Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: Ex-MWAA insider warns about Tollmageddon

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Opinion,Local Editorial

It's highly debatable whether the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is "a triumph of good transportation policy" or "free from the political skirmishing that sometimes engulfs neighboring local governments," as former MWAA board member Robert Clarke Brown claims in his Oct. 2 letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. But there's no arguing with Brown that the "fundamental problem" facing the Silver Line is "the terrible burden the current plan of finance places on the local community."

The Washington Examiner has repeatedly editorialized that forcing Dulles Toll Road drivers and local taxpayers to pay nearly 100 percent of the $3 billion cost of Phase 2 is both unfair and unprecedented. So it's gratifying that the former investment banker appointed by President Clinton and reappointed by President George W. Bush finally acknowledges this injustice as well.

Citing the project's poor cost-benefit metrics, the Federal Transit Authority provided $900 million for Phase 1, but made it clear the feds would not subsidize Phase 2. To make up the missing federal funding, then-Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, now running for the U.S. Senate, handed over the revenue-producing Dulles Toll Road to MWAA.

The only MWAA insider who has been candid about the coming Tollmageddon in Northern Virginia, Brown still won't admit that the flawed financing scheme was MWAA's own idea -- aided and abetted by Kaine and members of the Fairfax and Loudoun county boards. And that as chairman of MWAA's Finance Committee, he is particularly responsible for what he now calls a "fundamentally flawed" plan,

Brown also claimed, absurdly, that the inspector general whom LaHood sent to audit the MWAA board acted "far beyond the scope of his legal authority" -- even though MWAA was created by Congress and the airports it operates are on federally leased land. "The noisy yearlong assault on Airports Authority independence ... eroded public trust ... delayed the Silver Line project ... and raised questions in the capital markets where $6 billion in MWAA bonds are currently traded," Brown complained. But as the well-publicized shenanigans of board members proved, DOT oversight of this irresponsible, unaccountable board was long overdue.

MWAA refuses to pull the plug on this billion-dollar boondoggle, so Brown wants LaHood to reverse the federal government's prior decision and fund Phase 2 to help lower the tolls. But with the highly competitive Mass Transit Account set to dry up by 2014, that's unlikely. And if MWAA finds itself publicly discredited, with its Silver Line project left in the lurch financially, it has only itself to blame.

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