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As Silver Line work ramps up, silver lining to delays?

Construction plans for the second phase of the Silver Line. (Loudoun County)

WASHINGTON — People heading to Dulles Airport or using the Dulles Toll Road and Access Road should expect to see construction ramping up this summer on the new second phase of the Silver Line, despite delays facing the project.

In April, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is building the project, announced that trains would not be ready to carry passengers from Reston to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County until at least 2019.  At the time, MWAA said new stormwater management requirements were responsible for much of the delay.  But on Friday, MWAA Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project Executive Director Charles Stark clarified to a Loudoun County Board of Supervisors committee that the decision to redesign the project to comply with stricter new stormwater rules was only responsible for one month of the 13-month delay. 

He says the stormwater changes, including the addition of a second drainpipe unrelated to new regulations, do make up the longest part of the delay, but about 150 other changes requested by groups involved in the project play a significant role. Some of those changes include equipment changes to improve safety over original designs, including improvements to Metro’s automatic train control system.

“Unforseen design changes could still result in additional modifications to the schedule, but we are proactively working with our reviewers and engineers to minimize or stop further design changes,” Stark says.

Stark says, even with the delays announced so far, he is confident that the second phase of the Silver Line will come in under budget. He says final costs for this round of delays should be finalized in September, but will be covered by existing contingency funds.

“We’re approaching the end of final design, which means that the opportunity or the occurrence of large design changes will decrease dramatically,” Stark says.

Potential issues that could come up during construction include unexpected depth of bedrock in certain areas, but Stark says any of those issues would likely have only a small impact on the project overall.

Loudoun County Board Chairman Scott York said at Friday’s Transportation and Land Use Committee meeting that the delays may not be all bad, since they do not require more money from the county.

“There’s kind of a silver lining for us because it gives us 13 more months to prepare to get our multimodal network in place to serve the rail so that our people can get to and from the station easier, and then the other thing is it gives us about another year to collect more revenue – cash – to pay into our portion of the project,” York said.

“I think we’re in good shape, as long as we don’t have any other…cost,” York added.

Right now, crews are working on what Stark calls a “rather impressive” excavation at the Innovation Center station near Route 28. They are also building bridges, preparing to add new protection walls in the middle of the Dulles Access Road and to add beams to stretches of support columns that will carry tracks in the air near the airport.

Stark expects construction on the stations on the Loudoun County side of the airport to begin next year after the Innovation Center and Herndon stations are well underway. Work in Loudoun County is already getting underway elsewhere, including on a bridge over Broad Run.

Loudoun County is paying 4.8 percent of the total Silver Line budget, including the first phase that opened last year. Fairfax County is responsible for 16.1 percent of the cost. The rest of the funding comes from the federal government, Commonwealth of Virginia, Airports Authority funds and tolls from the Dulles Toll Road. The tolls are projected to cover slightly less than half of the $5.6 billion dollar cost of the entire Silver Line from Falls Church through Tysons and Reston into Loudoun County.

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