Loudoun County Never Bargained on This

Loudoun County doesn’t even have service on the Metro Silver Line yet, but potential liabilities are escalating beyond levels county officials ever imagined when they signed up to participate.

Metro’s capital needs and operating deficits are growing as the transit system grapples with a multibillion-dollar maintenance backlog, union featherbedding, and declining ridership.

The system’s operating shortfall of nearly $300 million by fiscal 2018 and could double by 2019, said Jim Corcoran, a Virginia representative to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) board. “If things don’t change, it will be impossible. … We’re at $300 million this year … but next year it’s going to be $500-$600 million.”

WMATA hopes to close the gap through some combination of help from the federal government, the states of Virginia and Maryland, Washington, D.C., and local governments served by the commuter rail system. There is nothing close to a consensus on how to apportion the costs. Many, including Corcoran, said that changes to the regional compact between Virginia, Maryland and D.C., may be necessary to reach a financial agreement.

Writes the  Loudoun Times-Mirror:

According to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s latest projections from October, Loudoun will start to pay Metro around $12 million in fiscal 2019 in annual operating and capital costs. The next year, the number is slated to jump to $50.8 million, then to $58.4 million in 2024 and as high as $82.1 million in 2025.

Phase 2 of the Silver Line, which is still under construction, is scheduled to go into service in Loudoun in 2020. How much more the county will have to pay as its share of keeping the rail system solvent is not known, but it is sure to measure in the millions of dollars yearly.

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13 responses to “Loudoun County Never Bargained on This

  1. As upsetting as it was to see Virginia Beach shoot down light rail, this article is a stark reminder of some of the reasons why.
    I’m not sure of the solution(s) here, beyond maximizing transparency in WMATA’s doings, to get real numbers behind what is happening.
    Metro is a necessity, but that doesn’t give it carte blanche to piss away tax money and demand more because they are a necessity.
    Of the many “solutions” proposed, some going into effect in the near future will raise fares. While I’m not entirely against that, considering the services that have been limited/cut in the short year and a half I’ve lived here, I’m very tentative to accept the price hike.
    Pay more for less is the toxic capitalist way, not how we should be running public services/our infrastructure.
    To be clear, most capitalism is not toxic; there’s just a certain level on one end of the pendulum that gives the rest of capitalism a bad name.

  2. I just disagree with the whole tenor of the narrative.

    First – there is no arguing that METRO is important to the region – as such service is to most urbanized areas in the world that also have the service.

    Second – we simply do not know if it is more expensive that other services or not. If it IS more expensive that other services in the country or world – then there certainly should be changes but to cast it as more costly than it ought to be and imply it’s due to “wasteful” practices and “union featherbedding” without any real evidence is just more of what I call – damming the GOvt and the services it provides – without acknowledging the need for the service or what the service SHOULD cost or what the reforms or alternatives should be.

    I don’t doubt for a minute that METRO has it’s share of “warts” but my view is that METRO is in the state it is because it’s capital and maintenance NEEDS have been ignored and underfunded and when you underfund those things – just like highway bridges or even highways – the problems become even more expensive to fix…

    What we should be doing is not playing games with words about whether or not METRO is a needed service. No one in their right mind is going to make that claim and call for it to be shut down because it is not providing an important benefit to the region – so we should not be playing those word games in the first place.

    What WOULD BE – fair – would be to compare and contrast it to other systems – in the country in the world – to see if it is meeting some level of a benchmark or standard.

    The ironic thing is that dense settlement patterns – that Jim B says he favors can’t really function without this kind of service. Places that don’t have it are transportation and economic quagmires… 3rd world usually.

    All the economically powerful countries and cities in the world have – world class transit systems… that move people and goods.

    One would presume that the cost-benefit – the ROI is positive or else we’d see one or more of those systems shut down – because they are not cost-effective and no I won’t buy the idea that every single one of them is run by a bunch of union sympathizers..who are so intertwined in govt .. like some sort of cancer that it can’t be excised…

    which seems to be the next step for those who demean govt when called on it..we get the conspiracy theories as the next explanation…

    If METRO is as bad as the narratives of some seem to suggest – let’s see some comparative data with other systems… that is.. unless the explanation is that they’re all bad and nefarious and cancerous agents are keeping them in place.

