In Letter to McDonnell, Forrest Raps Howell's Actions on Toll Road

He faults dated toll rate projections contained in her own letter to McDonnell seeking a greater contribution for the project from Richmond.

Patrick Forrest, the Republican candidate for the 32nd District Senate seat, has followed incumbent  (R) with one of his own.

Howell (D) wrote the governor seeking a greater financial commitment from the state to lessen the blow of a projected toll hike. (Click the PDF icon at right to see the full text of the Howell letter.) Forrest's letter calls for more cost-cutting. Here's his letter: 

September 13, 2011

The Honorable Robert McDonnell

Governor, Commonwealth of Virginia

1111 East Broad Street, 3rd Floor

Richmond, Virginia 23219


Dear Governor McDonnell:

The proposed increase in Dulles Toll Road fees to over $17 roundtrip within the next five years is an issue that has outraged Northern Virginia residents. 

Yesterday, I read in the local media that Senator Janet Howell wrote a public letter urging you to increase the Commonwealth's contribution to this project.  Make no mistake, Senator Howell is making an election year, political recalculation and still refuses to offer substance, leadership, or action on this important issue.  Offering this issue lip service by writing politically motivated letters will not solve the massive funding problem facing Phase 2 of this project.  

Throughout this year, the debate over the Metrorail to Dulles has been very controversial, yet Senator Howell has been completely absent from the discussion.  Even though her district covers almost the entire length of the Dulles Toll Road, she has demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of these unacceptable toll increases. Furthermore, Senator Howell continues to ignore the fact that these are actions of a non-elected entity with no transparency or accountability.  Only one MWAA board member lives in the Dulles corridor area and takes the Dulles Toll Road to work.

Senator Howell’s lack of understanding was further demonstrated in her letter, wherein she cites dated toll rate projections from a 2009 study.  What Senator Howell fails to mention is that those numbers are based off of the initial cost estimates which have since ballooned over one billion dollars.  In an official report on July 11, 2011, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) clearly projected double-digit roundtrip tolls before the end of your term as Governor in order to pay for Metrorail to Dulles.

As a Commonwealth budget conferee, Senator Howell is either being disingenuous or does not understand the fundamental economic realities of the situation.  Either way, Northern Virginia residents deserve better.  

At a Herndon Town Hall Meeting in January, Senator Howell was asked about alternative rail financing plans to avoid excessive toll increases.  Her response was that nothing can be done to reduce toll increases planned by MWAA.  This is simply not true.

Later, at a June public meeting in Reston, the question was again asked about reducing costs and why the funding formula heavily depended on tolls, and once again Senator Howell dodged the question.  Senator Howell has failed to demonstrate leadership and has not represented our region during the planning stages of this project.  That’s why I was so surprised to see her writing an open letter to you urging your support.  This is clearly a political move by a career, establishment politician to draw attention away from her failure of leadership.  As of today, there’s not a single mention of Phase 2 and the toll increases on her website.  A senior negotiator on the Dulles Rail Project said it best, "Senator Howell has been absent during this entire process."  

While I strongly support the Metrorail to Dulles project, the idea of increasing tolls to $17 roundtrip within five years in order to fund it is simply unacceptable.  Additionally, projections show that tolls will continue to increase until they reach $34 roundtrip by 2040.  A toll increase of this magnitude will destroy our economic viability, congest our side streets even more, and run businesses and jobs out of town.  What's more, this increase is an unreliable source of funding for Metrorail to Dulles.  Inevitably, commuters will avoid the Dulles Toll Road due to prohibitive fees.  When this happens, who will pay for the maintenance of overused side streets and who will be responsible for replacing the loss of revenue on the Dulles Toll Road? 

I urge you to use the Commonwealth's pending support of this project to demand from MWAA:

  1. Serious and real cost-cutting provisions that take us back to the initial cost estimates; 
  2. The elimination of the Project Labor Agreement (PLA) that adds significant costs to the project and discriminates against Virginia subcontractors and workers; 
  3. Transparency and accountability in the process involving the construction and financing of the Dulles Metrorail project; and 
  4. Organizational reform at MWAA to give Virginia adequate representation on the 14-member board.  

A project of this magnitude that affects the transportation plans for the region should be required to abide by the same "Sunshine Laws" that apply to government meetings and decision-making processes.  

I urge you to above all, stand firm against the PLA and its implications.  Not only will the PLA significantly increase costs, but it will also effectively ship jobs out of state.  Three of the five proposed consortiums have dropped out of the bidding process of Phase 2 due to the imposition of a mandatory labor agreement, which Senator Howell supports.  The fact that this is happening in a right-to-work state, that no government entity has any kind of oversight, and that no transparency or accountability mechanisms are in place, should concern every citizen of Northern Virginia.   

