Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project
|Locale||Washington Metropolitan Area|
|Termini||Route 772 (west)
|Stations||29 (11 new)|
|Opened||2013 (first phase, under construction)
2016 (full line, planned)
|Operator(s)||Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority|
|Character||Underground, surface, and elevated|
|Line length||23 mi (37 km)|
|No. of tracks||2|
|Track gauge||4 ft 81⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
The Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, informally dubbed the Silver Line after its color on planning maps, is an extension of the Washington Metro rapid transit system, currently under construction, consisting of 29 stations from Route 772 in Loudoun County, Virginia, to Stadium-Armory in Washington, D.C., United States. The current plan calls for stations in Loudoun, Fairfax, and Arlington counties in Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Eighteen stations will be shared with the Orange Line, including all thirteen shared between the Orange and Blue Lines from Rosslyn to Stadium-Armory.
|Silver Line (under construction)|
All new construction will be in Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia. The sections in Arlington, Virginia and Washington, D.C. are to be shared with the Orange and Blue lines that were completed in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Silver Line has two primary goals. The first is to link the District of Columbia by rail to Washington Dulles International Airport and the edge cities of Tysons Corner, Reston, Herndon, and Ashburn. The second is to spur urban development in Tysons Corner and reduce overall reliance on vehicle traffic in the business district, Virginia's largest and the 12th-largest in the nation. This will be a great challenge for an area that is comparable in size to downtown Washington, D.C., but is rather insulated from its surrounding neighborhoods and has no existing grid pattern in its streets.
The Silver Line would also improve public access to the Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex of National Air and Space Museum located near Dulles Airport; Virginia Regional Transit currently runs a shuttle bus from the airport to Udvar-Hazy.
Unlike all prior segments of the Metrorail system, which were designed and constructed by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), this line will be designed and constructed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) and operated by WMATA. The first phase of the project is funded 43% by $900 million of federal funding, 28% by a special tax district on commercial property proximate to the Silver Line route, and 28% by a $0.50 toll increase on the Dulles Toll Road. Funding for the second phase of the project will be shared by Loudoun County, Fairfax County, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
The federal government, which owned and operated Dulles Airport before Congress created the MWAA, built the Dulles Access Road in the 1960s to connect the airport to Washington by way of Interstate 66. The government opted, as the access road was built, to reserve the median of the road for some form of rail transit, and the nearby West Falls Church station was designed so that the line could eventually be extended in this direction.
In 1995, the Virginia General Assembly authorized the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) to provide for "additional improvements to the Dulles Toll Road and Dulles Access Road corridor... including, but not limited to, mass transit, including rail, and capacity-enhancing treatments... from surplus net revenues of the Dulles Toll Road".
Local residents and officials had talked of a Metro extension to Dulles since the Washington Metro began service in 1976, but a significant plan did not develop until 2000. The Dulles Corridor Rapid Transit Project "scoping" process began in April 2000 with a series of meetings with local and federal officials, designed to collect the necessary authorities for the project. Local and federal law required extensive analysis of alternatives – the two most likely being bus lanes or inaction – and of the environmental impact. The rail-only line won over the other alternatives. Initial environmental hearings, which closed on August 28, 2002, were positive. The project received formal approval on June 10, 2004.
In February 2005, the CTB approved a 50 cent increase in the Dulles Toll Road toll rates, effective May 22, 2005, and "reaffirm[ed] that no less than 85 percent of existing surplus Dulles Toll Road net revenues shall be dedicated for mass transit and rail in the [Dulles] Corrdor" and provided "that all additional toll revenue generated from the May 22, 2005 toll adjustment shall be dedicated to the [Metrorail] Project." Between July 1, 2003, and November 1, 2008, when the toll road was transferred to MWAA, over $138 million in net surplus toll revenue (together with accumulated interest) was provided to MWAA for the Silver Line project.
Although construction was planned to begin in 2005, delays in funding pushed back the start date. To facilitate Silver Line construction, responsibility for the project was transferred on November 1, 2008 from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to the MWAA. Utility relocation work began in 2008, and construction began on March 12, 2009.
The extension will run in its own right-of-way on a route similar to that of the Dulles Access Road, running both at grade and via aerial structures. The only significant diversions from the access road route are for the stops in Tysons Corner and at Dulles International Airport, where the Metro will alternate between subway and elevated track to maintain the exclusive right-of-way.
Service on Phase I of the Silver Line is expected to begin in 2013 between Wiehle Avenue and Stadium-Armory, with five new stations being added to the existing network west of East Falls Church. The full line to Route 772, including a station at Dulles International Airport, is expected to be completed in 2016. There will also be a provision made for a future in-fill station at Wolf Trap, between Wiehle Avenue and Tysons West.
There has been controversy over the contract between the MWAA and Dulles Transit Partners, which consists of Bechtel and Washington Group International. The $2.7 billion project was originally awarded by VDOT under the Virginia Public-Private Partnership Act, rather than by using conventional competitive bidding based upon a detailed specification. As a result, the contractor is allowed to both design and build the project with no upper cap on its cost. The Commonwealth of Virginia has not made details of the contract publicly available. The contract provides for price escalation of $3 million to $6 million a month for delays. VDOT transferred the contract to MWAA when MWAA took over the project in November 2008.
