Monday, April 03, 2006

Throwing Millions, if Not Billions Away

It seems that the Kaine administration will do anything to get its way. Including giving away the Dulles Toll Road to the Washington Airports Authority. While the merits of even building rail out to Dulles is suspect by itself, the thought of giving control of one of the Commonwealth's most valuable resources is unconscionable.

Speaker Howell put it best when describing the governors' actions this way, "multibillion-dollar road giveaway with a stroke of the governor's pen."

Perhaps a little background. Under the Commonwealth's Public-Private Transportation Act several private firms offered bids to operate the Dulles Toll Road under a concession agreement. The proposals varied significantly, but all of them offered a large cash payment to the state, at least 30 years of maintenance and operations of the road, and significant capital expenditures in the region including adding additional lanes. In each of these, the concessionaire had agreed to not raise tolls beyond scheduled hikes already approved by the board.

In fact, there were four proposals that had been advanced for further consideration. The Commonwealth could have received upwards of $1 billion in addition to the capital build out. But the value goes beyond that - VDOT was spending millions to maintain and operate the road each year - the private operator would be responsible for these costs, a direct and immediate benefit to the state's bottom line.

So the state would have received:
1. a large cash payment upwards of $1 billion
2. capital upgrades in the region at no cost to the state
3. a reduction in VDOT operating costs

The deal the governor struck with the airport authority would forgo all of that to get the rail to Dulles "built faster." Its this kind of thinking that got us in our transportation mess to begin with. Spening a huge percentage of our resources to benefit a small percentage of commuters - or focus on projects that will do little or nothing to relieve congestion. I explore both of these issues in my Bacon's Rebellion column. Further, the House had been talking about PPP's this entire year and pointing to the Dulles Toll Road as a huge opportunity for the state to capitalize on their resources. They wanted to use it as a model for their vision - the Governor, I believe, pushed this deal through to get it off the table, to further make the case for his adopted (i.e., Senate) transportation plan. Its a bold political move, however, one that takes us a step backward not forward.

Bacon's blog has some pretty good coverage too.


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