The residents of Northern Virginia need you to demonstrate strong leadership where others have not.  I strongly support and urge you to make a significant allocation of funds for this project.  However, I urge you to use that power to bring costs down to initial estimates, eliminate the PLA, and protect commuters, residents and businesses along the Dulles corridor from outrageous toll increases that would devastate our regional economy.

Best regards,

Patrick Forrest

Judy Barton September 15, 2011 at 11:47 AM
I agree with Mr. Forrest. We must demand cost-control. MWAA has nothing to lose and clearly they don't care how much the metro rail costs. They will pass the costs to us the commuters, residents and businesses in the area anyway. I commend Mr. Forrest for making us aware of what was being done behind closed-doors and to take the lead in demanding that Metro is built in a way we can afford it. Thanks Mr. Forrest.
Jane Anthony September 15, 2011 at 07:49 PM
I add my voice to these comments "While I strongly support the Metrorail to Dulles project, the idea of increasing tolls to $17 roundtrip within five years in order to fund it is simply unacceptable. Additionally, projections show that tolls will continue to increase until they reach $34 roundtrip by 2040. " Please control the costs which are an unfair burden on the residents of the Dulles corridor. Jane Anthony
Dave September 16, 2011 at 03:22 AM
When is Sen. Janet Howell up for re-election? I want to make sure I become a U.S. Citizen in time to help Vote her out of office. It seems she is truly out of touch with her constituency and is not being active (or proactive) enough in an issue that effects every last one of us NoVa residents.
Bob Bruhns September 17, 2011 at 07:11 PM
Why would the Rt 28 Dulles Rail station cost $83.5 million, when a Metro station in wealthy Fairfield, CT cost $42.7 million - AFTER cost overruns? And why does the Dulles Airport rail station involve a big pass-through of track that would OF COURSE be enormously expensive underground, as MWAA had wanted it - when it SHOULD have been a straight track going up Rt 28 and then over to Rt 606, with a dead-end spur from Rt 28 going to the air terminal? Both the above-ground and below-ground MWAA Dulles Airport rail plans appear to have been designed for maximum cost. The inclusion of a PLA in the MWAA plan may be illegal, and it is certainly inappropriate in a right-to-work state such as Virginia. But it is not the primary reason for this sort of price bloat. Dulles Rail is an enormously flawed boondoggle that needs to be stopped and rethought, by a better authority than the bunch of political lackeys that have handed this nonsense to us. And leaders who have been looking the other way should be shown the door.
Richard Holmquist September 27, 2011 at 10:45 AM
When you write to the governor on our behalf, Mr. Forrest, how about putting the main issue of concern right up front? Half of your letter is intent on undermining the credibility of Sen. Howell, who was requesting more funding! If you were really seeking what's necessary for our district, you would lock arms with Sen. Howell on her request for more state funding and bicker over the politics at the end of the letter (if you must). It would be a much more powerful statement on behalf of our region if you had the courage to stand behind Howell & Plum's request for more funds. What this letter demonstrates to me is a lack of statesmanship and a lot of political posturing and hand-waving instead of a genuine effort to solve the problem.
Jonas Sterling September 27, 2011 at 12:02 PM
It would have been proper, in my humble opinion, that in you should have "disclosed" or made clear that you are a candidate for State Senate. I concur with Richard's sentiment on the topic.
Judy Barton September 27, 2011 at 01:07 PM
Richard, I understand you are a strong supporter of Senator Howell, but we have to face the facts. Senator Howell was completely silent on this issue throughout the entire process until Mr. Forrest brought the issue up with his petition drive. She then send a letter to the Governo demanding his financial support of the project. But why didnt she do this as part of the finance committee and as a budget conferee? Why the silence and absence? And if she had been following the debate she would not have used two year old data in a letter or at least would have been mentioning this issue in her website. In my eyes, Senator Howell's letter was posturing at its best. She even ignored the fact that the reason the Governor was holding back support was to demand cost-controls and bring the project cost back to initial estimates. In her letter she doesnt mention that, and makes it more a political statement. I have never voted Republican, but I am helping Mr. Forrest simply because we need new faces. 20 years in the same job clearly makes politicians stagnant and out of touch, and the tolls issue demonstrates that in my eyes.
Judy Barton September 27, 2011 at 01:08 PM
Mr. Sterling, I saw the letter in another publication and it was sent on Forrest's campaign letterhead.
Jonas Sterling September 27, 2011 at 01:33 PM
ok, thanks
Richard Holmquist September 28, 2011 at 01:15 PM
Seniority & leadership also give politicians powerful and make them valuable to their local communities. Considering that Mr. Forrest has only received two or three financial contributions from Reston, I'm not really concerned about Sen. Howell's support among Reston Patch readers.


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