The method of construction through the Tysons Corner area generated much debate. In the end, however, plans were made to build the extension above ground. Early plans called for a tunnel running from before Tysons East to beyond Tysons West with all four stations in between being below ground. When the contractor hired to design the Silver Line—a consortium of Bechtel and Washington Group International—found the costs to be too high, the design was changed to use a short tunnel only between Tysons 123 and Tysons 7 stations (underneath higher ground) with all four stations being at or above ground. In March 2006, the contractor was ordered to examine an alternative "large bore" tunnel digging technique (successfully used in Europe) with the potential to lower costs of a tunnel through the entire Tysons section. The contractor found that there would not be a significant cost reduction and proposed staying with the short tunnel option. In April 2006, the long tunnel concept was revived after allegations that the design contractor had inflated costs for the tunnel in order to avoid sharing the job with an outside tunneling contractor. The allegations led to calls for an outside cost estimate to determine more realistic tunnel costs.
On May 15, 2006, Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer announced the creation of an advisory panel headed by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The panel had about two months to evaluate options for completing the line through Tysons Corner, with the results presented to the state on July 27, 2006 and published on July 31, 2006. On September 6, 2006, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine announced his decision in favor of an elevated track through Tysons Corner. In his statement, Kaine said he believed a tunnel would be the best option, but decided against it, citing a fear of losing federal funding for the project.
The tunnel controversy, however, was not yet over. Shortly after Governor Kaine's decision, the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce formed a coalition of tunnel supporters and put forth a technical proposal to help revive consideration of building a tunnel through Tysons Corner. The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation hired an independent consultant to assess the coalition's proposal. The consultant's report—sent on March 7, 2007, to Secretary Homer—stated, however, that "[t]here is a significant risk that the project cost of a Large Bore Tunnel would not meet the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA's) cost-effectiveness ratio criteria, which could compromise federal funding for the project."
On November 26, 2007, Tysons Tunnel, Inc. filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of Transportation and the FTA in the Eastern District of Virginia challenging the denial of their petition to reopen and consider additional evidence regarding the benefits of a tunnel over the aerial option. Gary Baise, the Republican challenger to Gerry Connolly's Fairfax County's Board of Supervisor's Chairmanship, represents Tysons Tunnel. Start of construction was delayed as approval of the $900 million federal contribution to project costs awaited the conclusion of a review by FTA of the proposal submitted by Virginia.
On January 24, 2008, Virginia government representatives including Governor Tim Kaine and Senators John Warner (R) and Jim Webb (D) arrived at the FTA to address last minute concerns by FTA staff and administrators. FTA Administrator James Simpson presented Governor Kaine with a letter which included stark criticisms with the project as presented. The project as presented was given a "Medium-Low" rating (projects must receive a "Medium" or higher rating to be approved under the Federal New Starts Funds project) and was ineligible to receive the $900 million in federal funding. FTA's concerns included the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority's inexperience in large design-build contracts, an exaggeration of funding numbers from the Dulles Toll Road, and an inability for Metro to maintain the 23-mile (37 km) line once it had been built. Virginia leaders vowed to address the concerns by Monday, January 28, 2008, as several fixed priced contracts for building materials costs were due to expire on February 1. Governor Kaine requested an extension of the deadline to February 1, which was granted by the FTA.
On April 30, 2008, the FTA reversed the earlier decision and approved the project, saying that it met standards for cost efficiency, construction and ridership and moving it closer to receiving the $900 million in federal funding. Officials told The Washington Post that the project would move into the final design stage.
On December 4, 2008, the FTA approved funding for the project.
On March 10, 2009, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood signed the formal agreement that awarded the $900 million promised by the federal government for construction of the Silver Line, with major construction expected to begin in several weeks. Utility relocation work had been underway in Tysons Corner since mid-2008.
In 1977, when the Orange Line was originally constructed, foundations for the bridges to carry the Silver Line over I-66 to the median of the Dulles Access Road were built up to ground level. These foundations include steel piles that were driven into the ground and capped with concrete. However, detailed records for these original foundations were lost. As a result, engineers asked that each foundation be inspected by digging around them and checking the current state of the piles under the concrete foundation caps. However, some of these foundations are located in confined spots adjacent to I-66 and the electrified third rail of the Orange Line, making access difficult. Dulles Transit Partners agreed to inspect seven foundations that were easily accessible, but the FTA, following press accounts of the controversy, insisted that all foundations be tested. Dulles Transit Partners and MWAA have agreed that all foundations will be tested before the bridge piers are built upon them. This will require the Orange Line to be taken out of service on weekends while the tests are conducted.
Although the original financing plan called for a 50 cent toll increase to finance the Silver Line (25 cents at the main plaza and 25 cents at the ramp plazas), the increase in projected costs resulted in the MWAA Board approving an increase in the surcharges; effective January 1, 2010, the fare was increased to 50 cents at both the main plaza and ramp plazas, with additional 25 cent increases in main plaza tolls set for 2011 and 2012. These toll surcharges are designed to support MWAA's 52.6% share of the projected $5.25 billion combined cost of Phase I and Phase II. MWAA has justified these toll increases as necessary to meet an estimated $220 million in annual debt service costs projected by 2020. These toll revenue requirements were based on the assumption that the federal government, although it contributed $900 million to Phase I, would not contribute funds for Phase II.
As a result of the surcharge increases, the toll in 2012 will be $2.25, or 16 cents per mile. By comparison, the Illinois Tollway charges 8 cents per mile. The toll increase proposal drew 221 public comments, and opponents outnumbered supporters by about 3 to 1.
Beginning on or around February 22, 2010, one lane of southbound SR 123 in Tysons Corner will be closed for two years for construction of the Tysons East Metro station. The distance impacted is two blocks, from Scotts Crossing Road to Interstate 495 (Capital Beltway).