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:
- Serious and real cost-cutting provisions that take us back to the initial cost estimates;
- The elimination of the Project Labor Agreement (PLA) that adds significant costs to the project and discriminates against Virginia subcontractors and workers;
- Transparency and accountability in the process involving the construction and financing of the Dulles Metrorail project; and
- 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.