By Mary M. Bathory Vidaver
At the July 3 business meeting, the Board of Supervisors voted 5-4 to proceed with the County’s funding participation in Phase 2 of the Silver Line extension of Metro Rail. Blue Ridge District Supervisor, Janet Clarke, voted No; Board Chair, Scott York (At-Large-R) a long-time supporter of rail, voted Yes.
Loudoun County’s portion of the construction will be financed through a special tax district. As summarized in documents handed out to the Board Monday evening, the Board will establish a rail service district and two sub-districts – a station development district and an airport station district – with a proposed tax rate for each of the districts not to exceed $0.20 per $100. As Supervisor Shawn Williams (R-Dulles) explained, this model ensures that those who benefit the most will contribute the most.
Opponents focused on the lack of final cost and revenue figures. Clarke noted that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (the entity in charge of the project’s construction) had not yet completed its design of the project. While iterating her support for Metro in principal, she questioned what the actual price for the project would be. She then stated, “I support rail but not in the way it has been packaged.” Geary Higgins (Catoctin-R) reiterated Clarke’s concerns, stating “I think we could have done better [with the package].”
In arguing the need for rail, York noted that the airport property effectively prevents the addition of any further significant east-west roadways, stating, “This [decision] gives us the ability to add the capacity that is needed in Loudoun County.” Other Supervisors echoed his statement.
The Silver Line, one of the biggest public works projects in Loudoun since the construction of Dulles Airport, is expected to have a similar impact on the County’s future. The extension has been anticipated for decades with past Boards approving plan amendments and rezoning applications that significantly increase density around the stations. While some of these approvals, such as Moorefield Station, were contingent on the actual arrival of Metro, most were not. Thus, the current Board faced significant pressures to validate those past decisions.
The mood in the Board room was quietly expectant as the Board members slowly gathered for the meeting. The general belief was that Metro had the necessary five votes with Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) serving as the swing vote.
The prior evening during the Board’s public input period, opponents of rail made a number of personal attacks against Reid. For many years, Reid had been a vehement opponent to Dulles Rail, supporting Bus Rapid Transit as a less expensive and more efficient alternative. However, earlier this year, Reid’s long-time employer, Reston developer and Executive Director of a variety of anti-rail, pro-bus special interest groups, Christopher Walker, passed away. This was the subject of particularly harsh comments by John Grigsby of Hillsboro, a long-time property-rights, pro-development, Republican activist. In answer to such comments, Reid stated that while he still believes that supporters may have “stars in their eyes” about all the benefits Metro will bring, the businesses in Ashburn seemed to want it and so long as they were willing to pay for it, then he would support it.
As Grigsby’s comments made clear, the debate has made for strange bedfellows. Young Democrats activist, Valerie Suzdak offered her thanks and appreciation to the wise decision of a Republican Board. Slow-growth conservation organizations joined with the development community in support of rail’s extension, while long-time property rights advocates and past allies of the development community made slow growth arguments they once attacked. York also noted this dichotomy in his closing comments.