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Silver Line Phase II opens with rain, fanfare and glimpses into the future

The cold and rain didn’t dampen enthusiasm for the opening of Metro’s long-awaited, $3 billion Silver Line Phase II.

Yesterday marked the much-anticipated public opening of the 11.4-mile extension of the rail line from Reston into Loudoun County. Along with six new stations, this marks the first time that locals can take a train to Dulles International Airport.

Over multiple ribbon-cutting ceremonies throughout the chilly, wet November day, local officials touted the debut of the line as a “game-changer” and a “new era” for western Fairfax County and the D.C. region as a whole.

“It really is the establishment of a new identity for the Dulles corridor,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said at the new Reston Town Center station. “Now, what we’re going to see is the Dulles corridor tied together with transit in a way that was really never anticipated…We are in a new era.”

Riders, too, recognized what this could mean for the region and their daily travel.

“It’s going to change my life,” Raj Paradaar told FFXnow while riding the extension’s first passenger-filled train heading westbound. He lives in Ashburn and works near the Reston Town Center station, so he plans to ride the Metro most days.

Inside the Innovation Center station, commuters came and went, including a United Airlines flight attendant headed to work at Dulles. He lives in an apartment building across the street from the new station, along with a number of other flight attendants, FFXnow was told.

“That’s where we live,” the United Airlines flight attendant said pointing outside. “And that’s where we work…Honestly, taking a train is just much easier.”

Other riders said the extension won’t significantly affect their day-to-day habits, but they agreed it will make getting to the airport simpler.

Franconia resident Terry Rice, clutching luggage, happened to have a trip to Italy scheduled on the extension’s opening day. While planning, she realized that Dulles Airport was now only a train ride away.

“It may not change my life, but it’s going to make my life much easier,” Rice said.

During yesterday’s ceremonies, officials tried to make clear that the Silver Line extension’s impact is anticipated to go beyond simply being a link to the airport, reiterating a message that many have been saying for years.

“We have within our grasp…the ability to completely reinvent, reimagine [this corridor] as mixed-use development, as transit-oriented development, as environmentally friendly, as improving quality of life, as reducing carbon emissions, and as restoring choices for people who live in Northern Virginia,” said newly reelected Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11) at a ceremony outside of the Innovation Center station.

Herndon Mayor Sheila Olem, who was also re-elected last week, expressed hope that public transit will lift Herndon’s economic fortunes. The town has its own station now, in addition to being close to the Innovation one.

“This is going to be transformational for our town. We’ve already started redevelopment in the corridor where the Metro [station] is,” Olem said. “We are the only town in the Commonwealth with a Metro within its town limits.”

Celebrated with a ribbon-cutting this morning, Herndon’s station includes bus bays and shelters. Fairfax Connector launched routes to support the new stations today, and a free, private shuttle to Reston Town Center is now available.

Fairfax County has contributed nearly a billion dollars to the project’s construction. Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said he doesn’t look at that as an expense, but as a “huge” investment by the county and its residents.

“It’s an investment in the future. It’s an investment in our climate. It’s an investment in transportation options. It’s paving the way for mixed-use development and smart growth to occur in the county,” McKay told FFXnow. “From an equity standpoint, Metro is a great connector for people to jobs literally. And people who have access to transit have access to better employment opportunities, higher quality of life, and safer ways to get around. The benefits are tremendous.”

Throughout yesterday’s festivities, there were looks backward at the many challenges, risks and delays associated with one of the largest infrastructure projects in the region’s history.

Reston Town Center Station (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Connolly noted that public transportation was part of the original vision for Dulles Airport when it first opened six decades ago, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that the idea really started taking off.

“When we started to revive this [idea] 25 years ago, it was a lonely place and a lonely time. There weren’t many people who were enthusiastic about it,” Connolly said. “There were plenty of people who advised us against it. ‘You can’t. You shouldn’t try it. Don’t even think about it.'”

Even more recently, with the pandemic shifting work and commuting habits, there was some apprehension around investing in a major project that would move lots of people to offices that all of sudden didn’t have as many employees.

But Alcorn says the pandemic hasn’t reduced the future impact that the Silver Line Phase II will have on the county and region.

“We do have challenges, but I don’t see the pandemic as changing…the long-term good investment that Metrorail will have on this corridor,” he told FFXnow.

McKay agreed, saying an investment of this nature could actually drive people back to Metro, since it will now be accessible to thousands more.

“Today, opening these stations, we’re literally opening a whole new world of opportunity for people who never had [this type of] transit available to them,” he said.

For all the focus on Silver Line Phase II’s past challenges and future potential for long-term growth and economic development, longtime Del. Ken Plum (D-36) highlighted those who the new rail line is designed to support.

“It’s not about…wanting to talk about the ups and downs of getting the project [done],” he said as rain poured steadily outside the Innovation Center station. “It’s about those people who will be riding the Metro to work and the people who will be able to get home in a timely way. That’s what it’s really all about — those people who are being served.”

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