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Silver Line looks toward phase two

Saturday - 7/19/2014, 1:56am  ET

Federal funding will lighten taxpayer burden

WTOP's Kathy Stewart reports

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WASHINGTON -- It took five years to build, but finally the Metro's Silver Line is expected to start rolling down the tracks.

"Hopefully, people will come for the celebration as we kick off the Silver Line," says Virginia's Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne. Service begins on Saturday, July 26.

He says the first phase of the Silver Line, which cost nearly $3 billion, is about making people's lives better. The secretary says he'll be at the grand opening and ribbon cutting on Saturday, July 26, at the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station, along with Virginia's Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

The first phase of the Silver Line was not on time, but delayed by seven months, and it incurred a budget overrun of $150 million. But Layne says that as the grand opening draws nearer, it'll be worth it.

"As long as we give the traveling public this alternative and we see the benefits, then hopefully it will be well worth what we went through to get here."

Now the secretary is ready to shift gears and focus on the second phase.

"Hopefully we'll get the second phase going," he says, noting the second leg will actually get riders out to the airport, past Dulles, and out into Loudoun County. "And (it will) give our traveling public more alternatives instead of sitting in traffic all the time."

Hard lessons were learned from phase one. "I think we learned a lot from the first contract and the pitfalls that we looked at. Hopefully this one will go smoother."

He says the contract for the second leg has been signed and the project is in design phase. It's scheduled to open in 2018.

During phase one, tolls on the Dulles Toll Road were increased to accommodate the cost of the project. "A lot of people were concerned about that. (The tolls) were projected to be about 25 percent of the project cost. They've risen higher than that," Layne noted.

He says this time around, transportation officials are working to keep the tolls as low as possible.

The good news, he says, is that Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), which oversees the Silver Line project, has gotten a nearly $2 billion loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program provides federal credit assistance in the form of direct loans, loan guarantees, and standby lines of credit to finance surface transportation projects of national and regional significance.

"I think that's good news for people who travel the Dulles Toll Road," Layne says. The loan will allow the MWAA to freeze the toll for four years.

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