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N.Va. officials laud first-year impact of Silver Line

© Leesburg Today - 07/28/2015

Backers of Metrorail's Silver Line engaged in some congratulatory back-slapping July 27 to celebrate the line's first year of operations and expressed hope for its eventual extension to Loudoun County via Washington Dulles International Airport.

Speaking at the ceremony held at the Convene Conference Center in Tysons Corner, U.S. Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-11th) called the Silver Line ""the most transformative investment we've made in ourselves in Northern Virginia.""

""It had more near-death experiences than any project I've ever been involved with in my life,"" said Connolly, who thanked former Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine Hanley (D), U.S. Sens. Timothy Kaine and Mark Warner (both D-Va.), former U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th) and former U.S. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) for their efforts to make the project a reality.

Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), whose district includes the Silver Line's Wiehle-Reston East Station and will be home to several stations in Phase 2 of the project, said local residents are excited about the Silver Line's potential.

""They see a whole different atmosphere of how they can live today,"" she said.

About 15 percent of new development in the Washington, D.C., region is occurring along the Silver Line, said Jim Corcoran, president and CEO of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.

""People are saying, 'We are hiring people today in Reston and Tysons who would never have considered working here before,'"" he said. ""We have to create diversity in our economy here and Metro is going to lead the way to that. We have to have rail to Dulles and beyond to reach our potential and expand.""

While Tysons is larger than downtown Boston, it has only about 17,000 residents, which means 150,000 people come to and leave Tysons every day -- usually at precisely the same time, Connolly ruefully noted.

Tysons Corner currently accounts for about $300 million in annual tax revenues for Fairfax County and that figure likely will rise to $1 billion once Tysons, aided by the Silver Line, reaches full build-out, Connolly said. That amount would be equal to 32 cents on Fairfax County's real estate assessment rate, he added.

Connolly and U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-10th) told stories of working in Tysons Corner earlier in their careers. The advent of the Silver Line has ""truly been a partnership,"" Comstock said.

There has been an atmospheric shift in Tysons since the Silver Line opened last July, said Michael Caplin, president of the Tysons Partnership, which the Board of Supervisors formed to oversee implementation of the new Tysons comprehensive plan.

The Silver Line completes a hub of transportation connectivity that includes bus service, bicycle lanes, road networks and pedestrian facilities, he said.

""Even though we are fierce competitors by day, we realize we are all in this together,"" Caplin said.

Jennifer Mitchell, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, noted that 20 new development projects already have been approved in Tysons.

""I don't think anyone realized how spectacular and rapid the transformation was going to be,"" she said.

State transportation officials are seeking ways to finance eight-car Metrorail trains in Northern Virginia, replace some of WMATA's existing railcar fleet and continue to invest in safety improvements, Mitchell said.

After officials' remarks, Caplin asked for the removal of some screens that were hiding a final sweet touch for the ceremony: a towering, five-level (one for each station built so far) chocolate cake with five miniature cake replicas of Metrorail cars.

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