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Fairfax County Grapples With Huge Silver Line Costs

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The first portion of the Silver Line is expected to open in early 2014, which an extention to Dulles Airport coming in 2018.
WAMU/Jared Angle
The first portion of the Silver Line is expected to open in early 2014, which an extention to Dulles Airport coming in 2018.

Fairfax County transportation officials say they are confident the necessary funds will be secured to pay for three facilities—two parking garages and a rail station—that are part of Phase II of the Silver Line Metrorail project to Dulles International Airport, sparing county taxpayers an additional burden as the $6 billion commuter rail extension is constructed.

As part of an agreement with then U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), Fairfax and Loudoun counties pledged to fund the construction of parking and station facilities “outside the project,” a move designed to placate LaHood’s wish to reduce the overall cost of the Silver Line, which is being largely financed with toll revenues from the Dulles Toll Road.

In an interview with WAMU 88.5, Fairfax County Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny said planners are pursuing several avenues to fulfill the county’s commitment to building parking garages at the future Herndon-Monroe and Rt. 28 stations and the station stop at Rt. 28/Innovation Center, all of which will cost nearly a quarter of a billion dollars.

“Obviously we want to keep the total cost of the project for all of the funding partners as reasonable as possible. One of the beneficiaries of reducing the cost of the project obviously is the toll road users. Other beneficiaries are the taxpayers,” Biesiadny said.

Dulles Toll Road revenues are currently expected to cover roughly two-thirds of the Silver Line’s overall cost, a figure that may change depending on two important variables: 1) Whether the federal Department of Transportation approves a large loan under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) that would reduce the amount of toll revenue needed in the financing scheme, and 2) The final cost of the rail extension.

A final estimate will not be known until MWAA awards contracts for the last four packages of the Phase II construction, which will extend the Silver Line 11 miles west into Loudoun County from the Wiehle-Reston East Station. The largest piece of the Phase II design was awarded to Clark Construction in April, whose winning bid totaled $1.2 billion. Officials estimate all of Phase II could cost between $2.5 and $3 billion.

The enormous sum of $235 million Fairfax County estimates it will need to build the two parking garages and rail station currently is factored into the Silver Line’s overall budget. Those costs will remain “inside the project,” to be shared by all the funding partners, unless the county finds money to build them on its own.

“We are whittling it down,” Biesiadny said.

Biesiadny said the county may issue revenue bonds to build the parking garages and then use parking revenues to pay the bonds back over time. As for the Rt. 28/Innovation Center station, the county has received about half the necessary funds from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority ($41 million), and is applying for a federal TIGER grant to cover about twenty-five percent more, or $20 million. That leaves approximately $25 million dollars to secure, but Biesiadny said the county has until July 2014 to do so.

“The board [of supervisors] agreed to use our best efforts to fund these projects outside the overall project and so far we think we are in pretty good shape for the garages and we are about halfway there for the estimate of the station itself,” he said.

June 2013 DCAC Meeting

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