Home » Editorial »Opinion » Currently Reading:

Railing Over Rail

June 17, 2012 by Jim Burton filed under Editorial, Opinion No Comments
Jim_Burton_cropped

Printed with permission from www.jimburton.org

The Board of Supervisors must decide by July 4 whether or not Loudoun will participate in the Phase II Metrorail project which will bring rail to Dulles Airport and two Loudoun stations west of Dulles. It has been one of the most hotly debated subjects in recent memory. The blogosphere has been full of comments pro and con, some articulate and fact-based, as well as those which have been ideologically based, emotional, or totally irrational.

The key question being debated is whether or not the projected costs are worth the projected benefits.

What are the Projected Costs?

Loudoun taxpayers, in one form or another, will be responsible for two categories of costs: 4.8 percent of the total capital cost (approximately $270 million for Loudoun plus interest, if borrowed) to actually construct the rail line to the airport and the two Loudoun stations, plus $135 million for two parking garages associated with the Loudoun stations;

Since system-wide Metro fares only generate sufficient revenue to cover approximately 80 percent of the overall operating costs, each participating jurisdiction is required to contribute an annual subsidy to make up the difference. The annual subsidy covers system operating costs plus capital replacement and repair costs.

Loudoun’s debt service costs are now estimated at $18.5 million per year beginning in 2013 (level payment each year for 30 years). In 2018, Loudoun will begin its annual contribution to the Metro operating costs. That annual subsidy is predicted to increase every year, and by 2043 the combination of annual debt service (level payment) plus the operating subsidy will exceed $50 million per year. This is a tremendous bill to pay, and the Board is currently examining many financing options, none of which appear attractive and most of which involve a special Tax District of one kind or another.

Years ago the County committed to pledging its annual gas tax revenue to help pay for Metro, should Metro be approved. The approximately $9 million per year of gas tax revenue has historically been used for road construction. Obviously, if road construction is to continue, a new source of revenue must be found.

The Lesser Report, funded by the County, concluded that the economic development associated with the Metro stations would generate more tax revenue over a 30-year period than what was required to provide County services to that new development. However, the Lesser Report did not consider the capital costs or the annual subsidy mentioned above.

When those costs were factored into the equation, as the County staff did in a separate analysis, the net result is that it takes approximately 25 years before the presence of Metro in Loudoun shows a net fiscal positive for the County. This assumes that the construction and operating costs remain as currently projected, which is unlikely.

Whereas the Lesser Report assumed that the new development near the Metro stations would be mostly a reallocation of development that would normally occur elsewhere in the County, Dr. Stephen Fuller’s analysis assumes that Metro will generate significant new development that would be over and above what would normally occur elsewhere in the County. Thus Fuller’s analysis predicts a significantly larger fiscal positive for the County if Metro is approved.

Fuller’s analysis, however, must be viewed with caution. Dr. Fuller is an excellent source of historical economic data, but his track record on predicting economic activity is spotty at best. His credibility has been damaged in the past by producing analyses that tended to support the view of his clients. As he said in an April 15, 2011, interview with Lydia DePillis on another subject:

“If I were asked to make a case for it, I could make a really strong case for it, and if I were asked to make a strong case against it, I could make a really strong case against it. You do what you are asked to do, and you don’t answer other questions….” (“The Economics of Stephen Fuller”, Washington City Paper, April 15, 2011 )

What are the Benefits of Metro?

There are two kinds of benefit to consider: benefits to the public at large and benefits to private land owners, developers, and speculators.

The most obvious benefit to the public is that Metro will provide an alternative mode of transportation to the job centers in Washington and, if they are reasonably close to the line, in Fairfax and Arlington as well. Since the majority of Loudoun’s workforce commutes eastward, any alternative to the daily congestion on Route 7 and 50, or the ever increasing tolls on the Greenway is a benefit.

