Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Major Wolf Contributor's Major Distortions on Metro to Dulles

I was looking through the FEC donor information for Frank Wolf, and the name "Gary Nakamoto" caught my eye. On November 27, 2007, Mr. Nakamoto -- the CEO of Base Technologies, a "McLean-based provider of information technology services," and Chairman of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce -- gave the Frank Wolf campaign $2,300. Nothing wrong with that, but I find it interesting that Mr. Nakamoto also is busy making the "common sense," "business friendly" case for building the rail-to-Dulles project, one of Frank Wolf's top priorities. And, of course, there's nothing wrong with extending Metro to Dulles Airport. Except, as I explained the other day, there are a number of flaws in Mr. Nakamoto's argument:
1. Nakamoto appears to dismiss all objections, questions, or concerns about the project (no-bid contract to Bechtel, problems with MWAA and the rest of the Metro system, cost, secrecy, lack of "smart growth" benefits in Tysons with an "aerial alignment," etc., etc.) as "all that noise." Nice rhetorical turn of phrase, setting himself up as the only one who can cut through the noise and get to the "common sense" truth, but brushing real problems under the rug doesn't really make them go away. Nice try, though!

2. Nakamoto argues that "The rail extension is needed now, and there is a strong regional business case to support it." Is the rail extension really "needed now?" Well, Nakomoto himself says that this has been a "40-year effort to bring rail to Tysons and Dulles." Is it any more "needed now" than it was in 1968, 1978, 1988, or 1998? I'm not sure about that. Also, is there a "strong regional business case to support" rail to Dulles? That's questionable; obviously, the landowners whose property values will skyrocket if rail goes in will be happy. But will Metro to Dulles really cause a boom in business in NOVA, more than the boom we've been seeing without rail to Dulles? I'm not convinced, but I'd love to see Nakomoto's "strong regional business case" rather than just take his word for it.

3. Nakomoto argues that people who fill the 400,000 jobs of the next 20 years "will need to get around in something other than a car." Well, that may be true, but the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project - the big boosters of the project -- only estimate ridership at 91,200 daily trips by 2025, a lot less than the 400,000 people who "will need to get around in something other than a car." That leaves about 300,000 more people still hopping in the car, not taking Metro. Doesn't sound like a solution to me.

4. Possibly the worst argument by Nakomoto is this: "Just as Metrorail moves workers into downtown Washington, we need that mass transit option in the Dulles corridor." Huh? Comparing a system which operates to shuttle commuters from high-density areas into a dense, central business core is the same as running a rail line up median strips of a far-less-densely-populated area to an airport located 25 miles west of the Washington, DC central business district? That's not "common sense" in my book!

5. This is just silly: "If this project can't move forward, the real losers will be people across the region..." No, actually, the correct statement here is this: "If this project moves forward as it is currently configured, the real losers will be the people across the region..." Unless, that is, they like Big Dig Bechtel building a poorly designed, poorly-thought-out project that, in 20 years, people will be kicking themselves about and asking, "what WERE we thinking?!?"

6. This is beyond silly: "Nearly 25 million passengers arrive at the airport every year, and that number is expected to climb to more than 50 million in the future. Will all of these travelers be forced into cabs? How big will the parking garages need to be?" Riiiight....there's no other option than building THIS particular project, right now, as it's currently figured, or 25 million more people per year will be forced to take cabs. There are no other options, of course, to the currently configured rail-to-Dulles project. It's either this or nothing. Uh huh. And this is what passes for "common sense" in the NOVA business community? Oh boy.

7. This is silly as well: "extending Metro through Tysons and to Dulles will be expensive, but doesn't common sense tell us that if we delay it will only become more so." Actually, doing this project right -- open it up to competitive bidding, for starters -- could dramatically REDUCE the cost. And building a tunnel in Tysons could have tremendous long-term economic benefits, both for the system itself (in terms of maintenance, repairs, etc.), but also for the "smart growth" development prospects of the NOVA region. Now THAT is "common sense."

8. There's a lot more, but I'll end with the following assertion by Mr. Nakamoto: "This project meets every element of the FTA mission statement." Sorry, it doesn't. Perhaps Mr. Nakomoto missed the FTA's rejection letter, which stated that the "current Project's technical, financial, and institutional risks and uncertainties are unprecedented for a candidate New Starts project." Not exactly a ringing endorsement, using "common sense" or any other form of reasoning.

Anyway, the bottom line is that a major Frank Wolf contributor is writing highly misleading op-eds in the Washington Post regarding the Metro to Dulles project. Personally, I find that interesting, if nothing else.

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