  3. What is happening here is precisely the same as what is happening across the country from California’s Bullet train to most every major and often minor public construction project in Virginia.

    Thus, for example, one of many reason’s for the Silver Lines gross cost overruns and current financial straights is that entire system was grossly over engineered, driving its costs sky high to drain the maximum amount possible out of the Federal automobile tax transportation fund set aside for Mass Transit.

    The same thing, of course, happened to Arlington County’s Million dollar bus stop. Here our corrupt public officials and their cronies wanted to spend and waste another $22 million dollars worth of bus stops, so as to loot the public treasury for private benefit (including Metro), until the public shaming they got, including from Bacon’s Rebellion, forced the local politicians to cancel the looting plan for the rest of the stops.

    As said earlier many times before on this web site, these sorts of projects are not built to fix things. The goals of those proposing and executing these projects is to keep doing very expensive things that everyone in the know should know will never fix the problem but instead will keep it alive and chronic forever so as to loot the public coffers again and again.

    That is why the great majority of public programs never fix anything. They are built to keep problems alive as as to feed public monies into corrupt crony special interests. And what now is growing at alarming rates are that more and more corrupt players are in the illicit game – this includes ever more state and local departments of government, ever more public and private colleges and universities, ever more non-profit organizations large and small (particularly now in health care0, as well as large and small private corporations, ranging from local contractors to multi-national corporations.

    Now America’s public corruption infests most every industry, every community, town, city and government in America. This is the scourge of our age.

    • This is also why the government of Virginia needs to get back to acting like a government instead of like a thief with his hand in every citizens pocket.

      This should start with a state law that gets the Commonwealth out of the Public/Private Partnership business. This is not the first time such laws turned the state into the equivalent of a crime syndicate racket. It got just as bad back in the 19th Century when the legislature had to outlaw the practice.

  4. A number of years ago, Frank Wolf proposed to build BRT to Dulles Airport in the median of the Dulles Toll Road. If and when density increased to levels sufficient to support heavy rail, BRT would be replaced with rail. But the landowners and the politicians funded by the landowners soon discovered BRT could not support massive increases in density along the Toll Road. And, this being Virginia, where transportation is too often about enriching well-placed land investors, BRT was canceled and the Silver Line proposed.

    Then the facts were such that rail to Dulles could not meet new federal standards for funding. So Senator John Warner grandfathered the Silver Line under the old weaker standards. But the project could not pass the weaker ones either. I have some evidence that Governor Tim Kaine was going to pull the plug. But that would fail to enrich the landowners and Bechtel (as well as “cure global warming” and all the other absurd claims about Tysons density from the smart growth ideologues). So Ds and Rs alike lobbied the Bush administration and, POOF, there was funding. Crony capitalism in spades, hearts, clubs and diamonds. We have the Silver Line and the landowners have their mega profits. Tysons is getting big building; companies are abandoning old ones to be near rail; residential growth is barely above the GMU low growth estimate; and traffic in and around Tysons is much worse. Rail passenger trips are below forecast and sinking. But it’s too late, we must make the best of what we have.

    Now Loudoun County officials are learning the emperor has no clothes. Soon the taxpayers will too.

    I feel like an old troubadour – singing the same old song so that people don’t forget the most notorious example of crony capitalism in modern Virginia history.

  5. Is only Loudon County impacted?
    Or does Fairfax County also pay an amount?

    • TBill – yes, Fairfax County and other localities where WMATA operates pay. In fact, Fairfax County executive Ed Long’s FY18 budget presentation includes WMATA’s financial problems as one of the biggest threats to Fairfax County’s ability to provide needed functions at a reasonable tax rate.

      Landowners near rail reap large profits from their location and need to pay a lot more in taxes to keep rail running. Better than the ordinary Joe, Jane or Jose paying even higher taxes. WMATA also needs to cut compensation that is out of line.

