Less than 12 hours from now nine members of the Board of Supervisors likely will have cast their votes on whether Loudoun should continue as a funding partner in the second phase of the Silver Line extension from Tysons Corner to Ashburn. But even as tonight’s public input session came to a close, those present—on both sides of the issue—and supervisors seemed unsure what the morning would bring.
There are four supervisors who have come down firmly in favor of the rail project—Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) and Supervisors Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn), Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run) and Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles)—and three that are assured to vote against the project—Vice Chairman Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge) and Supervisors Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) and Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling). Only the votes of Supervisors Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) and Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) appear “in play.”
If they were to solely listen to the speakers at tonight’s public input session, the indication would to be to vote in favor of the rail extension, as about two-thirds of the speakers present were in favor of the project. There was a similar ratio at the June 4 public input session and in other surveys that have been completed in recent weeks. Some supporters of the rail project called that a “super majority.”
The speakers in support of Metro coming to Ashburn cited refrains that have become familiar in the past few weeks: economic development, alternative transportation options and the potential to take pressure off the residential tax base. Many told supervisors their own stories and how the Silver Line could positively impact their lives.
“I work in McLean. But if I change jobs to one in DC, I would have to move closer to the city,” resident Marie Williams said. “The Silver Line would give me the flexibility to change jobs in the best interest in my career while remaining a tax-paying resident of Loudoun.” She noted even ending the rail at Dulles Airport, as opponents have pushed, would not help her because “it takes me 30 minutes to get to Dulles.”
Doug Guernsey, owner of Guernsey Office Products, headquartered off Old Ox Road, said he welcomed rail to the area. “As a regional freight mover, we would advocate for anything that removes cars from the road…we don’t have the option of rideshare or rail,” he said. “It is also an economic driver. We are looking for the opportunities that rail has to offer and not at the negative aspects. There is always a reason not to do something… Please look to the future positively. Use this as an opportunity to enhance this county.”
There again were many supporters from Ashby Ponds retirement home in Ashburn. Residents talked about the importance of planning for the future and its generations.
“Many thousands of people and business will be coming to live and do business in Loudoun County in the future years. We need to make it useful for the future years now,” Mildred Fitch said. “This all exists today [because it was] paid for by the older generation. It is now your responsible to make transportation in Loudoun County to serve the next generation the way we did for you.”
But the project did have its detractors, speakers who questioned all that was still unknown about the rail line and its ultimate cost. They called on the all-Republican board to remain fiscally conservative in the face of pressure to continue to partner in the Metro extension.
“It seems to me like impulse buying,” Purcellville resident Todd Morrison said. “There are still so many questions that are still unanswered. The biggest one is how are we going to pay for it. By not having that agreed upon and set in place it seems like the Board of Supervisors is not going to be a good steward of the public’s trust.”
In recent days, Reid has appeared to be the likely fifth in support of rail, and some speakers addressed him directly, pushing for him not to vote in favor. They recalled his previous statements questioning and even opposing the project, and reminded him of all the people that had called him in the past few days to express their opposition to the project, including the widow of one of Reid’s mentors and political supporters, whom Hillsboro resident John Grigsby called “your largest donor.”
“I wish he could be here tomorrow to look you in the eye,” Grigsby said to Reid, asking him to “consider some political advice: Dance with the ones that brought you.” He warned Reid that if “you toss your fiscally conservative base under the train,” they would bring forward someone to run against him in a primary.
Phase 1 of the Silver Line extension is under construction to Wiehle Avenue. Phase 2 would bring the rail line from Wiehle Avenue, to Dulles Airport, Rt. 606 and its end at Rt. 772 in the heart of Ashburn. Under the existing agreement, Loudoun must make its decision by July 4, making tomorrow’s meeting the last opportunity. County Attorney John R. Roberts has advised the board it must pass an affirmative motion to be considered “opted in” to the project’s future.
Friday, the board put forward a tax district as the funding mechanism for the project; one that will be voted on tomorrow should the board vote favorably. The tax district has two different subsets—one within a half mile of each of the four stations that will impact Loudoun properties, Rt. 28, Dulles Airport, Rt. 606 and Rt. 772, and another for the remaining portion of the district. The inner core tax rate would be 20 cents per $100 of assessed value and the remainder of the districts would be tax rates up to 20 cents.
The tax district was created through the work of Supervisor Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run), among others, and would roughly encompass a one-mile radius around the planned rail stations. However, the boundaries are drawn such that they exclude virtually all the existing residential development in the area. According to county staff, only 37 parcels would remain. New residential development immediately around the Metro stations, like the planned Moorefield Station, Loudoun Station and Dulles World would be included, however. Supervisors have noted that those residents would most benefit from the existence of rail and there would be plenty of time to prepare those residents for the additional tax, comparing it to the additional tax paid by residents who chose to live in one of the county’s seven incorporated towns.
The Board of Supervisors is slated to vote on the Dulles Rail project at the start of its 9 a.m. meeting tomorrow. The vote is expected to be finalized by around 10 a.m.