange reconstruction appeared to be in jeopardy several years ago because of surging costs.

Now, it's the Metrorail-to-Dulles project called into question by opposition within the U.S. Department of Transportation. Since the feds practically demolished the project two weeks ago, I've received several letters like this from commuters.

Hello, Dr. G:
As a resident of Herndon, I don't have many choices for getting to Tysons or DC except to use the Dulles Toll Road. As you know, the folks running the Toll Road (Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority) increased my tolls a year or so ago to supposedly pay for the Metro line to Dulles Airport.

So if the Dulles extension is dead, when do I get a refund for the extra tolls I've been paying? I'm asking somewhat tongue in cheek, but really would like to know what happens to the extra $$$ we've been paying if the Metro extension dies.
Terrie Santamaria

There's a natural frustration about paying tolls just to be stuck in traffic. And many toll road drivers resent paying extra to help pay for a railroad they say they wouldn't use.

But it's still a bit early to be writing off this railroad. Since the feds surprised many supporters of the $5 billion project with their statements about its dubious prospects, those supporters have not abandoned the plan. Instead, they have issues statements of continued confidence in the plan itself or warned about what will happen to the Washington suburbs if the job doesn't get done.

For example, after the U.S. DOT's Federal Transit Administration tried to use Metro's funding problems to cast doubt on its ability to run the Dulles line, Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. came back with a statement in Sunday's Post expressing of support for the rail line and Metro's ability to run it.

"Metro has the capability to run the extension," Catoe wrote. "It would represent only a 3 percent increase in our operational budget. So, that shouldn't be a reason not to fund the extension. Once the extension is built, it will be brand new, so the near-term capital costs shouldn't stop us, either."

He also made a case to Toll Road drivers like Terrie Santamaria:

"Metro is a regional toolbox teeming with ways in which it benefits both those who choose to ride and those who choose to drive. ... It is a tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is a tool for removing 580,000 cars from the roads each weekday and eliminating the need for 1,400 highway lane miles. It is a tool that reduces congestion on the region's highways. And it is a tool that gets half of the federal government's workforce to and from the office every weekday. A rail extension to Dulles would do that and more."

If you're pleased that the U.S. Department of Transportation doesn't like this big rail project, consider what the department does like: A transportation system in which free market forces of supply and demand create privately-operated highway lanes financed through tolls that rise with the level of congestion until drivers bail out and the congestion eases.

One way or another, I wouldn't be counting on keeping those quarters.

By Robert Thomson  |  February 6, 2008; 8:29 AM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
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Comments

"A transportation system in which free market forces of supply and demand create privately-operated highway lanes financed through tolls that rise with the level of congestion until drivers bail out and the congestion eases."

I know, 'cause up here in Maryland we pay ever so much in that kind of tolls...no, wait: that's Virginia. The same Virginia whose state legislature won't support dedicated funding for Metro, I believe.

Would somebody please explain to me how the Maryland 'burbs stand to benefit from investment in NoVa's development with a scheme to add to Metro's already-unreliably-funded operations?

Posted by: DrBubbles | February 6, 2008 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Sure Dr.Bubbles, as soon as you explain to me how Virginia stands to benefit from investment in MD's purple line.

It's a regional system. Can't you play well with others?

Posted by: Oh, please | February 6, 2008 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Dr. Gridlock:
I believe the issue with FTA funding isn't so much rail to Dulles as it is rail to Dulles via Tysons Corners. The added cost and added risks that the the Tysons stations pose to project funding, are significant -- subtract out the 4 stations and federal supported rail to Dulles would become much more likely. Run the extention on the surface with stops along the access road at Tysons, Reston , etc - drop 4 stations for through Tysons and get in with the job.
Herb K.
McLean, Va.

Posted by: herb | February 6, 2008 10:47 AM | Report abuse

"Would somebody please explain to me how the Maryland 'burbs stand to benefit from investment in NoVa's development with a scheme to add to Metro's already-unreliably-funded operations?"

