Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Dulles Rail in the News

Among the media stories about Dulles Rail is a commentary in yesterday's Washington Times by Gabriel Roth, a World Bank transportation economist for more than 20 years, and a research fellow at the Independent Institute, Oakland, Calif., and editor of "Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship and the Future of Roads."

The writer says that "Rep. Frank Wolf, Virginia Republican and a leading advocate of the so-called Dulles Connector, now urges Virginia state authorities to 'dispatch a team of national transportation experts to rework the proposal ... to address major federal concerns that threaten to torpedo the project.' The project has come too far and is far too important to allow it to collapse at the eleventh hour," he told U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters in a letter.

Roth says, "One does not have to be a national transportation expert to offer a simple solution to this problem, a solution that would provide area residents the needed service at about a third of the cost: Instead of building a costly new rail line, create a bus corridor, or 'Busway,' in the median of the existing Dulles Airport Access Road, with spurs to Tyson's Corner, Reston and Herndon."

He goes on to add that the maximum traffic forecast for the Dulles rail connector is less than 9,000 passengers per hour. These could be carried in comfort in 200 buses with 45 seats each or 600 minibuses with 15 seats each, or some combination thereof.

"An unimpeded highway lane can carry 1,000 buses (or 2,000 cars) an hour, so a busway would have plenty of spare capacity at all times. If desired, this excess capacity could be used to accommodate other high-occupancy vehicles, as is already being done on the Shirley Highway. Alternatively, this capacity could accommodate toll-paying vehicles, with tolls collected electronically and set at levels to ensure free traffic flow at all times. Such lanes have been operating successfully since 1995 on State Route 91 east of Los Angeles, and are expected to be added by 2013 to Virginia segments of the Washington Beltway."

Meanwhile, yesterday's Fairfax Times says that one small paragraph in a current version of the proposed state budget could force Virginia to effectively reset the floundering Dulles rail project.

"An amendment to the proposed House of Delegates 2008 budget, which passed the House Appropriations Committee Sunday, directs Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer to "resolicit competitive proposals" for the rail project.

According to amendment author Del. Joe May (R-Loudoun), reworking the stalled project would get it moving again. "What I was trying to do here was just get us started again. ... We seem to have bogged down; we're just exchanging letters," May said.

"It's my belief that we are going to have to change our approach. ... I'm trying to get the state to respond to the FTA objections," May said.

Homer and other sources close to the process say that the state is working with the FTA to come up with a solution without rebidding the project. "There's a good bit of dialog with the FTA going on right now," Homer said.

Today's Washington Examiner also reports on the provision in the state's budget bill.

"The measure aims to restructure the 23-mile project?s first phase in order to secure a key $900 million infusion of federal funds, which the Federal Transit Administration is unlikely to approve unless drastic changes are made.

?The project is dead,? said Del. Dave Albo, R-Springfield, who drafted the language with Del. Joe May, R-Leesburg. ?It?s gone, and whoever thinks they?re going to save this thing by submitting the same plan is living in a fantasy world.?

The Examiner says that if successful, the provision would almost certainly scrap the existing public-private partnership with Bechtel Infrastructure and Washington Group International in favor of a new round of bidding. It could also split the contract into smaller component parts in the hopes of securing a smaller price tag, and make other engineering and management changes.

Meanwhile, an editorial Friday, the Sun Gazette says Gov. Kaine has played it "just about right" in his recent dealings with the federal government over the Tysons-Dulles rail line.

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