Monday, December 26, 2011

Getting Virginia moving (forward) again - not from Governor Bob McDonnell

Happy New Year to you, Governor McDonnell, and best of luck on your future endeavors. Here is an inspirational quote that brought you to mind.
"I would rather the man who presents something for my consideration subject me to a zephyr of truth and a gentle breeze of responsibility rather than blow me down with a curtain of hot wind."  Grover Cleveland
Dear Governor McDonnell,
I received your “Getting Virginia moving again” email and see it is full of great ideas, “Way to go.” As your time allows, help me understand a few things which I find difficult to square with your ideas for “Getting Virginia moving again.”
This clear statement from your email stood out as I read it,

“..we have been hard at work putting this new money to use efficiently and effectively in every region of the state...” 

Will this be the vision for next year as well? I wonder because I did not see any mention of the Dulles Rail mega-project that is going on near my home in Loudoun County. Some local folks say this will be the “economic engine” that powers Loudoun's future.  Your email referenced other projects that would “help spur critical economic development and job creation in some of the areas hardest hit by the economic recession.” Given that Rail to Dulles and Loudoun is the biggest transportation project in the history of the Commonwealth, it seems like it ought to have a spot on your short list  and maybe qualify for a lot more than the $150M you have committed. What’s up with this?

Another concern I have is with a rumor that is circulating that says the Commonwealth caved on its position in regard to the Project Labor Agreement (PLA) and that the PLA is really a payment on an IOU to unions that would raise the price of the rail project by hundreds of millions. If this pay-off is in there by any name, it would be paid for with a check written on the accounts of your constituents who use the Dulles Toll Road and pay state and local taxes. I’m coming to you, Governor, because I remember from your campaign, that you know how important jobs are to Virginia's economic recovery; Right?
Sorry to talk about rumors so much, but here is another one going around that you should know about. It appears to have been started by The Federal Transit Administration who rejected funding Dulles Rail Phase 2 previously due to low forecast ridership. They said the rail project service area has less than half the population density stipulated by Federal and State government standards to meet minimum economically viable heavy rail ridership demand. Did this slip past you Governor?
Also, may I be so bold as to suggest you address another issue to put us all at ease? There seems to be a growing concern that VDOT has inadequate money to finance repairs to existing roads, and very little to pay for road expansion.  VDOT wants counties and cities to finance repairs on secondary roads. Congested roads in Virginia are not being budgeted for expansion. A subsidy for Phase 2 of the Dulles Rail removes more money for maintenance and road expansions. We have more than enough money, don’t we sir?
As I’m sure you know, some are saying Dulles Rail is our own local “Big Dig.” I came across this great video and this article  that I think you ought to see. Massachusetts apparently got sucked into a big project and it is a doozie. I understand that their Big Dig has put a crushing weight on the financial condition of the state of Massachusetts.  I am very concerned that if a $22B project can crush a state financially, what will it do to our local economy? Our local cost burden is about 77% of a less-than-half-done-project that has a price tag north of $7B (capital costs only) plus many times that when one looks a interest and overhead. Am I right that you would not buy into a project that has a high probability of bankrupting our local community?
Here’s what happened when leadership lost sight of reality in Massachusetts:
Boston Globe article: Cost spirals to $22b; crushing debt side tracks other work, pushes agency toward insolvency

"The Big Dig saddled us with costs we can't afford," said Bernard Cohen, secretary of transportation. "We are grappling with that legacy now. There are no easy answers."

Contrary to the popular belief that this was a project heavily subsidized by the federal government, 73 percent of construction costs were paid by Massachusetts drivers and taxpayers.

Big Dig payments have already sucked maintenance and repair money away from deteriorating roads and bridges across the state, forcing the state to float more highway bonds and to go even deeper into the hole.

Among other signs of financial trouble: The state is paying almost 80 percent of its highway workers with borrowed money; the crushing costs of debt have pushed the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which manages the Big Dig, to the brink of insolvency; and Massachusetts spends a higher percentage of its highway budget on debt than any other state.
Across the state, commuters are suffering daily for the massive shortfalls that have led to closings and stalled projects.
"The Big Dig drained funding away," Cohen said. "I can't tell you exactly how much, but it's been in the billions of dollars."
In closing Governor McDonnell, I trust you will address all these concerns and make farsighted decisions on Dulles Rail and other spending. I know this because your email also said,
“The condition of the Commonwealth’s transportation infrastructure is fundamentally linked to the strength of our economy and future economic growth, opportunity and prosperity  ... we will continue conceiving and implementing common-sense solutions  to ease traffic congestion, strengthen our economy, and get more of our fellow Virginians back to work.”
Happy New Year Governor,
David LaRock
Hamilton, Virginia
PS-  Delegate Bob Marshall and Senator–elect Dick Black seem to think that it is not wise to entrust $150 million dollars of Virginia money to MWAA unless they allow open audit and have FIOA access to their books, what do you think?

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