Hey, Virginians are paying for the operations on the last few segments of Metro to open: Green Line to Branch Avenue, Green Line between U Street and Fort Totten, Blue Line to Largo. Something tells me those extensions are benefitting Maryland... Besides, VA had to help pay capital costs for each of those extensions, whereas MD taxpayers won't pay any capital costs for Dulles Rail (unless they commute on the Toll Road). Thus, MD residents will get service to new destinations (the purpose of Metro is not just to take VA residents to jobs in Arlington and DC, but also to take people to jobs in Tysons and the Dulles corridor) without paying anything for capital costs. If I were a MD resident I'd be happy I was getting such a good deal.

Posted by: Woodley Park | February 6, 2008 11:09 AM | Report abuse

If Catoe was as good at running Metro as his spokespeople were at writing BS statements for him, perhaps we'd be getting somewhere. I think his toolbox needs some more maintenance tools, since one smoking light fixture brings Metro to its knees for an entire rush hour.

Suuuuuure, I'll sit on the Silver line for an hour plus to try and get from Loudoun to Downtown by way of 4 stops in Tysons and hopefully no "sick passengers" or "mechanical breakdowns" in between. Metro doesn't have the capability to run what they have now, and they're going to add 30 miles of abive ground and at grade track to be inspected, maintained, etc., sprawling further than than any "subway" extension in the history of the world? This is beyond farcical. And what about the leaves? The ice? The snow? Metro has shown itself incapable of handling adverse weather of almost any variety.

By the time this actually stops being PLANNED and starts being built, it won't matter - epic 24/7 gridlock is about as inevitable as the greenhouse effect (thanks PR for Catoe for the wonderful analogy!) Rail to Dulles by 2020? Good luck trying to commute to your job on NOVA's transportation network by then.

Build a high-speed rail line to Dulles that would probably cost less than this Bechtel boondoggle.

Posted by: Forever Planning to Plan? | February 6, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Hey, there, Oh Please! The Purple Line has loads of opposition in Md. Some of the proposed routes were outrageous, endangering homes and literally taking backyards in Silver Spring. All the scenarios for the Capital Crescent Trail would involve chainsawing thousands of trees. No more tree canopy! Also, "light" rail involves still more wires overhead, more stress on trees.

Posted by: Bus Rider | February 6, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Tysons' could probably use some more office buildings, and maybe even Md. folks could commute there on rail. However, the Purple Line would cut a swath through small-scale Md. communities. Rezoning and destruction would follow: Density!Transit-Oriented Development!"Luxury" Hi-rise apts! Meanwhile, the national press runs stories about vacant housing in lots of cities. Why can't we send some jobs there?

Posted by: Bus Rider | February 6, 2008 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Metro can't be all things to all people out side of the city like in the case with this project. It should have one goal and that is to get to Dulles, not to also be an Suburban-Urban subway. It should behave as a commuter train: limited stops serving a wide area. Trolleys or other light rail should supplement between stations. This is a far cheaper solution, but of course our elected officials here in Virginia aren't savvy enough to think of such things. They are only concerned about new development and tax revenue, rather than fixing our troubled transportation system.

Posted by: Sivad | February 6, 2008 12:05 PM | Report abuse

London's Heathrow Express costs more than $20 one-way and takes twenty minutes to get you downtown. Not even a ride from Vienna to Metro Center is that fast.

Plus, Tyson's lacks any hub. Where would the "federal workers" (who are in short supply in Tyson's) be dropped off at, and how would they get to work? Would they like riding a shuttle bus?

The better solution seems to be building an extension of the Blue or Yellow lines to Fort Belvoir. Hordes of federal workers are about to descend on a locale that makes it very difficult to get there without public transportation.

Posted by: Franconia | February 6, 2008 12:05 PM | Report abuse

""Metro is a regional toolbox teeming with ways in which it benefits both those who choose to ride and those who choose to drive. ... It is a tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is a tool for removing 580,000 cars from the roads each weekday and eliminating the need for 1,400 highway lane miles."

