With the Virginia General Assembly bitterly divided over funding for Phase II of the Dulles Metrorail project, influential Northern Virginia groups are coming to the support of the project, generally regarded as the largest public works project currently underway in the United States. The Reston Association today released a statement restating its ongoing support for the completion of Phase 2, and the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce did so earlier this week.
In the statement, Kathleen Driscoll McKee, President of the Reston Association Board of Directors, said continuing the Silver Line past Dulles International Airport into Loudon County will be an economic driver for years to come for all of Northern Virginia. She added that Reston Association supports the perspectives of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, Dulles Corridor Rail Association, Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce and others that the economic benefits of rail are real and well documented.
â€œOn behalf of its more than 60,000 members, Reston Association, would like to acknowledge and applaud all of the partners who are working to bring rail to the Dulles Corridor and into Loudoun County,â€ McKee said.
The Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce earlier this week joined Northern Virginia business organizations and advocacy groups in signing a statement of support for the recently approved budget plan by the Virginia Senate that increases the stateâ€™s funding commitment for the Dulles Corridor Rail Project by $300 million, proposing to provide a total of $450 million in state money for the vital Phase 2 portion of the Silver Line project — funding that was abruptly taken off the table by the McDonnell administration during budget negotiations this week.
Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), the Senate Democratic leader, and Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), who had pushed for adding $300 million to the $150 million already included in the budget for the $6 billion Metrorail project, were angered by the administration’s action and Saslaw said there would be no budget unless the issue was resolved. The additional money would be used to hold down tolls for motorists on the Dulles Toll Road. They were angered when the McDonnell administration said it would stand by the $150 million but could not cough up the other $300 million without impacting other projects around the state.
Howell labeled the $150 million â€œpeanutsâ€ but downstate Republicans said borrowing more money to mitigate tolls did not make economic sense.
â€œThe Fairfax Chamber is proud to join the Silver Line Coalition in applauding the leadership of Northern Virginiaâ€™s Senatorial Delegation to secure their colleaguesâ€™ support for these much needed funds to complete Phase II of Dulles Rail,â€ said Fairfax Chamber President & CEO Jim Corcoran. â€œRail to Dulles continues to be a top priority of the Fairfax Chamber and the Northern Virginia business community and weâ€™re happy to see this critical project one step closer to completion.â€
Adding to the confusion, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has had second thoughts about supporting the Metro extension.
Loudoun had previously been on board with the project and had tentatively agreed to share construction costs with Fairfax and the other funding agencies, which include the Commonwealth of Virginia, U.S. Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), which owns the Dulles Toll Road and anticipates taking a large share of funding for the Metro project out of the hides of commuting motorists.
But Loudoun has been second-guessing itself thanks to two recent events: the votersâ€™ decision to replace most of the Loudoun board in the recent election and the release by MWAA of preliminary engineering estimates that are $1 billion lower than previous estimates. Lower estimates would normally be cause for celebration but in this case, they seem to have undercut the credibility of the budgeting process.
Fairfax Board Chair Sharon Bulova noted that, despite Loudounâ€™s recent misgivings, the latest cost estimates â€œare consistent with what we have been working with during the past year.â€
She noted that the 90-day opt out deadline for Fairfax and Loudoun is June 4, 2012. But on March 7, the Loudoun board approved a letter asking Fairfax County and MWAA to extend the deadline an additional 30 days.