Estimated to cost $6 billion, the project has survived not only the recession but also a succession of political battles over its price tag— from the debate over putting the extension above or below ground to the recent fight over a labor-friendly contracting practice.
After the labor issue was resolved last month, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) withdrew his threat to withhold $150 million earmarked for the rail extension. That left the board as the last remaining hurdle, and in recent days, McDonnell had urged the board not to stand in the way.
With his decision to support the Silver Line after strongly opposing it, Supervisor Kenneth D. Reid (R-Leesburg) delivered the fifth and deciding vote for a project that supporters predict will have a lasting impact.
“This is a huge investment in Loudoun’s future,” said Tony Howard, president of the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce, which represents 1,200 businesses. “It’s important not just for our economy in the next quarter or the next year, but for a payoff that will be generational. . . . The chamber is absolutely elated.”
The Silver Line’s first leg, expected to be running by August 2013, will pass through Tysons Corner to Wiehle Avenue in Reston. When the entire line — which is being built by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority — is completed, it will span 23 miles of rail between East Falls Church and Ashburn.
For the first time, some of the region’s more distant Northern Virginia suburbs will be linked by rail to the rest of the metropolitan area. A traveler who would rather not pay upward of $60 to take a taxi from Dulles to the District will have a new option. So will someone who is able to land a job at the airport but won’t have a car to get there every day.
If Loudoun had backed out of its commitment to contribute to construction of the second phase of the Silver Line — a share now estimated at $270 million — the extension to Dulles and into Loudoun would have been in jeopardy, and with it a major rationale for the Silver Line.
For a once-rural community that has become one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, the addition of rail marks a significant step for Loudoun — one that has been championed by many county residents and business leaders and especially by young adults, who have said that access to the District is a key factor for 20- and 30-something professionals looking to settle in the suburbs.
But the debate and the narrow margin of Tuesday’s vote revealed a lack of unity among the all-Republican board as the supervisors and other leaders wrestle with Loudoun’s evolving identity. The supervisors were swept into office in November on platforms emphasizing fiscal responsibility and economic development — two ideals that proved challenging to balance when it came to Silver Line.