Tuesday, January 29, 2008

No Leadership from Frank Wolf, How about from Marc Fisher?

Since we're obviously getting no leadership from "leaders" like Frank Wolf on the Metro to Dulles debacle, how about leadership from Washington Post columnists? For instance, Marc Fisher totally gets it (my comments follow in italics):
So, if the feds really do stop the flow of dollars to the Dig to Dulles, what next? What can the state do?

* A pause of a year or two might be good for the project's future -- if the Democrats regain the presidency. Simpson is no enemy of mass transit: He just approved more than a billion bucks for New York City's Second Avenue subway project, an undertaking every bit as massive as Metro's Dulles extension. But a transit-friendly Democrat in the White House probably would be more aggressive about making sure Metro finds a path to a new rail line.
At this point, taking a year or two "pause" in order to get this crucial $5 billion infrastructure right for Virginia is definitely a good idea. Don't panic, don't rush this thing, and don't do it wrong in the haste to do anything!
* Advocates for bus rapid transit will jump to the fore, and there might even be a resurgence of interest in light rail. Both modes are vastly cheaper than heavy rail, and both have avid fans in the transportation biz.
Why NOT look at all alternatives to heavy rail? What's the goal here, anyway? Is it to get people to and from the airport most efficiently? At the lowest cost? With "smart growth" benefits along the way? Or is it to increase property values for major land owners in the corridor? Hopefully, it's not the latter option; if not, we should be considering Metro alongside other possibilities to move comparable numbers of people in comfort, convenience, and cost-effectiveness to and from Dulles Airport.
* Ditch Bechtel. The company that last week agreed to shell out $352 million to settle claims against its botched work on Boston's Big Dig tunnel project is also one of the two big companies that make up Dulles Transit Partners, which got the contract to design and build the rail line. The feds don't mention Bechtel in their letter, but they express deep concern about likely cost overruns and delays, an echo of the horrific experience in Massachusetts.
I've also addressed this issue ad nauseum. Bechtel's a disaster, but even worse is the whole idea of "no-bid" contracts. Open this thing up, and let's get the best deal for the taxpayers -- us, in other words!
* Bag the airports authority. The feds did get specific about their doubts that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which the state chose to run the Dulles rail construction process, has the experience needed to control the costs and schedule of such a complex project.
Dumping the airports authority (MWAA) is a no-brainer, given the total conflict of interest there (MWAA will directly benefit from construction of a rail line to Dulles Airport, but could care less how much taxpayers fork over for it, how it affects development in Tysons Corner, etc.). Also, Marc Fisher makes a good point - what on earth does an AIRPORT AUTHORITY know about running a RAILROAD?!? In sum, it's high time to get MWAA out of the picture here.
* Give Metro the dedicated funding stream it desperately needs. Metro has no steady source of money for capital projects and operational costs. "Metro -- unlike all other major systems -- remains uniquely dependent on annual operating subsidies from its member jurisdictions as well as revenue it generates internally from passenger fares, advertising and parking," the Brookings Institution's Robert Puentes writes.
I've addressed the issue of fixing Metro first BEFORE proceeding with any extensions to the system. As I wrote Saturday, "It almost seems to go without saying that "doing it right" should involve ensuring that the new "Silver Line" meshes with the existing Metro system." Now that we have a brief "cooling off" period, let's take the time to address this issue. Let's also get a Representative who will listen to their constituents and get the best value for our money. Needless to say, that would be Judy Feder, not the current Congressman from the 10th CD.

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