New Metrorail Line Really Coming
This time, it's for real. The Washington region can now plan on construction of a new Metrorail line through Tysons Corner and out to Reston. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood signed an agreement this morning that means all hurdles have been cleared for the crucial $900 million federal portion of the financing.
A quote that I could attribute to any number of Northern Virginia leaders who are at the U.S. Department of Transportation today: "This is a great day." The grand signing ceremony in the DOT atrium is more than just a crowded photo op for state and federal officials. It's a breakthrough for travelers in the Washington region. This will help organize Tysons Corner for the 21st Century. Four stations will be built there. And it will provide a transit line for at least a few more generations of Washington area commuters.
Virginia Gov. Timothy M Kaine said he had never worked on anything so complicated. In his remarks this morning, he noted that the project spanned federal administrations, and praised the work of former transportation secretary Mary Peters during the past year.
LaHood, who praised both Kaine and Peters, said this project is the most significant extension of Metro since the system was constructed. He called it a new reason for commuters to leave their cars at home.
Getting to this was hard. And few could have visualized today's celebration one year ago.
Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer recalled a far different scene early in 2008. At a breakfast meeting with business leaders to discuss the region's transportation needs, he was glancing nervously at his BlackBerry while awaiting word about the Federal Transit Administration's review of the rail project. Homer recalled seeing a one-word message: "Bad."
That may have been an understatement. The rail line, discussed and planned for four decades, was a dead man walking after the FTA said the specs didn't meet its standards. But a concerted effort by state and local leaders brought it back to life.
This year, Homer noted recently, the news from the federal government has been a lot better. And it's not simply a function of a new administration in Washington. Kaine and Peters, transportation secretary during the latter part of the Bush Administration, had worked to resolve FTA concerns about cost and management.
A publicly financed transit project ultimately costing $5.2 billion is not something Republicans generally warm up to. Peters deserves credit for listening to Virginia's anguished response over the project's imminent death. She engaged in discussions with Kaine, local leaders and the Northern Virginia congressional delegation.
The Department of Transportation approved the project in January, launching the 60-day comment period that ended this month.
Securing the new Metrorail line may turn out to be Kaine's major achievement in transportation, after several rocky years of trying to create a financing system that would support maintenance and construction.
This probably isn't the last struggle, however. Wiehle Avenue isn't Dulles Airport. You can't even see it from there. The project's supporters still must figure out how to pay for connecting the line to the airport during the next decade. But if the schedule holds, the line through Tysons to Wiehle will be done in 2013, with the connection to Dulles coming a couple of years later.
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