Northern Va. lawmakers demand update on Silver Line delay

A group of Northern Virginia lawmakers want an update from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority over the delay in Metro’s planned Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport.

Speaking at a Metro Board of Directors meeting last week, Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said a planned late spring opening would not be met due to several unresolved “no-go” issues that he laid at the feet of the airports authority, which is overseeing construction of the project.

In the letter, addressed to airports authority President and CEO John Potter, the lawmakers said they are “disappointed” in the delay.”

The letter was signed by Reps. Jennifer Wexton, Don Beyer and Gerry Connolly.

“We understand that several punch list items remain for both the rail line and rail yard projects that must be resolved before operational readiness can be declared,” the lawmakers wrote in the March 29 letter. “Many of these items have been known about for months, and we therefore urge you to work diligently to address them in a timely manner and to ensure that there is accountability for any unnecessary delays. To that end, we request that you share with us what expectations for timely resolution of these items you have conveyed to your contractors and how those expectations are being enforced.”

“We continue to work closely with WMATA, our contractors and other parties to conduct testing, complete tasks and resolve any issues. We are making good progress, and we will provide members of Congress with answers to their questions,” Marcia McAllister, MWAA Silver Line Project spokesman, said in a statement.

The 11.5-mile, multibillion-dollar extension, running from Reston to Ashburn, has faced a series of setbacks and blown deadlines. The second phase, which was originally supposed to open in the summer of 2018, was most recently slated to open this spring.

Late last year, the airports authority announced it had completed major construction on the six stations and mainline tracks making up the project, as well as a 90-acre rail yard at Dulles airport, marking a significant milestone in the project and a key step toward Metro beginning to run the line.

The stations and tracks were built by Capital Rail Constructors, under a contract with the airports authority, and the rail yard was built by contractor Hensel Phelps.

Wiedefeld told board members during the March 24 meeting that one of the major issues still to be worked out is a problem with a piece of equipment known as “orange boots,” which are essentially coverings over the point where two power cables come together.

Problems with that equipment were faulted in the deadly 2015 L’Enfant Plaza smoke incident. Wiedefeld said Metro alerted the airports authority to problems with the orange boots on parts of the Silver Line extension that have apparently not yet been resolved.

Wiedefeld said the issues delaying the opening are outside of Metro’s hands.

Metro Board Chairman Paul Smedberg said he was “deeply dismayed” at the delay.

Pressed to give a realistic timeline for when the Silver Line extension would open, Wiedefeld told board members, “I would love to give you a date. I can’t.”

In the letter, the lawmakers wrote, “Phase 2 of the Silver Line presents a major opportunity for the continued growth and development of our region, and we look forward to the swift completion of a system that is safe, reliable, and built to last. We look forward to hearing from you.”

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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