- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday decided by a 5-4 margin to remain committed to the Dulles rail project, a $6 billion plan that promises a boost for economic development through the benefits of mass transit.

The vote, which was followed by applause in the county government building in Leesburg, Va., means Metro’s planned Silver Line will extend beyond Washington Dulles International Airport. Supporters say the action will allow the county to reap the benefits of economic development stimulated by mass transit. Opponents worry the benefits will not outweigh substantial costs.

By opting in, Loudoun is set to spend a projected $270 million for its share of the $6 billion project and is slated to get two Metrorail stations in the county.

“When all is said and done, we can accomplish anything we need to,” board Chairman Scott K. York said, calling the decision the most significant in his more-than-20-year career. “I’m glad we’re finally there. This project is necessary for the health of this community.”

Geary M. Higgins, board member from Catoctin, said he disagreed with funding the project with money from people who would not benefit from it.

“I’m not voting for the project — not because I won’t want to see rail come to Dulles, but because I don’t think it’s a good package for Loudoun County.”

The second phase of the 23-mile-long Metrorail project is designed to connect Dulles to eastern Loudoun County.

Along with the county’s quarter-billion-dollar share to lay the tracks and build the stations, Loudoun must also support $10 million in annual operating costs.

Despite being “absolutely in support of rail,” board Vice Chairman Janet S. Clarke said she couldn’t in good conscience live with the decision to go forward on the project.

“Is this the right time, the right place? Is this the right deal,” Ms. Clarke asked her fellow members and the crowded board room. “Everything I’ve looked at — and believe me I’ve looked — really turns my stomach. There are so many aspects of it that are not going to help the county.”

Board member Shawn M. Williams acknowledged that the project wasn’t a “cure-all,” but “another piece of transportation infrastructure that we need to do.”

The first phase, from the Orange Line’s East Falls Church station in Arlington, has a price tag between $2.7 billion and $2.8 billion and is set for completion next year.

The rail project’s executive director, Pat Nowakowski, said he was happy with the county’s decision, and his management team would be applying any lessons learned during the first phase.

The Loudoun leaders also voted to begin the process of establishing three tax districts to raise money for the rail project. A public hearing is scheduled for no later than Nov. 1.