On Silver Line, Loudoun risks historic error

The three women chatting at an outdoor restaurant table in a Loudoun County shopping center didn’t hesitate Friday when asked if they’d like to see Metro’s Silver Line extended out their way.

“We definitely want it,” Lynn DiGiovine said instantly.

“I think it would be a terrible mistake not to do it. The access it will create. The jobs it will create,” added Beth Davidson.

“We’re the nation’s capital, and we should get our act together,” Steph Fink concluded.

Unfortunately, there’s currently a fairly strong chance that such hopes will be in vain.

The women’s elected representatives on the Loudoun Board of Supervisors are leaning toward killing long-standing plans to build the transit rail line beyond Dulles International Airport to two planned stations in fast-growing, southeastern Loudoun. The nine-member board has to vote by July 4.

“Right now, in my personal opinion, the odds are not looking good. I do not see the powers at play here moving the pieces around to make it work,” said Board Vice Chairman Janet S. Clarke (R-Blue Ridge).

Clarke is a key, undecided vote on the board, which is closely divided on the issue. Like other skeptics, she’s concerned mainly about potential costs and a pro-union provision in the current construction plan.

There’s still time to make changes to persuade Clarke and other swing votes to come around. Everybody involved from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) should make the effort. LaHood has called a top-level meeting for Wednesday to discuss how to move forward.

A “no” vote from Loudoun on the Silver Line would be a historic error for both the county and the rest of our region.

For Loudoun, it would be a shame first to pass up the convenience and economic benefit of being able to hop a train to the airport, Tysons Corner or downtown Washington and beyond.

“If rail came out here, we’d be more inclined to visit D.C. more often. It also would bring more people out to Loudoun, so that would help house prices, hopefully,” said Misty Carbonara, another interviewee at the shopping center on Ryan Road in Brambleton near the planned site of the Silver Line’s terminus.

Of 12 people I asked there, 10 strongly favored bringing rail to Loudoun, one was opposed and one was undecided.

A rejection of the rail line also would throw away two decades of bipartisan planning on where to locate commercial development in Loudoun. The strategy has aimed to concentrate new office buildings and multi-family residences around the Metro stations once they were built.

Among other benefits, that would minimize the risk of development spreading and spoiling the county’s mostly rural, agricultural western half.

“Everything we’ve done for the last 20 years has been predicated on this [the Silver Line],” said Tony Howard, chief executive of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce. “Supervisors with very different points of view have agreed on it.”

A “no” vote from Loudoun would be bad for the region because it would unquestionably delay extension of the Silver Line to Dulles airport — and conceivably prevent it.

Construction is already under way on Phase 1 of the rail line, through Tysons Corner to Reston. What’s still uncertain is getting the financing for Phase 2, to go the rest of the way to the airport, and then into Loudoun.

If Loudoun pulls out, then it would take at least 18 months to renegotiate the financing agreement to get the line just to Dulles. Given the bad feelings and political gamesmanship already troubling the project, there’s a chance that such disruption would mean the line never went beyond Reston.

Loudoun Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York (R), a Silver Line advocate, said winning the vote will depend first on persuading the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to drop the pro-union language in the construction plan. (I discussed this in an earlier column.)

In addition, he said, additional money is needed to defray some of Loudoun’s costs on the project. He’s proposing to create special taxing districts around the Metro stations, so developers who benefit from transit help pay for it. Other ideas include raising parking fees at the airport or charging a toll on the Dulles Access Road for airport users.

Whatever it takes, Loudoun will ultimately regret it if it misses this opportunity to connect to the region’s premier transit system

“I think we’ll feel left behind if we don’t,” said restaurant patron Davidson. “And if we wait, we’ll have to do it later, and it’ll just be more expensive.”

For other McCartney columns, go to washingtonpost.com/mccartney .

Robert McCartney’s column on local issues appears Thursdays and Sundays in The Post’s Metro section.
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