The idea that "Metro makes highways unnecessary" is EXACTLY why we have the nation's second-worst traffic congestion.

And considering the congestion, the 580,000 cars Metro allegedly removes from the roads aren't enough to significantly reduce the congestion.

Anyone else out the wonder how things would be if we had NOT canceled the 1400 lane-miles of highway?

If Metro can run rail to Dulles, why can't they run the lines they are curently operating?

I see Mr. Catoe's statements for what they are: the attempts of a hack on the public payroll to justify his existence.

Posted by: ceefer66 | February 6, 2008 12:20 PM | Report abuse

"It is a tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is a tool for removing 580,000 cars from the roads each weekday and eliminating the need for 1,400 highway lane miles. It is a tool that reduces congestion on the region's highways. And it is a tool that gets half of the federal government's workforce to and from the office every weekday."

Where is the factual backup for any of these statistical claims? There certainly seem to be plenty of statistics readily available on Metro's many recent failures, surely this Metro PR person can point to where these "successes" are reported?

Maybe they should have added "but rarely in a timely, efficient or cost-effective manner" to that last stat...

Posted by: From the "PSFMA" Statistics Division | February 6, 2008 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Dr Gridlock (and the rest of the Post) has been ignoring mine and many others' points about why this project is TERRIBLE for the area. It could have been properly designed but it was not. It will result in INCREASED CONGESTION not less and benefit a very few at the detriment of many.

Fair and balanced reporting this is not.

Posted by: Steven | February 6, 2008 2:08 PM | Report abuse

So how long will a trip from Metro Center to Dulles take once this monster is built? Would it make sense to bypass the Rosslyn to Ballston stretch and run the Dulles line down the center of 66 from DC directly to East Falls Church? Why not have light rail down 123 and Route 7?

Posted by: McLean | February 6, 2008 2:13 PM | Report abuse

It's simply amazing that cost is of little or no concern to rail supporters.

The final total cost of the Dulles rail boondoggle is likely to be over $300 million per mile. And then there's the $125-150 million annual operating deficit.

That kind of money could build a first-class highway network to support the diverse commuting patterns of the entire region. But when it comes to planning highways, there seems to all of sudden be a lack of money and a lot of complaining (always from the same people) about what little money DOES manage to get spent on roads. Strange how that works.

There is no doubt that highway construction provides a better cost/benefit. The Springfield Interchange, for example, cost $676 million, but benefits 300,000 people daily. The ICC at $2.4 billion will serve over 50,000 daily users. The $7.00 toll those users will pay for each trip will more than cover the cost of operating it. Considering the annual surpluses from toll revenue, the ICC will pay for itself within a decade of its opening.

The cost/benefit of Dulles Rail pales in comparison, costing $5-7 billion for 16,000 new riders.

$5.2 billion (at the minimum) for a rail line to benefit 16,000 riders and a handful of developers while several million (minus the puported 580,000 current Metro riders) continue to rot in traffic is a heavy price to pay.

The argument that we can't build enough roads to support the car traffic is weak. Transportation planners had a comprehensive regional road network designed 50 years ago, complete with an outer beltway and additional expressways. Many of the groups supporting rail today are the same ones that picked apart and stopped construction of the comprehensive network, highway by highway, over the last 40 years - leaving us with massive development but inadequate supporting infrastructure.

And Mr. Catoe's statement that Metro "removed the need for 1400 lane-miles of highway" is absolutely laughable. Just look at the traffic!

After showing such poor judgement, are we supposed to take seriously the argument that "we have to build the rail to promote transit oriented development (that will benefit only a few)" - no matter what the cost?

I don't think so.


