Open letter Virginia’s Boards of Supervisors, Delegates, Senators, and Gov. McDonnell:
I think that the three largest issues in the Commonwealth of Virginia are the out of control budget, the out of control debt and the out of control spending that is causing the first two problems.
1) It is unacceptable that we have something like a $20 billion hole in our $70 billion to $80 billion Virginia Retirement System. Phase this thing out now, because our government and our people are clearly not competent to manage it. Let Virginia employees control their own retirement investments, and do not further bind the People of this Commonwealth to unreasonable and crippling agreements of this, or any other sort.
2) Stop approving spending on any project, until you have determined that (1) the project indeed needs to be done, and (2) that the project is reasonably and fairly priced.
Many people object to education spending, and there are serious problems there. But I submit that the most outrageous and egregious overspending today is going to transit and roads. Here, and across the nation, it has been the road and transit projects — the Boston Big Dig, the ARC Tunnel, the Dulles Rail/Silver Line, WMATA and others, that are the most out of control. I point out that in the past ten years we have seen an incredible explosion in the costs for these items, and it is becoming more and more clear that the prices that governments pay for these things do not withstand the light of day.
A very good and important example that is relevant here today, is the double prices, and more than double prices, that MWAA brought us in the Dulles Rail/Silver Line debacle.
I submit that we must not continue to allow our nearly independent transit agencies to double charge, and more than double charge us to death. Therefore I wonder if we lowly taxpayers and tollpayers might be allowed to see the detailed line item pricing for the elements we will be asked to pay for.
Where do project cost estimates come from? Aren’t they added up from individual element costs? Who checks the individual element costs?
How are individual element costs checked and justified? Are these numbers actually officially estimated? If not, why not? If so, who does this estimating?
Are the cost estimators for these jobs ever questioned on a line item by line item basis, in any hearing that is accessible to the public? If not, why not? If so, are the results of these hearings available to the public that is expected to pay for all of this? If not, why not?
Most people don’t know what a Metrorail station should cost, what a parking garage should cost, what a mile of rail track should cost, etc.
They hear cost numbers reported, and they have no standard of reference by which to evaluate those cost numbers. They mistakenly expect their elected leaders and government agencies to make sure that proper prices are negotiated in their name.
Unfortunately, it seems that our elected and appointed leaders also do not know, and remarkably don’t care, what these line items should cost.
They might reject this or that line item, but they never check to see if the line items they approve are reasonable, or ridiculous. In effect, they never question or negotiate the line item prices, they simply accept or reject the line items they are handed. With all due respect, that is not wise, because we are routinely being handed massively overpriced line items, and the result is unmanageable, skyrocketing costs.
Here is a very clear example of this (and there are others that have been documented):
In the recent Dulles Rail/Silver Line project approvals, our elected leaders were oblivious that our planned Route 28 Metro station is much less capable than a comparable Metrorail station in Fairfield, Conn., but yet it will cost 2.4 times as much!
Compare our Route 28 Metrorail station to Fairfield’s Metrorail Station, which was completed December 2011.
1) Fairfield’s station can accommodate 12-car trains. Our Route 28 station can only accommodate 8-car trains.
2) Fairfield’s station should be more expensive, because it is the ‘dual side-platform’ design. Our Route 28 station is the less costly ‘island platform’ design.
3) Fairfield’s station has full-length canopies on both of their 12-car platforms. Our Route 28 station has a half-length canopy on its single 8-car platform.
Yet the Fairfield Metro station costs less than half as much as our Route 28 station is estimated to cost. Can anybody explain that?
The price difference in this one case alone is about $55 million! The price was about $46 million for the Fairfield Connecticut Metrorail station, and about $101 million for the Route 28 Metrorail station.
Furthermore, there are five more Metrorail stations in the Dulles Rail project that are almost exactly the same as the Route 28 station. Are they also overpriced by $55 million each? If so, why was that not flagged? And, if not, why was the pricing unequal?
Where is the proof that all of our ballooning transportation funding needs are not the result of massive overpricing like that? Where can people go to find proof that this is not the case? I fear that this IS the case, and that the crippling costs that you are struggling to pay, are excessive and should not be paid at all!
Public-Private Partnerships of various sorts were sold to us as ways to REDUCE costs — but it seems that the tricky rules of these agreements have been twisted to hide massive overcharges from public view, and then we get such enormous overcharges that our economy can not sustain the resulting expenses! And the worst thing is that the only discussions we hear, are about who should pay, how they should pay, and how we can borrow so that our children and grandchildren can pay these bloated prices and the resulting interest charges for money we have to borrow, because the bloated prices are outright unaffordable. Need I say, this is bankrupting the Commonwealth, and it must stop!
Bring out the cost estimators in hearings viewable by the people, with recordings of the hearings available to the people, detailing the costs line item by line item, with justification for each one. There is too much evidence that our Commonwealth has been grossly abused, and that abuse must stop! Open the doors and windows, and let the light of day shine upon the costs and estimates that are at the heart of the problems we face. You owe it to the People of this Commonwealth to do no less.
Robert Bruhns Herndon