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Fairfax County must pay MWAA another $40M for Silver Line Phase II

The Herndon Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

With the Silver Line Phase II opening still in flux, Fairfax County is being asked to pay another $40 million.

At its transportation committee meeting on Friday (Sept. 30), the Board of Supervisors got an update on the ramifications of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) agreeing in July to increase the budget for the Silver Line extension by $250 million.

The original project agreement calls for Fairfax County to pay about 16% of the asked-for overage, so with the quarter of a billion dollar budget increase, the county owes an additional $40.25 million.

All told, the county will have spent nearly a billion dollars — $960 million — on the second phase of the Silver Line, which will add six stations from Reston to Ashburn in Loudoun County.

In total, the project has cost just over $3 billion. The board is set to vote on the payment later this month.

While likely to approve the additional payment, several supervisors expressed frustration and annoyance with the need to throw even more dollars at a project that has been besieged by constant delays.

“I don’t think it’s a shock and it’s a tiny portion of the overall project,” Chairman Jeff McKay said. “But [the extra $40 million] has rightly angered a lot of folks given all the delays.”

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust also made clear he was not happy that the county is being asked to pay more.

“Have we asked ourselves if this is a good deal and the Airports Authority is not just…spending a lot of money to make a problem go away? And it’s our money that they are spending,” Foust asked staff.

He also asked if $960 million will be the final amount. However, county staff couldn’t guarantee that there won’t be any further costs, considering Phase 1 is still undergoing repairs after opening in 2014.

“We still have to reconcile Phase 1 and Phase 2…All parties have to be reconciled at the end of the project,” said Martha Elena Coello, head of special projects for the Fairfax County Department of Transporation. “We are still doing some work on Phase 1 and that needs to be completed. At the end, there will be a reconciliation of both those phases.”

McKay asked, seemingly rhetorically, what would happen if the county didn’t pay the extra money. Staff responded that it might become a “legal matter” since the payment is required by the signed project agreement.

“According to the funding agreement, this is not a ‘might be’ or ‘may be,'” he said. “It’s a requirement for the county. We don’t have the flexibility…without significant negative consequences.”

Still relatively new Metro General Manager Randy Clarke was given authority by the Board of Directors last month to set an opening date for the Silver Line extension. While no exact date has been announced, Clarke said safety certifications are expected this October, and Metro has updated its maps to feature the new stations.

At the same time, Clarke warned that opening the Silver Line could force service reductions due to a deficit in trains when currently shuttered Blue and Yellow Line stations south of Washington National Airport reopen.

That headache will be put off a little longer by an entirely different Metro problem. Last week, the transit agency announced that its new Potomac Yard station won’t open until 2023. As a result, the Yellow and Blue stations will be closed for another two weeks, until Nov. 5.

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