Posted by: No Dulles rail! | February 6, 2008 2:57 PM | Report abuse

"He also made a case to Toll Road drivers like Terrie Santamaria"

I may be mistaken, but I don't think that Ms. Santamaria was asking for a refund because she didn't plan on using the metro line. We sometimes have to pay for things we don't use. The issue at hand was that the money raised specifically for the metro line should be refunded if not used for that purpose. That has nothing to do with whether or not she planned to actually use the metro.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 6, 2008 3:25 PM | Report abuse

"Why not have light rail down 123 and Route 7?"

Exactly!

Posted by: GLR Please | February 6, 2008 3:26 PM | Report abuse

In order to run Dulles rail on 3% of the Metro budget, how much does service have to decline on existing routes? How many trains, "drivers", and those alleged maintenence workers will be diverted from the bad jobs they're already doing?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 6, 2008 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Why is it that every time I hear Governor Kaine, Gerry Connolly and their ilk talk about how terrible it is that the feds rejected the planned Metrorail to Tysons...oops, I mean Dulles, they say how much the citizens of Northern Virginia want it and need it? I don't recall anyone ever asking me what I thought. The FTA was right to reject this overpriced boondoggle that would do naught but line the already silvered pockets of big landowners and developers and bankrupt commuters. Metro has already proven it can't handle what it already has, and the cost of Metrorail to Tysons/Dulles far outweighs any benefit to commuters and residents. Rapid bus transit? Yes. Heavy rail directly from DC to Dulles? Maybe. Metrorail to Dulles via Tysons? Absolutely not.

Posted by: emacco | February 6, 2008 3:46 PM | Report abuse

I am not completely for or against the 'Dulles' rail. I use the word in quotations because so much of the 'Dulles' rail seems to be hung up around the Tysons area. The base of the issue here is how, in our right minds, can we turn over a bright and shiny metro rail to the same WMATA that can't find itself out of wet paper bag? Sure, Catoe says it will be able to meet the requirements. Did you expect him to stick his hands in his pockets, shuffle his feet, and tell us all that Metro is a huge blunder and there's no way possible they can handle a new line? Hey, we can all wish and hope, right? Who in their right mind is going to enjoy attempting to get to Dulles with multiple bags in a jam packed Metro car during rush hour, only to find out you'll be missing your flight because of unforeseen delays. At least Metro 'apologized for any inconveniences.' Don't worry, it will be less than a year or so before Metro comes knocking on the financial door 'requesting' more money. It's time to get the federal government involved in this mis-managed system and put it back on track.

Posted by: CRS | February 6, 2008 4:03 PM | Report abuse

"as soon as you explain to me how Virginia stands to benefit from investment in MD's purple line."

The purple line would NOT be run my WMATA but by MTA. So you are correct that Virginia doesn't stand to benefit, but Virginia is also not paying for it.

Posted by: Laura | February 6, 2008 4:52 PM | Report abuse

As long as Catoe is in charge, it's dead. The guy has shown himself to be so incompetent that he sets a record fare hike, then says it's not going to get better until people spend more money. I'm sorry, that's not the right way to run a business. Provide me with the services I expect and then maybe I won't be upset. Metro is not like NYC in that you NEED a car to get anywhere in this area. Metro is NOT an option. Even if you're on the same line, it's an acceptible second if you have plenty of time to waste.

To Metro, I'm done waiting at Metro Center for 30 minutes after events at Verizon Center because you time your red line trains to arrive and drop off passengers just as the Orange is pulling out.

In the 10 years the arena has been open, I've never waited less than 15 minutes to get on a train after an event at Metro Center. That is unacceptable. In the time it takes me to enter Gallery Place and get on a train at MC (between 25-45 minutes), I can be home. The cost of gas round trip for me is about $4.90. That's just the cost to park at Metro now.

After an experiment a couple years back in which a friend of mine drove while I took Metro. He was home, eaten, showered and heckling me from his bedroom window by the time I pulled in. Yeah, Metro, you're convenient.

Posted by: It's Dead | February 6, 2008 4:56 PM | Report abuse

"...I've never waited less than 15 minutes to get on a train after an event at Metro Center. That is unacceptable. In the time it takes me to enter Gallery Place and get on a train at MC (between 25-45 minutes), I can be home."

