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Letter: Why I Am Voting Against the Budget

Where is the money for Silver Line Phase 2?

Since I last wrote about the budget several days ago, we have reached agreement with the House over the General Fund part of the budget. As a Senate negotiator, I am proud of the many improvements we made over the introduced budget.

After years of cutbacks, we will have more funding for Northern Virginia's public schools and Virginia's colleges and universities. Mental health services for adolescents are being increased. Medicaid services our elderly, sick, and disabled neighbors will be improved. For the first time in five years, our state employees will have a pay raise. See here for a summary of the proposed budget.

So why am I voting against the budget I worked so hard to improve? Because no funding is included for Phase 2 of Rail to Dulles.

Sen. Herring and I were able to get $300 million in bond authorization for the project included in the adopted Senate budget. The $300 million was to be in addition to the $150 million that the state committed last fall. Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton suggested that approach and we agreed. We worked in good faith to provide relief for commuters on the Dulles Toll Road.

After discussing $200 million and $175 million in additional funding for Phase 2 with key stakeholders and implying support for those numbers, the Administration totally reneged. Now they claim they are unable to provide a single dime in assistance for the project. And they are claiming dire --- and untrue --- consequences if we do not immediately pass a budget.

When I ran for reelection last fall, I promised to do everything possible to keep toll increases on the Dulles Toll Road to a minimum by increasing state support. Currently, the tolls are $2.25 each way. Without additional contributions, they will climb to $4.50 each way in less than two years and $6.75 in about six years.

The Commonwealth's contribution to the $5.7 billion project has been paltry, even though everyone knows the state will reap a bonanza from development and business growth along the Dulles Corridor. The state gave only $275 million to the first phase and has committed a mere $150 million (with many strings attached) to the second phase.

Payments by toll-payers, local governments, the federal government, and local businesses all dwarf the state contribution.The fact that Rail to Dulles is a project of local, regional, state, and national importance makes the state's position untenable. In fact, this month's Governing magazine listed it No. 1 in importance in the nation.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the state, the McDonnell administration is being most generous to questionable projects. Almost $400 million is being funneled to a Charlottesville by-pass that is opposed by local officials. In addition, almost $500 million has been pledged to Route 460 improvements. That project is a low priority in the Tidewater region and seems to have no support, except for the Governor's. If the Administration now refuses to increase the debt authorization (which was their suggestion in the first place), they can transfer funds from one or both of those low priority projects.

As I fight for fairness in tolls here at home, in Hampton Roads a similar struggle is raging. Residents there are being asked to pay escalating tolls for bridge and tunnel improvements. Existing facilities are being tolled to pay for other, as yet unbuilt, facilities. A private consortium is being promised a reported 13.5 percent return on investment for the projects. In that region, people are calling Governor McDonnell by the nickname "Governor McTollBooth."

The Senate Democrats are standing by the people of Northern Virginia and Tidewater. At this time we have the votes to reject the conference report until the needs of these two regions are met. The vote will be on Tuesday and will be very close. I am holding my breath, crossing my fingers, and voting "no" on the budget until commuters get needed toll relief from the state.ere 

Here is a summary of the proposed budget conference report. To sign a petition asking the Governor to reject sky-high tolls click here.

 State Sen. Janet Howell (D-Reston)

George Taplin April 18, 2012 at 05:04 PM
". . . even though everyone knows the state will reap a bonanza . . . " That is why nobody listens to Howell downstate. There are no studies or even a sample of citizen or business input to back up this statement. When a politician says: "Everyone knows", it is safe to say: "Nobody knows."
Jonathan Erickson April 18, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Even if we opt out Loudoun is on the hook for 10, 11 million for Dulles maintenance? Rail cars at 4 mill were 2.6 until someone told MWAA that Loudoun is the richest county in the U.S.A. Where is the money for railcar commission track coming from? Maryland does not want to pay it so there is another 60 million. Don't forget unless a private owner steps up to build the parking structures the county will be on the hook for that 135 million dollars also.
Bob Bruhns April 18, 2012 at 11:34 PM
Check out what Loudoun County's consultants said. www.loudoun.gov/DocumentCenter/Home/View/52195 From this document: "RCLCO has not found any credible evidence to indicate that the extension of rail transit brings new development to an entire region." "...the closer to transit a property is, the greater the value increase, and most of the value increases are likely to occur within a ½ mile walking distance of the station entrance." So I ask: why is there no rail tax district in Loudoun County? Today's Virginia budget vote means that Virginia isn't going to be handing any extra $300 million to the rail boondoggle. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: it's time to fix the design at the Dulles airport rail station (it should NOT be a loop, it should be a dead-end spur mostly on-ground), and it is time to get the cost of Dulles Rail Phase II down to earth!
Terry Maynard April 19, 2012 at 03:01 PM
While I appreciate Sen. Howell's failed attempt to get further state aid for Metrorail at the very last possible minute, we all--especially the Dulles Toll Road users--would have been far better off if she had taken the initiative to identify & line up reasonable financing for the Silver Line years ago BEFORE the horrendous current deal was consummated under then-Chairman Gerry Connolly's Board of Supervisors. Now toll road users will be paying over half the the $6 billion cost of the line and, yes, tolls will go to $17 for each full-length trip despite here campaign pledges to the contrary. In fact, they are forecast to go to $18.75--and they will probably go higher. Where were you then when you were needed? Why are you posturing now?
Ann H Csonka April 20, 2012 at 05:55 AM
In Virginia -- it isn't just about the Silver Line. Gov. McDonnell's administration seems inclined to TALK about needing to diversify transportation choices, expand rail more and roads less -- but what happens? For example, the shift to the jumbo vessels that will traverse the Panamax in 2014-15 is helping drive the state's plan to build the $1.5 billion to $2 billion U.S. 460 toll road from Petersburg to Suffolk through largely undeveloped Southside Virginia, and could fuel development around the inland Port of Richmond. What’s wrong with that? It spreads the sprawl and increases driving miles and congestion. But Virginia is not even considering the two rail lines that serve the Port of Richmond -- let alone providing funds for that much more efficient means of moving goods from the port inland...by RAIL. So state money for the Silver Line and other rail goes to roads instead. Not new. Just sad.

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