Could Rail to Dulles really end up being Rail to Reston?
With seven new members on the nine-member Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, many of the new board members have said they are undecided about whether to support the $2.7-billion Silver Line Phase 2, which will extend the rail from Reston's Wiehle Avenue to Dulles International Airport and into Loudoun County.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) and Fairfax County last week granted Loudoun County Supervisors an additional 30 days to decide whether it will contribute to Phase 2, which is expected to cost Loudoun about $260 million for initial construction. Loudoun continues to discuss annual costs for operation and maintenance of the line with MWAA, currently estimated at $20 millon to $30 million. The Loudoun board, comprised of all Republicans, has until July 4 to decide whether to proceed.
"It will be a huge mistake if Loudoun opts out," Loudoun County Chairman Scott K. York said at the Chamber event. "If we fail, we will not become what we planned to be in our comprehensive plan."
York pointed out that Loudoun is one of the nation's fastest-growing and wealthiest counties, and transportation expansion has already been maximixed on Route 50, most of Route 7 and the Dulles Toll Road.
Rail "is going to cost us. But it will cost a heck of a lot more if they do it in the future," said York. "This is our last option. I have confidence in this board - they cannot look at this as how it will impact in one year, this decision will have impact for many decades."
Still, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton says that the commonwealth is already planning for the possibility of a Phase 2 without Loudoun's participation.
"We have a very complex arrangement of contracts, agreements and permits," said Connaughton. "If Loudoun opts out, it changes the scope and funding. We would have to go back to square one. We are working with the Attorney General to explore options. This project has been on life support before, and in the emergency room several times. We have been looking for some time at what the impact would be" if Loudoun drops out.
One issue: whether unionized labor should be given an advantage in getting contracts for project. In screening bids, MWAA wants to give a 10-percent bonus to contractors who agree to a project labor agreement.
Several Loudoun supervisors said that if MWAA insists on such agreements for Phase 2, the votes might not be there to continue and the pledged $450 million from Virginia might be in jeopardy.
"MWAA is listening to concerns that are raised by the mandatory PLA," MWAA President and CEO Jack Potter said.
York said it should not be voluntary for Phase 1, scheduled to open in late 2013, and madatory for Phase 2.
"It should be a level playing field," he said. "Whether we are tight in the perception of the what a PLA does and does not do...frankly, I am seeing trouble getting the votes from my board."
Stephen Fuller, Director of George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis, says if the Silver Line does not reach Loudoun, it will have regionwide impact.
"It will change the capacity of the county to grow," he said. "It will be a real cost to the region as a global business center, not just a Federal one. "Metrorail is critical to maximizing the potential as the Washington area is growing."
Also discussed Wednesday: how to develop the area on Route 606 near Dulles.
Potter says MWAA will not be developing the land, but will work with Loudoun County and developers. He says this is a good opportunity to work a public-private parking garage project - similar to the one being constructed at Reston's Wiehle Avenue Station.
"We have to find a way to make the project viable without taxpayers footing the bill," said York.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova said she has been encouraged by the success of the partnership with Comstock on the 2,300-space Wiehle Avenue garage and that the county has received interest for other public-private partnerships. The Board will discuss this at its next meeting (April 10), and Bulova says she hopes to begin negotiations for other projects this summer.