Phase 2 of the Metro Dulles rail project, known as the Silver Line, is either a boondoggle or the key to Loudoun County’s economic future, depending upon whom you ask.
Nearly 200 people packed a public hearing before the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Monday night to weigh in on whether the county should remain part of the $2.7 billion plan to connect Metro rail to Dulles International Airport and further into the county.
Loudoun County's financial commitment to Phase 2 will cost it $270 million. The Board of Supervisors has until July 4 to decide whether the municipality is in or out.
Vehement support — and opposition — for Silver line
In kelly green t-shirts printed with the words "Loudoun Rail Now," supporters outnumbered opponents at the public hearing. While fewer in number, anti-rail residents were nonetheless determined to convince the board to pull out of Phase 2. Bob Constantino even wore a prop inside the Loudoun government center: a Viking helmet.
"During their time they were known for pillage, they were known for plunder and they were known for thievery," Constantino said of the Vikings. "It's my contention that the Metro Silver Line Phase 2 in the context of Loudoun County is virtual railway robbery."
Opponents do not support a project they fear might raise their taxes to benefit the minority of residents who would ride the Metro beyond Dulles Airport. The county's long-term funding commitment is also a point of contention. Loudoun's operating budget for the future Metro stop at the airport itself would be $5 million-$7 million per year, even though county residents are not expected to heavily use it.
Supporters of the plan, including businesses, urged the board to keep its commitment to the project.
"…The long term benefits of the Dulles Rail project offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to Loudoun County," said Tony Howard, the president of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce.
Another pro-rail speaker, Mindy Williams, urged the board to see the Silver line as an opportunity. "The opportunity to increase the commercial tax base, the economic opportunity, and the ability to leverage the tremendous asset we have in Dulles airport…" she said.
Loudoun residents not the only ones divided
The nine-member board, composed entirely of Republicans, is split. Board chairman Scott York supports the project, but his colleagues on the board remain divided. The supervisors will weigh a variety of funding options, including the creating of new taxes, at another meeting Wednesday night.
Also on Wednesday, the board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is expected to decide whether to drop a controversial pro-labor provision -- a project labor agreement or PLA -- for the entire project that would favor bidders that choose a union workforce to build Phase 2.
The PLA is a sticking point for the Loudoun County Board, but even if MWAA drops it, the county's support is not a sure thing.
Supporters worry about missed opportunity
"The worst thing about saying, 'no' is you don't want the project to end at Dulles Airport," said Carol Wilte, a 20-year employee at the airport and rail supporter. "You don't want to add all that commuter traffic on top of all the travelers going to and from an airport that already has $25 million passengers."
Phase 1, which is nearing completion, will terminate at the new Wiehle Avenue Metro station in Reston, requiring passengers to take another form of transportation to the airport.
If Loudoun opts out of Phase 2, the project will most likely be delayed significantly while MWAA and the state of Virginia seek funding options, including charging significantly higher tolls on the Dulles Toll Road.