Monday, January 28, 2008

Privatized Transit in the Dulles Corridor?

Lots of our liberal friends criticize me for my stance on the private funding on transportation infrastructure, but it looks like such ideas are being bandied about for the construction of Metro's Northern Virginia Silver Line:

Private equity investors are drawing up proposals to partner with Virginia for a rail line to Dulles International Airport as hope fades that the federal government will help fund the 23-mileMetrorail extension.

State officials said several equity groups have expressed interest in investing in a rail since Thursday, when U.S. transportation officials declared the project unfit for federal funding. The $5 billion project had been counting on a $900 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

Private purchase of the rail line or the Dulles Toll Road to fund the extension would attract strong opposition from those who believe such public infrastructure is far too valuable to hand over to for-profit corporations. But with the outlook for keeping the rail project alive bleak, regional business and political leaders who are adamant that the rail line must not die are increasingly of the mind that private partnership must be considered.

"You gotta build this thing," said William D. Lecos, president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. "So whatever contingency is fastest, bestest and quickest is good with us. We've always been supportive of the public-private concept. If that turns out now to be the contingency we can pursue, provided we can get on that course quickly and with some level of certainty, then that's what we should do."

Folks in Northern Virginia have been looking for over 25 years for a Dulles rail extension, and with the disqualification of the project from receiving federal funds, it looked liked the project may never get built. Now, with private companies in the mix, it looks like there is still hope for the project. When you consider how much of the Dulles Corridor's planning is tied into the future of this line, it remains and important project for the future of this area.

I hope that the private companies get a legitimate chance to build and operate this system. It will show, hopefully once and for all, that there can be a great public benefit to privatized transportation options in our area.



D. C. Russell said...

I hope that they will not only find a way to build it without federal funds, but will also start demanding that the feds send back some of the tax money they suck out of northern Virginia to pay for such projects elsewhere.

Why should the feds be involved in any of this transit stuff?

bruce.godfrey said...

I have little sympathy for Virginia in this regard. Public and private actors alike created this piece of stupidity and now they must deal with the consequences. But if private capital can create a meaningful solution, excellent.

Transportation is a difficult matter because unlike other matters, it almost always involves externalities, inflicting of harm or windfalls of benefits to others. All forms of transportation involve externalities and subsidies, thus increasing the case for government participation in planning and management.

One market-responsive thing that the DC Metro did recently to my pleasure was to increase its fares and parking rates. While paying the increased fares is no joy for my wallet, a persistent shortage of a service is evidence, almost conclusive evidence, of underpricing. The crowding on the platforms and on the trains is quite severe, with some stations "failing" to unload the platform in one train-length. So if higher prices motivate time shifts for casual users (tourists, sightseers, etc.), excellent.