Why in the world would you get on at Gallery Place and then change at Metro Center unless the weather is bad? Metro Center has an entrance four blocks from the Phone Booth (11th & G). You can make the walk in less time than it takes to cram down into Gallery Place, wait for a train, try to cram in, and ride one stop.

Not that I take the train to the Phone Booth either. My office is six blocks away, so I park there (or leave the car there) and walk.

Posted by: Rich | February 6, 2008 5:04 PM | Report abuse

There shouldn't be Metro service for events, stop subsidizing them and spend the money on the commuter routes

Posted by: Mack | February 6, 2008 5:10 PM | Report abuse

If the line is built, it needs to be somewhat competitive with driving. That means it can't take 2 hours to get out to Dulles. Why not fix the mistake made the first time around and add a 3rd track (not the entire length, but through stations to allow for passing).

Posted by: Tom | February 6, 2008 5:35 PM | Report abuse

The reason you need to have the proposed rail run through Tysons is simple -- a metro line just to Reston and Dulles along the Access road would have almost no riders.


Again, look at the number of passengers the excellent Washington Flyer bus has. It is cheaper than a metro to dulles, and would run at more regular intervals (no traffic on the access road).

A metro to tysons makes some sense, but there might be a lot cheaper ways to bring middle class mass transit in....

Posted by: charlie | February 6, 2008 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Whatever happens, Bechtel needs to be carved OUT of this project. For good!

Know anyone in the Boston area? Ask them about Bechtel.

How many more people need to die before we stop giving away contracts to this horrible company?

Posted by: Lisa | February 6, 2008 6:03 PM | Report abuse

"If you're pleased that the U.S. Department of Transportation doesn't like this big rail project, consider what the department does like: A transportation system in which free market forces of supply and demand create privately-operated highway lanes financed through tolls that rise with the level of congestion until drivers bail out and the congestion eases."

However...don't the private financers of roads usually require the local authorities to restrict the improvements of roads in the area that would compete with the toll road? we'll end up with more congestion and higher tolls since the stifling of competition is needed to make the project attractive to bidders.

Posted by: Les | February 7, 2008 9:27 AM | Report abuse

Excuse me, Dr. Gridlock, but the resident from Herndon didn't ask for a lecture as to why/why not Metro should be extended to Dulles. She asked what would happen with the extra revenue generated by the toll increase local residents are being asked to pay in order to fund the Metro extension if the project isn't approved. As far as I'm concerned, that's a question your newspaper ought to be asking, and its falling down on the job if it doesn't.

Also, the reader suggests she doesn't have any commuting option to Tysons/DC from Herndon. That's simply not the case. Plenty of Fairfax Connection buses can get you to Tysons from Reston/Herndon, while a number of other lines serving the park and rides in the area connect up with the Orange Line at West Falls Church. Total commute one-way is a little less than an hour.

Posted by: Eric McErlain | February 7, 2008 11:17 AM | Report abuse

There are a lot of thoughtful posts on this blog by people with a lot of experience using various transportation methods. Do Martin O'Mally or Tim Kaine live in Northern Virginia? They are a disgrace and out of touch with the needs of the people on both sides of the river. In this instance I know the Feds are correct because they actually have first hand experience with the quality of all transportation in the National Capital Region. My advice to Martin and Tim - be good public servants and listen and do for the people for what the people need!

Posted by: Politically Incorrect | February 7, 2008 12:02 PM | Report abuse

I am a manger with the Dulles Rail Project and I strongly believe the entire plan should be killed ASAP! Bechtel/Jacobs/MWAA have a sweet deal with the state of Virginia. They don't have to competitively bid any of the project. They just pass along the subontractor's invoice with their markup, no questions asked! Honestly, we have no intention of completing this rail within the proposed budget or timeline! We'll just keep submitting invoices and keep the cash flowing until 2020 or later! Bureaucracy is great!

