It was a long, long road to create 11.6 miles of light rail—$2.9 billion; five years of construction followed countless punch list and operational issues that sidelined the seemingly completed project for several months; assorted ownership, management, and funding controversies; and more than a few last-minute 11th-hour political rescues from the brink of cancellation.
But on Saturday, July 26, the Silver Line became a working part of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Metrorail system, expanding the existing network to the mini-metropolis of Tysons Corner, Va., and westward to Robert Simon’s famed planned community of Reston, which was born about the same time plans for a regional light rail system evolved.
From most accounts, the Silver Line’s debut day went off fairly well, as did its first rush hour the following Monday. What mechanical and operational glitches occurred may have kept the line from passing with the proverbial “flying colors,” it helped most people forget—for awhile, anyway—the dozens disputes that dogged the project for more than a decade.
The doubts about the ability of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) ability to responsibility manage construction of a light rail system, which resulted in a federal audit. Worries about cost overruns that many believed would surely come if the line were tunneled beneath Tysons Corner. The effects of the resulting above-ground line on both Tysons’ future land use and ambitions to become a more pedestrian-friendly area. Accusations about using foundations from the 1970s for the Silver Line’s flyover structure above I-66.
The list goes on and on, and will continue to do so, as the $2.7 billion Phase 2 of the Silver Line is no stranger to controversy.
One year into its five-year construction phase, the project to extend to Silver Line another 11 miles to Washington Dulles International Airport and beyond has already been reworked to eliminate an underground airport terminal station in order to keep cost-wary local governments from withdrawing their support. MWAA’s plan to use a PLA as an incentive to prospective design-build teams was shot down for much the same reason.
And even with a hoped-for New Starts grant, MWAA’s reliance on its Silver Line-sandwiching Dulles Toll Road as a supporting revenue source has spurred more than a few grumbles from the corridor’s car commuters.
Perhaps, those bones of contention will be similarly buried by feel-good sentiments when Phase 2 and its six stations open for business in 2018—barring, of course, any new disputes that complicate the project, or derail it entirely. For light rail megaprojects in metro DC and elsewhere, it seems, the destination really is more important than the journey.