Despite the claims of former Virginia governor Gerald L. Baliles ["A Twin Win for Commuters," Close to Home, Sept. 4], leasing the Dulles Toll Road for 50 years to private interests is a bad idea. Developer-entrepreneurs have proposed paying the commonwealth $1 billion, but have not yet said in public if the money will be paid up-front or over time. Commuters, though, were promised long ago that tolls would be removed once the Dulles Toll Road was paid for, which won't ever happen if a private investor operates the road.
The group that Baliles represents is offering bake sale prices, not the replacement value of the toll road. The Dulles Toll Road has nearly three times the transactions of the private Dulles Greenway, which recently sold to an Australian firm for just $375 million less than what the Baliles group is offering for the toll road. Further, the Baliles group's offer to keep tolls at present levels for five years is a political decision, not a business one. All bets on toll increases would be off after 2010.
The Virginia Transportation Board, which recently raised rates on the Dulles Toll Road to subsidize Metrorail to Tysons Corner, acknowledges that to recoup $1 billion over 50 years, tolls would have to double. That would be unfair to commuters, particularly when 65 percent of the transactions involve Reston and Herndon residents moving from one exit to the next and when all the money will go into just one rail project.
Yet from that same toll stream, Virginia could issue revenue bonds and raise money for regional improvements, or, correspondingly, for the same list of improvements planned by the Baliles group with a lot smaller increase in tolls.
The Baliles group, called the Dulles Corridor Mobility Initiative, has touted the 19 improvements it will make to the toll road, but not one of these improvements appears likely to do much to alleviate the oppressive congestion in the Dulles Corridor, especially on north-south roads such as Route 28 and the Fairfax County Parkway. The group is not planning to add lanes to the toll road but merely upgrade interchanges, which should cost no more than $150 million.
A big reason that privatization of the Dulles Toll Road is a bad idea is that the $1 billion being promised is all going to Dulles rail -- a project that had to have efficiency exemptions liberalized by Congress to qualify for federal funding. So taxpayers probably will be paying more and getting less.
Northern Virginia has many other transportation needs, such as Virginia Railway Express to Haymarket, which would take lots of cars off Interstate 66; that project's estimated cost is $123 million. Additional grade separations on Route 28, construction of the tri-county parkway on land already set aside for it and other projects may have to be shelved because the public once again will be footing the bill for developers who want rail service to Dulles.
Unlike many conservatives, I like rail. But I don't like the idea of private investors leveraging public money to pay for development that they will not finance and then pretending they are doing it all for the people.
The Dulles road-for-rail giveaway needs to be examined. Metro's escalating maintenance costs and other gilded expenses documented by The Post should be giving elected officials pause. Instead, many say that the debate is over and they want to plunge ahead. The real debate will begin only if the actual replacement value of the Dulles Toll Road and other hidden expenses are revealed to the public.
I have asked the Virginia General Assembly's Joint Legislative Review and Audit Commission to analyze how the state should calculate the current replacement costs of the Dulles Toll Road. No state-owned facility should be mortgaged because Metro myopia has afflicted politicians and their campaign donors.
-- Bob Marshall
is a Republican delegate to the Virginia
House representing Manassas.