With the snip of a giant red ribbon and the departure of a train from the Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station, Reston officially welcomed rail transit to the community on Saturday. It was a long road to get here.
The lengthy process was oft-mentioned by the many VIPs from the federal government, DC, Maryland and Virginia as they spoke of the near-misses, the political squabbles, the legal challenges and logistical woes leading up to the Silver line’s opening day.
The $2.9 billion Silver Line Phase I — with five new stations in Tysons Corner and at Reston’s Wiehle Avenue – arrived six months late and $150 million over budget. That did not matter to the crowd of riders eager to climb aboard the first train.
“It is awesome to have easy access to D.C.,” said Yasmin Taylor as she headed for the inaugural train with her two young sons. The Herndon native, visiting from Atlanta, said the prospect of boarding a train here to visit the Smithsonian is “so exciting.”
Wiehle-Reston East will be the end of the line until 2018, when Phase II – also beset with squabbles and money questions — is expected to open. Phase II will have stops at Reston Parkway, Herndon, Route 28, Dulles International Airport and Ashburn.
“The Silver Line project has spanned well over 20 years,” said Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who pointed out that the road to the Silver Line went through six Virginia transportation chiefs and several U.S. Transportation Secretaries. “It’s spanned across administrations, community leadership. Everyone here today stepped up to the plate.”
Said Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority General Manager Richard Sarles: “We’re here today as a result of many, many people ironing out their differences and working together for the common good.”
The officials’ remarks came at a private ceremony on the South side of the toll road just prior to the Silver Line opening to the public. Metro officials said the ceremony was closed due to crowd control reasons (indeed, the tent was filled to standing room only).
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx compared getting to Silver Line opening day to that of building medieval cathedrals. Often, builders did not know what they finished product would look like until they got there decades later.
“What I’m reminded of is that the work of transportation is really the work of generations,” Foxx said. “And if we’re not putting those cornerstones in place as a nation, we’re not building for the generations to come afterward. So this is a time to celebrate the voices of ‘yes’ sounding louder than the voices of ‘no.’ ”
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA 11th) has been fighting for the Silver Line for nearly 20 years, first as Fairfax County Supervisor and then as a congressmen.
“In my case, 19 years is a long time to get something really big done,” he said. “But now we are finally riding it! Everyone said rail to Dulles was dead. There were not many believers. We were sued. Some of the people who sued us are in the room.We created a tax district that collapsed and was resurrected; we had eight years of a Bush administration that was [not receptive] to transit in general. But working together we were ale to prevail.”
Connolly called rail in western Fairfax County ‘transformative” to the entire region.
“It links the most important corridor to the region’s core,” he said.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe mentioned the work of Del. Ken Plum (D-Reston) and Dulles Corridor Rail Association President Patty Nicoson, two of the persistent local rail advocates. The Silver Line will impact the entire state, the governor said.
“The Silver Line will be a dynamic economic boost to the region. It will reduce congestion, create new jobs and begin to unlock Dulles Airport, one of Virginia’s most important economic assets,” he said, adding that he hopes Phase 2 will open on Jan 18, 2018 — the day before his term expires.
The governor joined Plum, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, Connolly, several Reston Association Board Members and other high-profile stakeholders in the first Silver Line ride from Tysons Corner to Wiehle-Reston East.
Also on board was Reston founder Bob Simon. The 100-year-old Simon had a public transportation link in his original vision for Reston in the early 1960s.
“I think the most exciting part of this day is the stations,” Simon said. “The stations are quite fabulous. They are beautifully done and the planners did not spare a nickel.”
For the hundreds of people who lined up in the mid-day sun at Reston Station, Comstock’s mixed-use development on the North side of the Wiehle-Reston East stop, there was little time to to admire the architecture. Eager to be aboard the first train, they practically sprinted through the pedestrian walkway.
Lizzy Merin, a recent South Lakes High School graduate, was excited to ride downtown with two friends to shop. Bryan Cleary, a usual blue line rider from Springfield, drove over to Reston with his 2-year-old son, Nathan. They were planning to ride to East Falls Church and back just to be a part of opening day.
Bobbi Slaski, who has lived in Reston for 30 years, was checking out the station with her teenage daughter. She said she still could not believe the Silver Line is here.
“We saw this coming, but I couldn’t quite believe it until I was standing here,” she said. “It’s a big deal. And I think it is so cool Mr. Simon is here. He is seeing his dream come true.”