The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has unanimously signed off on an agreement to fund the completion of the 23-mile Silver Line, bringing Metrorail service to Reston, Herndon, Dulles Airport and Loudoun County.
About $2.8 billion of the $3.2 billion second phase, which includes six stations, will be shared among Fairfax County, Loudoun County, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and the Dulles Toll Road. The remaining costs, to construct the Route 28 station and parking garages at the stations in Fairfax and Loudoun, will be covered by the respective localities, if possible, so that those elements are not financed on the back of the Dulles Toll Road.
Although the measure passed unanimously, some supervisors still have reservations about project elements.
“I can come up with more reasons why we shouldn’t then why we should,” said Supervisor Michael Frey (R-Sully). For example, the county has still not finalized how it will pay for its funding obligations for the rail construction.
However, he said, with the first phase of the rail line under construction through Wiehle Avenue in Reston, there is no choice but to complete it. “It doesn’t make sense to build rail to Wiehle Avenue,” he said.
Many county residents, particularly those in Reston and Herndon, remain concerned about how the cost will affect tolls on the Dulles Toll Road, as well as whether higher tolls will push traffic out to other neighborhood roads.
Without additional state funding, a trip on the Dulles Toll Road could jump to $4.50 as soon as next year. With $150 million in state dollars, the rate of toll increase could be smoothed out, with smaller annual increases, according to the airports authority’s advisors.
“All of the concern that has been expressed about rising tolls is very legitimate,” said Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville). “But it is not an issue that is impacted by the decision we are making today.”
He said that the airports authority will use the toll road to fund rail to the airport either way, and that the choice is whether Fairfax County will add three more rail stations along that line. Foust and other supervisors said it is as much an economic development project as a transportation project.
State legislators are still debating whether to invest more money in the rail extension as they wrap up debate over the state budget in Richmond. The state Senate proposed putting a total of $450 million into the new rail line, rather than the $150 million originally promised.
Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee) urged people who have concerns about tolls to contact their state legislators.
“If you want toll road relief, tell the state to … buy down the tolls like they do on every other project in this commonwealth,” he said.
Some Republican state officials have threatened to withhold even the $150 million if the airports authority does not remove its support for using a project labor agreement on the second phase. A PLA essentially is a collective bargaining agreement that applies to a specific project. It can set uniform wages, benefits and work rules for the project.
Proponents argue that PLAs improve safety and help ensure a project is completed on time and on budget; opponents say the agreements increase costs by mandating the use of union labor.
Loudoun County has still not voted whether to continue with the project. Board Chairman Scott York (R-At large) has said that he is struggling to find enough votes on his board due to concerns about the project labor agreement.
Fairfax County board Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D-At large) has urged the airports authority to move forward without the project labor agreement so that it doesn’t put the project at risk.