  6. If we judged the roads the same way we judge METRO – what would it look like?

    Would we be saying that we don’t adequately fund them so we maintain them in good conditions without those bad bridges and other “unfunded” problems?

    Would we say that the roads are overcrowded and bad condition is because VDOT wastes the money on too many “featherbedding” employees and overpaid administrators?

    Do we say that Loudoun is getting a bad deal because VDOT is collecting gas taxes from them but not building the roads they need right now?

    this whole line of thinking in my point of view is more condemnation of govt and it’s institutions – without any suggestions of what to do instead.

    For instance, I’ve not heard many here advocate that METRO is such a money loser that it be shut down. Has Loudoun or other jurisdictions made that call?

    Then what is the purpose of the article? Isn’t it just like the one’s that Cranky does for Richmond Schools or Bacon and others for UVA “slush fund” or Petersburg’s financial woes?

    We’ve certainly got our share of problems – no question about it but they are things that need to be fixed rather than burned down and abandoned.. – at least for most of us.. so what I like to see – is both parts of the story.

    First – the problems.. then the “what we ought to be doing instead”

    way too often – we get the first – utter condemnation – then we stop… as if there is no solution – and this is yet another example of why govt “fails”.

    GRUMP!

    • What’s the point of the post? Mostly to say, “I told you so.” I warned of this a decade ago, and now all my worst fears are coming to life.

      You like to argue that what’s the point of running a story like this if I don’t have a solution? One reason is to understand what went wrong in the hope of not repeating the same mistake!

  7. We do not have standard benchmarks for what METRO – SHOULD COST.

    The same arguments being made here by people who oppose METRO could and are made in other cities with their own METROs.

    The argument is the same – too expensive, waste, poorly maintained equipment, union-featherbedding… etc…

    but what should METRO cost?

    or is the argument essentially opposition to transport rail – as a concept – that any/all variants of it just are too costly?

    I have a hard time understanding the opponents because at times it’s hard to understand if they would actually support METRO – at all.. – ever.. and their complaints are really just a litany of ” and another reason I don’t like you is….”.

    So I’ll ask another question – do we look at VDOT and the roads in and around the Washington region – in the same way we judge METRO?

    do we know much about how much VDOT spends … how much is “wasted”, how much is spent on “too many overpaid featherbedding workers” or unfunded liabilities of infrastructure not being maintained properly?

    so do we have a standard for what the roads in the Washington area SHOULD COST? I seriously doubt it.. and no more or less so than we do for METRO – yet METRO is the one that is attacked on those issues over and over even though we have almost no clue how much METRO – SHOULD COST – we just will complain about any/all aspects of it – as if – those arguments “prove” that METRO – as a concept – is a failure or METRO as operated is a “failure”.

    I just don’t buy it – at least until I see that the argument against it is truly based on an actual assessment on what it should cost – AND that in comparison to other systems – it IS more expensive.. and costly both with respect to standards and comparisons to peer systems.

    • Larry, look at the airlines. When they could not afford their cost structure, they cut compensation, developed two-tiered pay plans, got rid of defined benefit compensation, pressured manufacturers to deliver more efficient planes, improved productivity, redesigned systems, etc. WMATA has not even raised the compensation issue. Rather, it stands pushing for more and more tax subsidies; cuts service and raised prices.

      • TMT – when you tell me how much METRO SHOULD COST and show me how you decided that – then I’ll agree about how they should do the things you say.

        Do you hold VDOT to the same standard for roads? Do you think VDOT wastes money and costs more than it should – and they too should ” cut compensation, developed two-tiered pay plans, got rid of defined benefit compensation, pressured manufacturers to deliver more efficient planes, improved productivity, redesigned systems”?

        How do you introduce competition into things like roads and transit but even beyond that – how do you know what those things SHOULD COST?

        do we compare METRO with other subway systems to see if they have similar costs ?

        ANYONE can look at ANY organization whether it be METRO, or VDOT or UVA or K-12 schools and identify things they could cut costs on – but what does that actually accomplish if they are not that different from other similar organizations?

        You could Look at ANY organizations and nit pick that way.. but what does it really accomplish?

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