The Washington Post

Metro Silver Line area’s road work tied to winter’s weather, not the delays in rail system


Some Virginia commuters are concerned about delays to open the Silver Line, not because they plan to ride the rails, but because they drive along roads disrupted by the line’s construction.

“Is the available adjacent traffic lane in Tysons on Route 7 (between Spring Hill Road and Tyco Road) also delayed?” asked Dave Sullivan, one of those commuters.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region. View Archive

The road work on Route 7 in Tysons Corner is an essential part of the Silver Line project. The roadway had to be spread out to make room for the line’s elevated tracks in the middle. But even though the road and rail projects have been linked from the start, the lagging completion of the road work has more to do with wintry weather than with the bugs in the train control system.

Storms and below-freezing temperatures have had a chilling effect on the paving work associated with construction of the Silver Line, said Marcia McAllister, spokeswoman for the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project. “It’s simply been too cold to finish some critical paving along Route 123 near Tysons Corner Center and along Route 7,” she said.

“We look for breaks in the weather, [and] monitor the National Weather Service and Weather Channel long-range forecasts, so we can squeeze in paving. It looks like it will be April before this paving can all be finished.”

Tracks for the forthcoming Silver Line are seen stretching out from the McLean station in November 2013. (2013 photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Temperatures must be above 40 degrees several hours before paving starts and after it ends, she said. Paving is often scheduled to be done overnight, when it would be least disruptive, as long as Mother Nature cooperated on the temperature.

Most of the work on the eastbound lanes of Route 7 from the Dulles Toll Road interchange to Route 123 has been completed, McAllister said, but some lane closings are still needed for the finishing touches.

The far-right lane is now open, completing the four-lane eastbound side. Dual left-turn lanes take drivers from eastbound Route 7 to Tyco Road. This winter, the access point on Route 7 with the Marshalls shopping center was repaved.

Work continues along the westbound side of Route 7, she said. This is the phase of any nearly complete project when drivers see fresh pavement and ache for access. But they find a barrier of construction barrels.

“While the far-right lane appears to be ready for traffic,” McAllister said, “it is not finished and not safe for drivers between Westpark Drive and Route 123.”

There’s still a lot of paving to be done near the Route 7/Gosnell Road intersection.

On Route 123 at Tysons Boulevard, near the Tysons Corner Metrorail station, much paving still needs to be done on both sides of the road.

metro’s ‘Terrific Day’

Opening the Silver Line is a top priority for Metro this year, but the transit authority also worries about what comes next. The Silver Line is an extension. It’s going to feed more riders into the already crowded core of the rail system.

So the best news that Metro’s planners got recently came from last week’s regional summit, at which Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced they were committed to giving the transit authority an additional $75 million beyond pledges already made for Metro’s long-term projects.

The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis reported that McAuliffe said the leaders had “agreed in principle” to provide the funds, subject to the will of lawmakers in the three regional jurisdictions. McAuliffe said the new money should serve as proof of the local commitment to Metro and should lead federal authorities to authorize additional funds for the system.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles called it a “terrific day” and noted that this is a new funding commitment, over and above the capital funding pledged to bring the system into a “state of good repair.”

Winning such commitments from local leaders has become a top priority for Sarles. For several years, he has pushed a wide-ranging and costly rebuilding program to restore Metro after years of inadequate investment in maintenance. That aggressive rebuilding phase will continue into 2017.

But in the past year, Sarles has stressed the importance of looking beyond the rebuilding, toward increasing the capacity of the system to accommodate more riders. That program, known as Metro 2025, has many expensive elements, but at the top of the list is expansion of the rail-car fleet to the point where all trains at the peak periods on weekdays can be eight cars long. Today’s rail system has a mix of six- and eight-car trains at rush hours, and many of them are packed to the point that riders must pass up a train or two before they can squeeze on.

“We have issues because these rail cars are so full today,” McAuliffe said. “We need these eight-car trains.”

Buying more rail cars is only part of the expense. The transit authority also must upgrade its power system to move those trains, and it must expand its storage yards to accommodate the extra cars.

The $75 million commitment helps advance the Metro 2025 program but provides no guarantee that the goal of eight-car trains, or any of the other goals in Metro 2025, will be reached. That will require further commitments by the jurisdictions that finance the transit authority.

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