Unfortunately, there is a downside that must also be considered. The overall funding scheme for Metro calls for the majority of the construction costs to be borne by tolls on the Dulles Toll Road. The combination of toll increases to meet the debt payment plus the number of commuters using Metro instead of driving is predicted to reduce the vehicle traffic on the Toll Road by 30 percent (from 107,000 per day to 75,000). While this may reduce the congestion on the Toll Road, it also causes an upward pressure on the tolls since fewer drivers will be generating the debt service revenue.

Another benefit is that the net fiscal positive generated by the presence of Metro will help reduce homeowners’ tax bills. Eventually (in 25 years or so), Metro will increase the commercial tax base near the stations sufficiently to produce a net fiscal positive to the County. Will Loudoun taxpayers have the patience to wait 25 years (more or less) while paying up to $50 million per year for Metro? How many current residents will still be living here in 25 years in order to reap that tax benefit?

Of course, this assumes that a future Board does not decide to add stations westward – the construction of which would be financed entirely by the County less any funds extended by the State and Federal governments.

The Lesser Report claims that Metro will not increase development pressures in western Loudoun, a conclusion that is highly debatable, and one with which I would strongly disagree. The construction of the Dulles Toll Road and the Greenway accompanied by the widening of Route 7 from two lanes to four lanes between Leesburg and Round Hill opened up western Loudoun to tremendous development pressures over the past 20 years. In my view, Metro will only add to those pressures, since it will make it easier to live in western Loudoun and commute to the east. Certainly, that was the experience in Fairfax County with the extension of the Orange line to Vienna.

Most of the planned development in the immediate vicinity of the two Loudoun stations has already been approved by the County. Thus, many individual landowners and development companies have a strong vested interest in the decision. There are hundreds of millions of dollars to be made, possibly even a billion or so. There are also hundreds of millions to be lost if the Board’s decision is to opt out. If Metro is approved, there will be additional pressure and opportunities for more dense development in the general area beyond the immediate vicinity of the station. As we have seen again and again in Loudoun County, a Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance are only as permanent as the five votes on the Board to defend them.

I do not know how this Metro decision is going to turn out. There are many factions that supported the current Board members during last fall’s election: Tea Partiers who oppose any tax increase for Metro, the business community as represented by the Chamber of Commerce, various developers (Comstock and Kincora come immediately to mind), individuals and corporations who stand to make many millions on Metro construction contracts, and, finally, homeowners, some of whom favor Metro and others who oppose it for various reasons. No matter what the Board decides, many supporters will be disappointed and angered.

In the last election many people and corporations who stand to profit from the Metro decision contributed large sums of money to the campaigns of most of the current members of the Board of Supervisors ([go to www.jimburton.org] to see the campaign finance reports prepared by Lina). In the end, given all the various factions and their competing interests, the role of money may be the deciding factor in this decision, especially now that the labor issue has been removed from the decision.

My suspicion is that the Board will approve Metro: as the old adage says, money talks.

Comment on this article


By commenting, you agree to abide by our Terms of Service.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Columns

2016 in the Books

noerpel_new

(Presented to the Board of Supervisors February, 2017) “The last three years have demonstrated abundantly clearly that there is no change in the long-term trends since 1998. A prediction from 1997 merely continuing the linear trends would significantly under-predict the …

A Rainy Romance

moore-sobelnewmug

By Samuel Moore-Sobel “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” – a simple phrase uttered in an acclaimed musical that helped birth a star. The movie’s Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) catches his attention so completely that Don Lockwood (Gene …

Concerned Parents

drmikenewpic

By Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D. Dr. Mike, Our 15-year-old son is out of control and we don’t know what to do anymore. He smokes pot and drinks, disobeys us left and right, is truant from school often, comes home whenever he …

It’s Time To Review Your Estate Planning Basics

Smith0035

Beginners and billionaires alike should refresh their knowledge of these basic estate planning terms and concepts. The word “estate” tends to conjure up images of billionaires and aristocrats, but estate planning is not just for the wealthy. It’s widely believed …

Just Like Nothing (Else) on Earth: George Marshall Center

George Marshall Center

I used to wonder why – after an assignment to visit the interior of this place, I’d return feeling exhausted – both mentally and physically worn out – as if I’d been carrying an extra couple hundred pounds or so …

