- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2014

After years of construction, decades of planning and billions spent, Metro’s much-anticipated Silver Line is set to start operating Saturday.

Before the noon launch, Metro plans to host a ceremony to mark the opening, with officials including D.C. mayor Vincent C. Gray and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

The 11.4-mile extension of the Metrorail system will be the first new line since the Green Line was finished in 1991.

The Silver Line, which has been in development since the mid-2000s, is the first phase of a $5.6 billion plan to extend the transit system to Washington Dulles International Airport and a step toward the ultimate goal: connecting the District to its two major airports.

The line had been considered as early as the 1980s, when Virginia officials envisioned a rail line that could extend to Dulles Airport and relieve the ever-growing transportation congestion in Fairfax County and the Tysons Corner area, Virginia’s largest business district.

“That’s the whole reason the elected leaders pushed this project forward,” Metro CEO Richard Sarles said. “It links to Tysons Corner, so that’s an important connection for the labor pool. It’s the first major step toward getting out to Dulles Airport.”

Metro officials are projecting an estimated ridership of 50,000 in the first few months for the line, which will include four stations running through Tysons Corner from Reston to Falls Church on a route that roughly follows the Dulles Toll Road.

Gerald Gordon, president and CEO of the Fairfax Economic Authority, said the commitment to the Silver Line was crucial to the area economy.

“The initial impact of the Silver Line was having major corporations come to Tysons specifically because of the Silver Line and having companies remain in Tysons because of it,” Mr. Gordon said.

After a series of studies conducted, along with years of planning and proposals to build the rail line failed to gain traction, a task force composed of business interests submitted a four-phase proposal to build the line in 1999.

But the next decade’s political battles and disputes over the project’s budget threatened to derail its development. In the project’s preliminary phase, officials estimated a budget somewhere between $1 billion and $3 billion for Phase 1, with half of the money provided by federal funding and the other half to be split between local counties and state funding.

When engineering began in 2005, the expected costs continued to rise, leading some federal and state officials to try to kill the project.

“There was a point when it was dead for about two or three seconds,” said Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican and a champion of the project. “We pulled the funds together and breathed life back into it and brought it back.”

Shortly after the project’s revival in 2006, officials battled over whether or not to build a tunnel under Tysons Corner as a part of Phase 1. But the tunnel proved too costly in an already-inflated budget.

“A tunnel would have killed the project,” Mr. Wolf said. Had it gone under, the cost would have been so exorbitant that the project would have died.”

Mr. Wolf, a member of the House Appropriations Committee who helped secure funding for the project, credited the bipartisan support the project received from people like former Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Republican.

Construction began in 2009, when the federal government committed $900 million in funding to the effort. It became the third-largest U.S. capital construction agreement in history, federal officials said at the time.

But technical glitches coupled with more funding problems pushed the debut date back. A delay from January to July alone resulted in $2 million to $3 million in lost revenue each month, Mr. Sarles said.

Supporters expect the line to increase the mobility of people trying to find jobs and build upon residential development for the Northern Virginia region.

The Fairfax Board of Supervisors is expecting almost 100,000 jobs to be added by 2050 as a result of the line, according to a 2010 report.

Mr. Gordon said the line will help establish Tysons as a major city — not just in the region but the world.

“You can’t be a world-class city unless you have a rail system,” Mr. Gordon said. “Now we can compete with cities that do have a rail system and become a world-renowned city.”

 

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