Local Commentary

Senator Saslaw’s Richmond Report

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 It is no secret that we have a transportation problem in the Commonwealth. Our roads are underfunded, our highways congested, and our businesses are shackled by a transportation system that no longer meets the needs of Northern Virginia in particular. The current extension of the Dulles Metro Line to Fairfax and Loudoun will help mitigate these serious issues in the region.

Expansion of Metro is easily the most important construction project in Virginia and has been similarly ranked on the national level. When complete, it will connect one of the busiest airports in the world to Northern Virginia and the nation’s capital. More importantly, it will link local business to thousands of potential customers in the DC Metro area.

Arlington is a spectacular example of the benefits of rail. After Arlington’s Rosslyn-Ballston Metro Corridor was extended, jobs in the corridor sprung from 22,000 to an estimated 96,300 jobs in 2012. As Virginia’s families slowly begin to regain their economic footing, the Metro extension promises to spur economic growth and bring jobs to our residents.

Unfortunately, Governor McDonnell and his Republican allies are putting completion of the Dulles Metro in jeopardy. With the support of General Assembly republicans, the Governor is demanding that the MWAA remove union-backed project labor agreement contracts, which were used to great success in the first phase of the Metro extension. The Governor is playing politics with the Metro, and in doing so, he is placing the entire project at risk.

This administration has repeatedly threatened to withhold $150 million in funding the Commonwealth has already promised, in an attempt to gain more seats on the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), the multi-state board which oversees the project’s construction. Last week, the General Assembly took resoundingly bipartisan action to shoot this proposal down.

Recently, the US Department of Transportation issued an interim audit on the second, and most critical phase, of this project — completing Metro access to Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County. While this audit raised several concerns regarding the operations of the MWAA Board which must be addressed, one critical finding by USDOT is that the financial assumptions underpinning the project are sound.

Under the budget passed by the General Assembly, much of the cost of the Metro extension will be paid by increased tolls on the Dulles Toll Road. The tolls are set to rise from $2.25 to $4.50 next year, and skyrocket to $6.75 by 2018 year. That is $2,200 directly out of the pockets of working Virginians, capsizing family budgets and the local economy. This means that the cost of the Dulles line is being placed directly on the backs of working Northern Virginians.

It gets worse. Skyrocketing tolls will force commuters off the Dulles Toll Road. Studies estimate that toll increases required to support the ongoing construction may reduce daily traffic by up to 18%. Try to imagine the impact of an 18% increase in cars travelling on Route 7 and other local roads in the region.

Fortunately, there is a solution to the toll hikes. I, along with my fellow Democrats in the Senate proposed that the state direct an additional $300 million in bonds towards this critical project. This would help keep tolls low and take the burden off Virginia’s working families. However, Governor McDonnell absolutely refused to compromise. So, after a contentious budget battle over Metro funding, we are once again where we started: sky-high tolls and a vital construction project in jeopardy.

If we want to see continued economic growth in Northern Virginia we need to have a transportation system that facilitates this growth. The Dulles Metro is a key part of a working transportation system. It is essential that we properly fund the line and keep tolls affordable for Virginians. 

 


 Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be e-mailed at district35@senate.virginia.gov


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