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Silver Line Playbook: County seeks $200 million loan

$1.9 billion loan package may stem toll increases

As the Loudoun Board of Supervisors has signaled in recent months, Loudoun County plans to apply for a $200 million federal loan to help pay its share of extending Metro’s Silver Line into Loudoun.

The county’s participation in a nearly $1.9 billion package with other funding partners seems to help solidify that the second phase of the Metro project, bringing the train to Loudoun, will stay on track. The federal loan would cover about one-third of the expenses for the project's second phase, variously estimated to cost between $5.6 billion and $6.8 billion to complete.

The financing for Phase Two comes as the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority announced new delays in opening the first phase of the Silver Line, originally scheduled to begin passenger service to Tysons Corner and Reston by the end of 2013. Continuing problems with a key safety component have pushed the opening to late spring or summer.

Assuming financing is in order and second phase construction hits deadlines, the Metro Silver Line will run to Loudoun County by 2018.

Confirmation of the county's intent to apply for the loan came after the United States Department of Transportation formally invited the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) and its two partners, Loudoun and Fairfax counties, to apply for the low-interest federal financing.

The loan would be made through the federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), which helps finance regional and national transportation projects.

Officials throughout Northern Virginia hailed the financing to Silver Line partners as an opportunity to hold down rates on the Dulles Toll Road.

Tolls have increased for five consecutive years. The revenue from the tolls is part of the formula to finance the second phase of the Silver Line.

“This is great news for our taxpayers and commuters,” said Scott K. York (R- At Large), chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. “This will help finance the project with the least cost to Loudoun taxpayers and will help keep rates down on the Dulles Toll Road.”

Similarly, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said extending the rail line to Dulles Airport is “key to the future economic growth and expanded economic opportunity for Northern Virginia."

Keeping tolls from skyrocketing has been a major concern for commuters in recent years.

The loans come at a cost, however. The counties would have to service the debt and repay the loan with revenue generated from the Silver Line.

Loudoun officials say the federal loan would allow the Metrorail Service Districts at the three planned Metro stations in Loudoun to accrue revenue.

The service districts were created to help pay for the construction of the Silver Line to Loudoun, and for the ongoing costs of providing Metrorail service at those stations.

County officials said they may levy an additional tax in the Metro districts at a rate up to $0.20 per $100 of assessed property value.

The 23.1-mile Silver Line is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the country, and the TIFIA loan would be one of the largest ever.

The Department of Transportation provided $900 million in grants for the first phase of the project that extended Washington’s rail system from West Falls Church to Tysons Corner to a terminus in Reston.
DOT has indicated that it would not make grants to fund the second phase, but would instead offer low-interest, long-term loans.

In addition to federal funding through loans to Silver Line partners, the Commonwealth of Virginia plans to contribute $300 million to the construction of Phase Two.
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