Rail to Loudoun: One year later
A divided nine members of the board, all Republicans, were contemplating withdrawing the county as a funding partner for the second phase of the $5.5 billion Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, set to extend Metro's Silver Line to the Dulles airport and into eastern Loudoun County.
By the slimmest of margins, a 5-4 vote, Loudoun County remained in the massive infrastructure venture, keeping the county in partnership with Fairfax County, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) and both the state and federal government.
Now, a year has passed. And while the Loudoun Board of Supervisors voted to remain in the project, putting the county on the hook for nearly $270 million in construction costs, there are still several matters to address before Loudoun is ready for rail.
One high-priority issue outstanding includes ensuring viable, smooth transportation around the stations at Route 606 and Route 772, including adequate parking, said board Vice Chairman Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run).
Williams was instrumental in drawing up new tax districts around the Loudoun stations that helped ensure the project received the five votes in Loudoun it needed.
Since then, the board has focused on the county's master plan around the proposed stops – how will they be developed, will the parking be adequate and will commuters have easy access to the stops, Williams said.
Colleen Gillis Snow, a land use and zoning partner with the Cooley law firm, opined that the county still has its work cut out for it to ensure transportation and development around the stations is done successfully.
“I think we need Metro,” Snow said. “ … we absolutely need it to come to Loudoun County. But it's not enough just to run a train through,” she said, adding the county must work to develop it smart and create communities that are “Loudoun appropriate.”
The road network around the Loudoun stations at Route 606 and Route 772 in Ashburn will continue to be analyzed over the next couple years. One obstacle the Loudoun board will likely have to address, Snow said, is that the tract of land south from the Route 606 station, which falls in Dulles airport property, is essentially unusable right now.
As for parking garages, proposals for the two stations have been submitted and continue to be analyzed by county staff and the supervisors.
MWAA, the organization overseeing construction of the project, in April awarded the primary contract for phase two to Capital Rail Constructors for $1.18 billion. The Capital Rail Constructors team consists of Clark Construction Group and Kiewit Infrastructure South.
“This has been a very successful competitive procurement process,” Pat Nowakowski, executive director of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, said after the contract was awarded. “The winning proposal is well below our original estimates of $1.4 billion to $1.6 billion for this portion of the project, which hopefully will allow us to pass on additional savings to users of the Dulles Toll Road.”
Second phase construction is anticipated to be complete in 2018 or 2019.
Many conservatives, including Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, continue to scrutinize the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project for the enormous price tag it carries.
Dave LaRock, a Hamilton resident who rallied against the rail project last year, said he's still highly skeptical of the funding mechanism and cost associated with what he has called a major “economic development deal” rather than a transportation project.
“A lot of the comments I see in the papers depict me to being opposed to rail. That really wasn't the case,” LaRock said. “I had strong reservations about the financial arrangement, as did the supervisors.”
LaRock, now a Republican candidate for the House of Delegates after defeating Del. Joe May in last month's primary, believes the notion that Dulles rail will relieve congestion has been highly exaggerated. He said he's yet to see a thorough cost-benefit analysis which, to him, justifies the multi-billion dollar expense. Additionally, the project's reliance on revenues from the Dulles Toll Road is too heavy, LaRock said.
“A year later, not a whole lot has changed. The one thing that is very much on my radar is the financial arrangement.”
Pro-rail voices like Snow and Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tony Howard both speculate the mood of the local business community would be starkly different had the Loudoun board withdrawn from the project.
“When the vote came down there was a great deal of relief,” Howard said. “There continues to be a real sense of optimism.”
Had the Board of Supervisors opted out, Howard said, the county would've been sending a gloomy message the business community.
“The attitude would've been that we're not comfortable investing here,” Howard said. “ … I remember going outside the county last year and people saying to me, 'What is the Loudoun board thinking? How could they blow this opportunity?”