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Opting Out May Not Take Loudoun Off the Hook for Silver Line Project

Supervisors begin work sessions before final vote to determine whether Loudoun will participate.

The biggest revelation Tuesday night regarding Loudoun’s potential participation in Metro’s Silver Line extension appeared to be the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s expectation that the county would cover operation and maintenance costs as well as participate in Metro’s capital program, even if the Board of Supervisors opts out of the project.

WMATA is the entity that operates Metro, while the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is the entity constructing the project. While MWAA, which also controls Dulles Airport and the Dulles Toll Road, has been tasked with construction and will participate in phase two of the Silver Line project, it will not be responsible for operation and maintenance costs.

Shiva Pant, Metro’s chief of staff, first mentioned the airport station costs, noting that the station would be within Loudoun’s borders, despite being on airport property.

“Under our board policy, the subsidy for that one station would be allocated to Loudoun, based on the formula as described,” he said.

The notion irked several board members, including County Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large), who openly supports participation in the project with the caveat that unions are not required and contractors are not rewarded for using them.

“If the Loudoun board so chooses to opt out, opt out means opt out,” York said. “We’ll fight the fact that we’re going to be held that $9 million if we opt out. There is no way we’re going to opt out, but we’re still going to pay.”

York likely referred to the annual operation and maintenance costs by 2025 if Loudoun opts out, minus the capital program. The figures provided by WMATA show Loudoun would be responsible for $11 million annually for operation, maintenance and the capital program by 2018 and $14.6 million by 2025 if the county opts out. If Loudoun participates and the two stations beyond the airport are constructed—at Route 606 and 772—those costs rise to $16.3 million in 2018 and $21.5 by 2025.

Those annual costs are in addition to the construction costs for the Silver Line. Loudoun's share for that is estimated at $260 million, which includes Loudoun's share for phase one that comes due if the county participates in phase two.

“I think it would be foolhardy for anybody to assume that the agreement we’re under right now, having an opt-in period or an opt-out period, precludes us from opting out,” said Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian), adding that Loudoun should not be responsible for airport property it doesn't control. “Our Loudoun County Sheriff’s deputies are not allowed on that property.”

A member of Loudoun’s transportation staff said WMATA would likely send the bill to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission if Loudoun opts out. York said he would fight any attempt by the NVTC to take the money from Loudoun’s share of gas tax allocations.

Supervisor Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run) said the news makes it that much clearer to him that Loudoun is better off participating in the project.

“As it stands now we’re on the hook. It’s ultimately going to come to the airport and Loudoun County’s going to pay for it significantly,” he said, asking colleagues not to make up their minds against rail yet.

“Now we’re starting to get the real numbers,” he said, adding that if Loudoun opts out, “the message that we’ll be sending to the business community, not to mention the negative impact this will have on our economic development efforts, will be severe. They want this rail.”

But many board members have continued to express their doubts about the benefits of Metro stations in Loudoun.

Leesburg Supervisor Ken Reid (R) said he was concerned about the new lower figures for operation and maintenance costs for the county. In particular, he questioned the ridership estimates for the Loudoun stations, to which there apparently is no scientific answer. The number is key because it’s one-third of the factor used to determine Loudoun's share.

And while Loudoun’s staff is conducting a study to look at parking demand for the two Ashburn stations, it will not provide information about rider destinations, which Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) said was key to determining whether the Rosslyn tunnel could handle the additional capacity.

However, a WMATA representative told Higgins that some Blue Line trains would be relabeled Yellow Line and rerouted across another bridge.

Higgins also raised concerns about the rising costs for jurisdictions participating in WMATA’s program, wondering whether it was driven by the cost of union employees that comprise 8,000 of WMATA’s 11,000-member workforce.

Supervisor Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge) questioned the ridership numbers and, along with Higgins, wanted better information about that estimate.