Meeting the “Other America”

blueridge2

By Nicholas Reid Ever since the presidential election last November, there has been a lot of talk about the “two Americas”: coastal and continental America. The many differences between these two sections of the United States are numerous and oftentimes …

The Trump Effect

noerpel_new

“Corals are marine magicians. As colonies of the tiny ocean organisms grow, they transform the calcium that circulates in seawater into enormous limestone reefs. These reefs—which can extend for more than 1,000 miles and provide homes for crabs, eels, sea …

Student News

Congratulations, Class of 2016

6 Jul 2016

grads_woodgrove

Woodgrove High School’s Class Of 2016 Graduation – By Amanda Clark On June 16, Woodgrove’s Class of 2016 was the 5th graduating class to walk the stage and accept their diploma. The ceremony was filled with anticipation as the chorus, …

(Be the first to comment)

Buckland Earns Degree In Medicine

6 Jul 2016

buckland

Molly Buckland, D.O., graduated from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine with a degree of Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine on May 28. While at WVSOM, Dr. Buckland received the Dr. Roland P. Sharp President’s Award and the James R. …

(Be the first to comment)

Adams Promoted To Lieutenant

6 Jul 2016

adamspromoted

Lt. James Adams, from Sterling and a Potomac Falls Halls Graduate, earned the promotion to the rank of Lieutenant. Adams is a Navy Week and Executive Outreach Planner for the Navy Office of Community Outreach in Millington, Tennessee. U.S. Navy …

(Be the first to comment)

Calendar

February 2017
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
January 30, 2017 January 31, 2017 February 1, 2017 February 2, 2017

Chair Yoga

Yoga for Men

February 3, 2017 February 4, 2017

CHINESE NEW YEAR EVENT

GALLERY COFFEEHOUSE: Readers Theater

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

February 5, 2017
February 6, 2017 February 7, 2017 February 8, 2017 February 9, 2017

Chair Yoga

Yoga for Men

February 10, 2017 February 11, 2017

Valentine's Pizza & Champagne

Sweetheart’s Soirée- A Night of Dinner & Dancing

February 12, 2017

Candlelight Concert Fundraiser

GALLERY COFFEEHOUSE: Writers’ Night Out

February 13, 2017 February 14, 2017 February 15, 2017

Bob Brown Puppets: Dragon Feathers

February 16, 2017 February 17, 2017

ARTSPOWER: RAINBOW FISH

February 18, 2017

Wine & Chili Weekend

BALLET THEATRE OF ASHBURN AND EDGE PERFORMANCE COMPANY: MALONE BENEFIT CONCERT

Comedy Night feat. Tyrone Davis

February 19, 2017
February 20, 2017 February 21, 2017 February 22, 2017 February 23, 2017 February 24, 2017

February Fourth Friday

February 25, 2017

Samedi Gras Celebration

February 26, 2017
February 27, 2017 February 28, 2017 March 1, 2017 March 2, 2017 March 3, 2017

LAST HAM STANDING COMEDY IMPROV

March 4, 2017

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

March 5, 2017
Current Print Issue:
Sign up for our email newsletter:

Recent Comments

Steady and NoBull

Lifestyle

Hillsboro Plans Mardi Gras Celebration on February 25

20 Feb 2017

nothing else main in hillsboro grey

Mardi Gras celebration will be held in Hillsboro on Saturday, February 25 as a benefit for the Old Stone Schoolhouse. The event will begin at 7:30 p.m. Hurricanes and New Orleans drinks, as well as Old 690 beer and local wines will be served in the Garden District Bar. The Cajun Cafe will feature New Orleans cuisine, including King Cakes. …

(Be the first to comment)

Four Young Historians Discuss Civil War Turning Points

2 Feb 2017

younghistorians

The Mosby Heritage Area Association will hold a talk featuring a panel of four young historians who will discuss turning points in the Civil War. The talk will be held at Unison Methodist Church, 21148 Unison Road, Middleburg, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 12. Tickets will be sold at the door or online at www.mosbyheritagearea.org/events for $15 …

(Be the first to comment)

Love In All of Its Forms … Ain’t It Grand

2 Feb 2017

valentinesday

Americans exchange hundreds of millions of cards on Valentine’s Day, February 14. The National Retail Federation estimates that we will spend some $20 billion to mark the day and demonstrate to friends and family how much we love them – on what marketers call “Love’s Holiday.” Love. It’s a big deal.

