Dulles Rail: Keeping Our Eye on the Ball
The Dulles Rail project has been on the minds of planners in this area since the late 1990s, if not before. Now that the project is finally under construction, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and the McDonnell Administration are threatening the completion of the project.
This is not to say that any mass-transit project should automatically be funded without and observation and analysis of the costs and benefits. The Loudoun board is well within their rights to ask for more time to do just that. However, the McDonnell Administration has shown no interest in conducting any kind of measured analysis and instead has jeopardized the state government’s portion of the funding over a dispute over unionized labor.
This is hardly an example of the pro-business, pro-growth attitude the Governor claims to have. Indeed, every major business in northern Virginia, as well as the local Chamber of Commerce, supports the project. What surreal world have we entered where the Republican Party and the Chamber of Commerce are at odds on an issue?
Enough is enough. The United States is the only member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that does not possess a rail link between its capital city and the capital’s major international airport.
The Dulles Toll Road corridor is among the busiest road corridors in the region and suffers from the traffic congestion that such status brings. When the Metro system was originally constructed in the 1970s, it brought economic development to the entire region and the Silver Line will do the same to the areas of northern Virginia it will pass through. Given that these areas are already seen as commercial and business epicenters, further economic development can only bring additional benefits to the region as a whole.
It is true that the costs to make this project a reality are high and have been higher than previously estimated. The issue of the MWAA funding the majority of the project through toll revenue from the Dulles Toll Road remains something to keep a watchful eye on.
While a slight increase in tolls is necessary to provide adequate funding to meet the MWAA’s obligations, they cannot be allowed to spiral out of control to the higher levels that some are suggesting are inevitable. Ironically, it is the refusal of the state government down in Richmond to supply its own dedicated funding that is making the issue of sky-high tolls more and more likely. However, we cannot afford to be intimidated by sticker shock in this case.
While the short-term costs will be high, the long-term benefits are what our leaders in government must keep their focus on. And those benefits will be many, not the least of which will be the furthering of mixed-use and transit-oriented development along the 267 Corridor. Further mixed-use development would bring increased tax revenue to northern Virginia, both in the form of commercial taxes through new businesses and property taxes as the value of the land in the corridor increases.
All of this would add even more potential to an already impressive economy, leading to the opportunity for more revenue in the budget, translating in turn to more funds for appropriation for Fairfax and Loudoun County and by association, the Commonwealth as well.
If the region is to fully recover from the effects of the recent downturn, it must do whatever it can to make sure that the full weight of these benefits is realized. The completion of this project would do a great deal to fulfill that end.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of members of the NDP Steering Committee.