Monday, April 23, 2012

Can A Single County Block Silver Line Trains to Dulles Airport?

The first phase of building Washington, D.C.’s $5.6 billion Silver Line Metro commuter tracks into Dulles International is on schedule for completion next year, and will run from Tysons Corner to Reston, but the next leg of trackage through Loudoun County is in jeopardy before the all Republican Loudoun County Board. Loudoun County must vote its stretch of track up or down by early July. If the Loudoun portion of the Silver Line fails, the project would have to be rerouted at best and might get killed altogether at worst.

Loudoun County’s projected share of the track and station construction cost is projected at $275 million, plus $16 million in annual operating subsidies to Metro once trains to Dulles begin operating. Despite a study from George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis reporting that completing the commuter line through Loudoun County will produce 40,000 jobs to the county by 2040, and drive more than $55 billion in potential economic activity, Republican board members are taking their cues from Virginia Governor Robert E. McDonnell, whose tepid support for the Silber Line construction has not included more than a 5% state contribution towards the cost of building the tracks. Battles over a labor agreement signed by the airport authority which the Republican governor considers unduly pro-labor have stalled final gubernatorial approval of a preliminary commitment of $150 million in operating subsidies for the commuter rail project.

Even if the project could survive a pull out by Loudoun County, financing for construction and operation of the commuter line would have to be renegotiated, a route redesign performed, and new right of way acquired; and the resulting loss of time would undoubtedly drive up the finished project budget by another $1 billion or so. Rather than looking to Richmond for guidance on this issue, Loudoun County should be listening to its own constituents – every major business group in the county supports Silver Line construction as presently planned.

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