MWAA to Loudoun County: No Extension on Silver Line Deadline

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s CEO says the agency will not grant a request by three members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors to extend a deadline for a critical decision affecting Phase 2 of the Silver Line rail project to Dulles Airport.

In an interview with Transportation Nation, CEO Jack Potter said MWAA will not extend Loudoun County’s deadline to December to decide whether to opt out of the $2.7 billion rail link. The current deadline is July 4; the board of supervisors is expected to vote the day before.

On Monday the three board members issued a list of 21 “considerations” upon which their support may ride and requested a six-month deadline extension. If the nine-member board votes to opt out, the start of Phase 2 would be delayed at least 18 months.

“We are looking forward to a decision on July 3,” said Potter, who said Loudoun officials were already granted a 30-day extension that pushed the final decision into next month.

Although only four of nine county supervisors currently support Phase 2, Potter said he was optimistic Loudoun will opt in.

“They are starting to address some of the more challenging issues with Phase 2. One of the biggest issues they have is how to finance Phase 2. The fact that they are actively engaged in discussions about tax districts and finding other means of dealing with the funding, I find that encouraging.” Potter said.

The extension request had little chance of being realized.  There may not even be enough support on the Loudoun Board to make a formal request to MWAA even if the agency were willing to grant it.  The request for more time to weigh the Silver Line does illustrate, however, that just two weeks from the big vote there remain serious questions among enough board members to place the project in peril."

A proposal to create a special tax district around the planned Metro stops west of the airport was one of three ideas the Loudoun board agreed to consider to pay for the county’s $270 million Phase 2 commitment. The board has scheduled a work session on June 29 to decide on a financing framework before the final vote. The tax district would levy taxes on commercial properties that stand to benefit from the presence of a Metro stop nearby.

In response to Potter's remarks, Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) said he would support Metro rail-to-Loudoun if the board approves the proposal for the special tax district. Reid has been on the fence, saying he would not support the project unless the board demonstrates it can be paid for.  He was among the three Supervisors who signed the "opt in consideration."

“Looking at the numbers it looks to me that it will help pay for the cost of Dulles rail without burdening the rest of the county,” said Reid, who maintains that the Silver Line would not solve the county’s transportation problems.

“I still think that some of our conditions… are things the Airports Authority and WMATA should be discussing with us,” said Reid, who said he never intended to make the 21 considerations a list of ultimatums.

“I think that many of the issues there are beyond anyone’s control,” said Potter. “It’s great for someone to have a wish list for what they would like to have in a perfect world, but much of what they wrote down is unattainable.”

In an email, supervisor Geary Higgins, who also asked for an extension of the July 3 deadline, said Potter's remarks were "unfortunate." Currently only four supervisors on the nine-member board support the Silver Line. One more supporter is necessary for a majority to prevent the county from opting out of the project.