(Be the first to comment)

Editorial

Priscilla Nabs Plum Planning Commission Post

Loudoun County Seal Color

Appointment Shocks Many On January 3 Supervisor Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge) nominated Tom Priscilla for the Loudoun County Planning Commission to represent the Blue Ridge District. Priscilla was …

Op-ed

Opinion: Terrorism, Debt, and China: Oh My!

blueridge2.jpg

– By Nick Reid world can be a very dangerous place sometimes, especially for a nation state such as the United States. Although danger is always present, the number and …

Metro Money Mess Pushing West

blueridge2.jpg

– By Delegate Dave LaRock (R-33rd) A local paper recently quoted Loudoun Board Chair Phyllis Randall as saying that in her observation “some of the concerns raised by the people …

Dear Editor

Why Williams Gap Road Should Not Be Paved

blueridge2

Today, most residents of Loudoun County know nothing about Williams Gap, even those living on Williams Gap Road (Route 711). Knowing who “Williams” was, why a gap in the Blue …

Vote No To the Minor Special Exception

catesbyproposal

We are a group of Loudoun County citizens who will be adversely affected if the board grants a special exception for the Catesby Farm property at your upcoming meeting. You …

View From the Ridge

Broken Promises, Hidden by a Six-Foot Berm

blueridge2

By Andrea Gaines On August 9, 1825 at the age of 69, French military officer the Marquis de Lafayette was honored in Leesburg by former President James Monroe. The French-born …

Around Virginia

Walbridge To Run for State Delegate in the 33rd District

Tia walbridge

Tia Walbridge announces her run for the District 33 seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. Walbridge is a wife and mother of two daughters and an active member of the Round Hill community. “Like many people in our district, my family has found its prosperity in a Virginia-based small …

(Be the first to comment)

Office Building on Capitol Square To Be Named After Civil Rights Pioneer Barbara Johns

image002

Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that the newly renovated state building located at 202 N. 9th Street on Capitol Square in Richmond (currently known as the 9th Street Office Building) will bear the name of civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns. The building, which reopened last year, houses the Virginia Attorney General’s …

(Be the first to comment)

Rep. Comstock’s Key Top Priority Legislation Initiatives

barbaracomstock

Signed into Law in Her First Term Rep. Barbara Comstock, who serves the 10th congressional district in Virginia, recently reviewed the achievements of her first term in office, identifying 17 legislative initiatives that she supported that were adopted. She said: “My staff and I have met with stakeholders, local elected …

(Be the first to comment)

Sports

Woodgrove Gymnasts Advance To States

15 Feb 2017

gymnastics Snare

Two Woodgrove High School gymnasts have qualified to advance to the Virginia State Championships Saturday, February 18, at Patriot High School in Nokesville. Sophomore River Stone placed fourth in the all-around competition at the 1A-5A North Regional Gymnastics Championships at Park View High School on Wednesday, February 8, which earns …

(Be the first to comment)

Woodgrove Gymnastics Team Places First

1 Feb 2017

woodgrove

The Woodgrove High School Gymnastics team for placed first at their home meet. The team competed against squads from Loudoun Valley, Park View and Riverside high schools. Seniors Kaycee Delitta and Sarah Snare were honored at the event for their contributions to the team. The Wolverines excelled in individual competition …

(Be the first to comment)

Archives

  • +2017
  • +2016
  • +2015
  • +2014
  • +2013
  • +2012
  • +2011
  • +2010
  • +2009