How Taxpayers Get Hooked
A former U.S. Congressman says that if two local governments back away from a billion-dollar-plus boondoggle, they will “look like idiots.”
This is a reference to the second phase of the Dulles Metrorail Project. Fairfax and Loudon counties are considering an “opt out” option that would save their citizens money and separate them from this costly project. The first phase cost around $2 billion, exceeding the entire Virginia Department of Transportation’s 6-year program for road and transit projects in northern Virginia.
With no evidence that mobility will be enhanced or congestion reduced, sensible people have a right to re-think a phase 2 that has a soaring price tag already exceeding $5 billion. Even though the Federal Department of Transportation is putting a lot of money into the project (which is still taxpayer money), local governments are on the hook. This is clearly an example of costs greatly exceeding benefits.
Yet former Congressman Davis is correct. Local officials who bought into the project back when it had inflated ridership projections and modest cost estimates are now in an awkward position. Common sense dictates that they should simply back out and save their citizens money, but in politics admitting you were wrong is very hard to do. Moreover, admitting error after committing billions of dollars to it becomes even more difficult, especially when you’re told the completion of the project will reap huge benefits.
The lesson: Once invested in an incomplete project, the harder it is to withdraw. So it is better to “measure twice, cut once,” as the carpenter says, than to buy into the up-front glittering rhetoric about rail transit, which historically underperforms despite huge cost overruns.