New DC Metro line declared complete; summer opening likely

Anne Wernikoff

The Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA) announced on Thursday that the extension of Washington, D.C.’s Metrorail subway system toward Dulles International Airport was “substantially complete.” 

The airport authority and the Metropolitan Washington Area Transit Authority (WMATA) said the announcement clears the way for a potential summer opening of the much-anticipated railway, dubbed the Silver Line. 

The airport authority, which is overseeing construction of the line, did not turn the railway over to Metro after the announcement that it was accepting the declaration from construction workers that it was complete, however. 

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Instead, the transit agency and the airport authority said Thursday that they reached an agreement to allow contractors to make finishing touches to the Silver Line while Metro begins preparing to take it over. 

Prior to the agreement, the airport authority was not supposed to turn the Silver Line over to Metro until construction work was fully completed. 

WMATA said in a statement that the agreement with the airport authority moved the Silver Line closer to opening, even though it was still not taking control of the new tracks and stations. 

“Under the agreement, Metro will allow the Airports Authority additional time to complete certain items after the project is turned over to Metro, but prior to the start of passenger service,” WMATA said. “Without the agreement, the Airports Authority would have been required to complete all items before Metro takes control, meaning an opening date that would be later in the year.” 

DC Airport Authority CEO Jack Potter said Thursday’s announcement that the Silver Line is finished enough to meet the contractual terms for “substantially complete” was a “significant milestone” for the project. 

"We have conducted a thorough review of the contractor's submission and are satisfied that Phase 1 has met the contractual requirements that will allow the project to now move to the next steps in the process to begin passenger service,” Porter said. “We appreciate the close cooperation among WMATA and our partners in moving this large and complex project forward."

The contractors building the Silver Line declared it was complete once before in February, but the airport authority officials found at that time there were still problems with the railway in several areas and declined to accept it.

Among the issues named to be rectified were missing certificates of occupancy for 20 buildings along the rail line, escalator and elevator problems and water leaks. The D.C. airports’ authority also said there were problems with new tracks’ Automated Train Control system, which is the technology that was blamed for failing during a deadly 2009 accident on Metro’s Red Line. 

The Silver Line is one of the largest public transportation projects under construction in the United States. The line is intended to connect Dulles International Airport with downtown Washington, D.C., and it is being built, in part, with $900 million in federal money that was awarded by the Department of Transportation. 

The first phase of the Silver Line, which runs 11.5 miles through Tysons Corner to Reston, Va., was originally scheduled to open by the end of 2013. The line has faced repeated delays, even as construction on its second phase to take the Metro system to Dulles and beyond is scheduled to begin this summer. 

The Federal Transit Administration signaled last month that it is likely to award the Silver Line another $1.9 billion in additional federal loans that can be applied to the construction of its second phase.