By Keith Laing
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is criticizing a delay in the opening of an expansion of Washington, D.C.’s Metrorail subway system toward Dulles International Airport.
Construction on the extension, which has been dubbed the Silver Line, was scheduled to be completed at the end of November.
However, the agency that operates the airport and is building the rail extension said this week that it needed more time to conduct testing on the new train tracks.
“With every additional month of delay, the traveling public suffers and millions of dollars in fare-box revenue are lost,” he wrote in a letter to Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) President John Potter.
“As you finish your critical safety testing, I urge that you do everything in your power to complete the work as quickly and responsibility as possible and avoid further delays so that our region’s commuters and travelers can benefit from this crucial transportation link,” the Virginia senator continued.
The first phase of the Metro Silver Line is scheduled to run from Prince George’s County, Md., to Reston, Va., with stops in downtown Washington, D.C., and new stations in Tysons Corner, Va.
The line is being built in part with $900 million in federal money that it was granted by the Obama administration. The Silver Line is one of the largest ongoing public transportation projects in the country.
Warner said in his letter that he understood safety was important, but the airport authority’s recent announcement “follows an unsettling pattern of project delays.
“This recent announcement follows the delay announced in June that pushed project completion from 2013 into 2014,” Warner wrote. “I agree with your assessment that safety should be the uppermost priority in guiding your efforts, but I believe that can be responsibly achieved while also adhering to an agreed-upon project schedule.
“With passenger service now pushed back to April 2014, every month of delay will cost the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) roughly $2 to $3 million in lost fare revenue,” Warner continued. “These losses occur in the context of a 2012 fare increase of 5 to 7 percent for Metro riders, and WMATA reportedly is considering an additional 9 percent increase in fares, between rail and bus operations, for Fiscal Year 2014. Further delays on the Silver Line rail extension will only further aggravate the financial pressures on WMATA, and ultimately could be paid by the region’s commuters.”
The D.C. airport authority is building the Silver Line for WMATA, which opperates Metro’s other lines and will take control of the new stations when they are completed.
The capital area transit agency has said that it will need to conduct 90 days of testing of its own on the new Silver Line before it can begin accepting passengers on the line.
The second phase of the Silver Line, which is scheduled to include a stop at Dulles Airport, is scheduled to be completed in 2018.