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Posted at 12:32 p.m. on July 25, 2014
Saturday is a historic day for mass transit in the United States: it marks the opening of a $3 billion, 11.7 mile-stretch of rail called the Silver Line which will serve the nation’s capital and its suburbs, the first new stations in the 106-mile Metro system since 2004.
If you you’re reading this in Paris and are about to fly to Washington, D.C. for a visit: sorry, this new line will not reach Dulles International Airport.
But as the airport operator says, “It will be closer to Dulles than ever.”
A bus service will run between Dulles and the nearest Silver Line station. The bus trip will cost you $5, then you’ll pay an additional $5.90 (peak travel times) or $3.60 (off peak) on the Silver Line to get to downtown Washington.
What’s opening Saturday is called Phase 1 of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project on which construction began in 2009.
When Phase 2 of the effort is done, the Silver Line will reach Dulles by a date that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority projects as 2018.
For now the Silver Line may be more important for residents of parts of northern Virginia – centered at Tysons in Fairfax County — who have been relying on cars and buses to get around.
Robert Puentes, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, said the Silver Line “is profoundly significant because it is the catalyst for the transformation of Tysons from an exclusively auto-oriented ‘edge city’ to modern and vibrant live/work community. It’s a big bet.”
He said, “The lessons from the Silver Line are not unlike other infrastructure projects in the U.S: how to build transformative infrastructure in existing places (as opposed to greenfields out on the suburban fringe), how to manage costs, and develop new public/private financing models.”
Phase 2, Puentes said, will be different “because the Tysons transformation is not the centerpiece (airport access is), and most of it will be in the highway right-of-way (vs. directly through a commercial center). But managing costs and experimenting with new finance and funding tools will still be part of it.”
None of this has come cheaply – Phase 2 will cost $2.7 billion — and if you pay federal taxes, you’re helping pay for it.
In 2009 the Federal Transit Administration awarded the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) the last in a series of grants for Phase 1 of the Dulles Corridor project, $975 million.
The Department of Transportation’s inspector general found in an audit issued last January that MWAA “received $139 million in Federal grant funds for unsupported transactions during the period we reviewed,” from November 2012 through October 2013, about 36 percent of FTA’s disbursements during this period. “Unsupported” means lacking sufficient documentation.
The IG’s audit also found that MWAA got $350,000 in federal money for “unallowable transactions,” such as payments to lobbyists.