A major disconnect between authority, accountability
Transportation along the Dulles Corridor provides a classic example of what happens when authority is disconnected from accountability. We all end up paying more and receiving less.
The federal government built the Dulles Airport Access Road to provide an easy way to get to and from Dulles International Airport. When local commuters wanted to use the near-empty road, central planners ignored their requests. Not only did they prohibit local commuters from using the access road, they also refused to provide any viable alternate route. As a result, the communities along the Dulles Corridor developed slowly for want of adequate transportation facilities. Because of this decision, the Access Road remains one of the few underused urban freeways today — despite our region having some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation.
After two decades of delays, Virginia was finally allowed to construct the Dulles Toll Road on the federal right-of-way using state-issued bonds. The will of local residents finally prevailed, the regional economy thrived, and Fairfax County became one of the strongest economies in the nation. This economic growth also benefited Dulles Airport; it is now one of the largest and busiest airports in the country. By responding to local demands, everyone benefited.
Virginia had promised to remove the tolls once the road was paid off, but some politicians were reluctant to give up a lucrative revenue stream. Dulles Rail had long been a dream of U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Dist. 11), former Gov. Tim Kaine (D), and other central planners, but the main problem for Dulles Rail had always been the huge price tag.
The cost of building Dulles Rail would have consumed the Virginia Department of Transportation’s entire construction budget for seven years. VDOT would have been forced to abandon the construction of more than 200 lane miles of freeway to fund the 23-mile rail line. In addition, operating and maintaining Dulles Rail would require permanent taxpayer subsidies of tens of millions of dollars annually. The project did not even meet the low financial standards set by the Federal Transit Administration to receive federal funding assistance. Despite this, its promoters were undeterred.
Dulles Toll Road revenues offered an opportunity to help fund the costs of Dulles Rail, but it was clear that the Virginia General Assembly would reject efforts to divert toll road revenues to pay for rail. Instead, in 2005, then-Gov. Kaine devised a plan to give control of the toll road to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority in return for a blank check promise to build Dulles Rail.
In so doing, Kaine gave control of the toll road to an organization that is not accountable to the users of the road or to the General Assembly. MWAA’s board of directors only represents the interests of Reagan National and Dulles Airport, and airport users already have their own, dedicated, toll-free roadway.
The result is staggering. In 2009, MWAA announced that toll rates would eventually climb to $16.75 each way. To make matters worse, estimated project costs for Dulles Rail have increased since this toll schedule was released. Are you outraged yet?
The excessive tolls will force many existing Dulles Toll Road users to change their travel patterns. Traffic congestion will increase significantly on all alternate routes, including major routes such as U.S. Route 50, Interstate 66 and state Route 7, as well as secondary roads serving our communities.
Worse, the Rosslyn Tunnel and Orange line electrical grid already are operating at capacity. Additional rail service for Dulles Rail will necessitate a reduction of service on either the Orange or Blue lines. Fixing this bottleneck will cost an additional $10 billion. Thus, the new rail line offers little benefit to most commuters to Washington, D.C., until additional massive investments are made.
The end result is that the regional economy will once again suffer due to inadequate transportation facilities. This will further depress home prices, slow the economy, and make Dulles Airport a less desirable destination.
Unaccountable central planning does not work. The U.S. became a great country by providing its citizens with strong local governments that were responsive directly to its people; we will continue to falter as long as we try force solutions onto the people from above. This is why the federal government and Virginia should cancel MWAA’s lease on the Dulles Toll Road and revert the leased land back to Virginia. Local transportation issues need to be decided and funded by the local governments.
Ken Vaughn is a professional traffic engineer and a candidate for Virginia’s 11th Congressional District. While redistricting has not been finalized, the 11th District is expected to include most of Virginia’s major commuter corridors for the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area.