Dip into this debate and you’ll quickly confront assertions that project labor agreements will add 10 to 15 percent to the cost of Silver Line construction. It’s pure malarkey. All firms doing work on a project with federal money have to pay at least the same minimum wages. In Phase 1, the union firms have wound up paying 3 percent above that minimum. Non-union subcontractors also paid 3 percent above the minimum. In other words, no difference.
What’s so silly about this controversy is that there are only a dozen firms that are big and experienced enough to manage a transit project of this size and complexity, and all of them are giant national and international firms that are either union shops or have long since learned to operate in both union and nonunion environments. The opportunity for local contractors is to bid on subcontracts that are explicitly not required to sign on to project labor agreements. And yet in Phase 1, 80 percent of the nonunion subs have done so voluntarily.
So what are we arguing about here? Politics. Ideology. Certainly nothing that is worth risking the most important economic development project in the region.
At $600 million for the two stations within Loudoun’s borders, it’s also the most important economic development project for county. Robert Charles Lesser & Co., a consulting firm, recently updated an earlier study for the county estimating the fiscal impact of the Metro extension on the county’s finances. It concluded that the project would add about $425,000 a year in net revenue, largely because of increased development and property values within walking distance of the two Loudoun stations.
That number seemed awfully low, so I dug into the fine print and found that it was based on an assumption that the arrival of Metro would have no impact on property values or housing construction beyond a half-mile radius of the two stations. The authors cite a number of mostly academic studies that have been done on the subject. But does that make sense?
Do you think that, given the commuting nightmare that is the Dulles Toll Road or I-66, people living a mile or two from one of the Loudoun Metro stations might want to arrange a ride to and from the station each day, or drive a car and park it in one of the adjacent garages? Tens of thousands of people, in fact, do it every day at the Franconia, Vienna, Shady Grove and New Carrollton stations — so many, in fact, that some of these garages fill up by 7:45 a.m. And — what do you know? – about half of those parkers live within a three-mile radius of the station. Indeed, that perhaps explains why there are plans to build parking garages at both Loudoun stations, with combined parking for 5,000 cars.