“I think the ridership question is very big for this board, really,” she said. “I have a very difficult time digesting all of this and conveying the information to the constituency on what it’s going to cost, what the benefit is going to be for them ridership-wise.”

The costs for riders would max out at $6, and Loudoun would subsidize longer trips. Anyone heading to DC, is likely to have to pay the full $6, with rides to Tysons Corner and Reston likely costing less.

“We know, at least I know, the folks that ride Metro, the majority of them, or the folks that ride the bus to get to work are going to Washington, DC, or the Pentagon, places like that,” Clarke said.

Reid said he preferred bus service and called it “patently unfair” to subsidize rail riders with toll fares on the Dulles Toll Road, which currently are expected to fund a significant share of the project.

York, despite his concerns about Loudoun’s responsibility if it opts out, said he supports rail to Loudoun.

“There’s no question it’s a tough decision,” he said, but pointed to problems constructing any type of additional road network instead of rail. “We have no ability to construct another corridor that is east-west.”

York also said it would help the county develop its commercial tax base.

Additional work sessions are planned as the board continues to weigh the ups and downs of participating in the project. Visit the county’s web page on the project to learn more.

Rob Jones April 21, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Note that a lot of the residences and businesses within a 1/2 mile of the Moorefield station have yet to even _exist_.
Rob Jones April 21, 2012 at 03:29 PM
“If the Loudoun board so chooses to opt out, opt out means opt out,” York said. “We’ll fight the fact that we’re going to be held that $9 million if we opt out. There is no way we’re going to opt out, but we’re still going to pay.” Doublespeak, and not all that clever, either. I have a better idea, Mr. York: Take whatever property Metrorail sits on and TAX IT!!!!! It's our land, they want to lease it, let them pay. We are not Fairfax.
Rob Jones April 21, 2012 at 03:32 PM
“Now we’re starting to get the real numbers,” he said, adding that if Loudoun opts out, “the message that we’ll be sending to the business community, not to mention the negative impact this will have on our economic development efforts, will be severe. They want this rail.” At least he's honest.
Rob Jones April 21, 2012 at 03:48 PM
York: “We have no ability to construct another corridor that is east-west.” Chairman York, please envision the transformation before us if we add another 1/2-million residents to Loudoun County. If you have witnessed the transformation along Route 50 through Chantilly, can you not understand that East-West commuting is doomed? The workers want to live in Reston and points east because that's where the amenities are. If you want economic development in Loudoun, you have to replicate the amenities to attract the workers, then the businesses will have an easier time justifying locating in Loudoun. The price of commuting pays for rail no matter what. But rail is not supported by Loudoun's potential rider base (prove me wrong, I dare ya). Go with buses for now, and work harder to make Loudoun as attractive as the urban areas by promoting better sidewalks, bike paths, parks, family restaurants, nightclubs (booze tax revenue, gasp!), and universal free wi-fi. MWAA is looking for a one-night stand and leaving Loudoun on the hook for the food bill. Let's get real and realize that smart growth is not something that happens to dumb people, it's smart people building communities they want to live in. Leave Metro at the county line and make "commute" a 4-letter word. The $$$ will follow.
Shane May 01, 2012 at 07:17 PM
That is very true. When there is this much debate about the true value of the metro, why should it be a foregone conclusion. Public works projects must always consult all of the people they will potentially affect. If you ignore those people and you give false cost estimates, you undermine your credibility as a leader. If Loudon is forced to go through with a project that is only desired by a small minority of so-called businessmen, that is dirty politics at its finest. How can you truly listen to your residents yet your eyes are focused on the development community? Why don't you as leaders try to behave in ways that would truly benifit the community, by emphasizing openness, stability, and sustainability? Why do you think that Fairfax Station has been called the Brigadoon of Virginia? Because it has managed to preserve its history and community, its prosperity and civic pride. Perhaps the Rural Crescent and the Transition Zone deserve these dignities as well. Or can you simply bulldoze a way of life that you don't agree with?

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