Posted by: John | February 7, 2008 3:25 PM | Report abuse

It's great to dream about less expensive alternatives that no one has investigated or have worked out the details for. The reality is 20 million people go thru Dulles currently and that is planned to grow to 55+ million people. Where are these people all going - to DC, MD and VA suburbs. To not have a mass transit option (not busses) from Dulles is the equivilent of moving Capital Hill to the Eastern Shore.

Who cares whether it costs a bit more or less or benefits one group a little more than another or has the most efficient competitive bids ever or whether Metro can absorb this 100% perfectly. Once it is built we have it and from there they can work on improving operations, etc. and we can have a chance to get millions of cars off the roads, help our enviroment and unclog other thorough fares.

Without it we might have a few more $$ in the State kitty or some extra quarters in our pockets AND we'll have 55+ million car trips jamming the roads from Dulles to downtown and no way to handle the enormous growth in Loudoun County that will have no option but to drive.

And don't dream about any real improvement with busses - who do you really think is going to get off an airplane from abroad or anywhere to wait around for a bus trip with stops everywhere for an hour to NV or DC - you (and certain politicians) are dreaming if you think that is a solution!

Posted by: asailboat | February 9, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse

"It's great to dream about less expensive alternatives that no one has investigated or have worked out the details for. The reality is 20 million people go thru Dulles currently and that is planned to grow to 55+ million people."

More rail advocate snake oil.

The TRUTH is, Dulles rail will carry only 16,000 riders/day. That's from the rail proponents own studies.

The supposed "20 million people (that) go thru Dulles currently and the "55 million+" later on ARE NOT going to be riding rail.

The desperate attempts of rail supporters to force this boondoggle on us are beginning to look foolish.

Next, you'll be telling us that Dulles rail will grow hair and cure colic.

Posted by: ceefer66 | February 11, 2008 12:51 PM | Report abuse

To : aSailBoat;"...wait around for a bus trip with stops everywhere for an hour to NV or DC - you (and certain politicians) are dreaming if you think that is a solution!..." The BRT (Bus Rapid transit) system taht serves Bostons Logan Airport won the award for 'best mass transit serving an airport" this year. The beauty of BRT is that it does not stop at every stop. And its not just a bus. Take a look: WWW.GoBRT.org

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With the Dulles Metro project extending all the way to Dulles Airport, why do all of the airlines flying out of Dulles airport appear to have so little to say and why doesn't the press ever get their comments. Everybody seems to only comment about revenues the project will bring along its path into the city, the additional jobs it will create, and the benefits of people going into Washington DC. Going into the city is only one direction in which the extension will be going. The public almost never hears about the benefits which will be gained where the extension ends at Dulles Airport. Some would be quite interested to know what the percent increases and additional revenue the airlines flying out of Dulles will receive. Is there actually any statistics out there about them? The airlines revenues are bound to increase, especially when people from MD will be able to go directly into Dulles Airport. How about performing a study about the airlines increased revenue and then requesting that they too contribute to the cost of the Dulles metro project?

Posted by: Kelley H. | April 30, 2008 2:54 PM | Report abuse

With the Dulles Metro project extending all the way into Dulles airport, why do the airlines which fly in and out of the airport never appear to have anything to say and why doesn't the press ever obtain their comments. All of the reports seem to concentrate specifically on revenues the project will bring along its path into Washington DC, the additional jobs which will created and the transportation benefits for people going into the city. Traveling into the city is only one of the two directions the Dulles metro extension will be going . The public never hears about the benefits which may be gained by the airport. The last stop at the other end of the extension. Some may be quite interested to know what the percent increases and additional revenues the airlines will receive. Where are all of the statistics about them? Airline revenues are bound to increase, especially when people from MD will then be able to go directly into airport. How about performing a study and writing articles about what the airlines increased revenue may be and then persue that they too contribute to the cost of the metro project?

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