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Del. Ken Plum: Silver Line Post-Game Analysis

by Del. Ken Plum May 21, 2014 at 1:00 pm 10 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoWhile I enjoy watching college athletic competitions, I do not watch many professional sports on television. For sure I do not watch any of the post-game shows. Panels for these shows seem carefully selected to ensure controversy and banter to fill the time slot.

I have the same feeling about post-election panels that provide an instant analysis with conflicting views of why the voters voted as they did. Some thoughtful commentary after the fact can be useful to understand the mood of voters and implications for the future, but a panel of so-called experts who continue to talk well after they have made their point can get to be irritating. I suppose the same could be said about weekly columnists!

In weeks (not months), the Silver Line extension of Metro will be opening. For someone who has been working on this project for nearly two decades, the setting of the actual date to start service is particularly exciting.

I share the frustration of many that the stations and tracks have appeared to be ready for about six months, yet pesky but important details have prevented the announcement of a start date. As Chairman of the Board of the Dulles Corridor Rail Association, an organization I formed nearly 20 years ago to boost the project when I was the only elected official to endorse it, I am especially eager to see the trains start running.

With the delay in opening, a post-construction analysis has been underway. Contrary to some suggestions, there is no great conspiracy delaying the opening; no one profits from a delay. The system must be deemed safe for it to open. Yes, Bechtel was part of the “big dig” in Boston and its problems, and Bechtel is one of the partners in Dulles Transit Partners that built the Silver Line, but the Silver Line work and outcomes have no correlation to what happened in Boston. Yes, the project manager left early, but he left to take over as head of the Long Island Rail Road.

The Silver Line is the largest infrastructure project underway in this country. The budget is $2.9 billion, and the project will be finished on budget. Some argue that a $150 million increase in the budget to cover costs of updated standards should be considered an overrun. If so, the project would exceed budget by less than two percent. Know any other project of this magnitude that has come that close?

The opening date for the project will be set by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) which will operate the Silver Line as part of the larger Metro system. The opening date will be seven months beyond the best case projection but still before the December 2014 date the Federal Transit Administration had set for the project.

I continue to nudge the process along to ensure that public dollars are appropriately spent and contractual obligations are met, but you will not see me as part of any panel speculating what may have been. The project will bring immense benefits to our region.

Ken Plum represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

  • commuterbooks

    I am not sure I’ve heard people complaining about a conspiracy to delay, but I definitely heard that people (including myself) that the project had been horribly mismanaged. It was frustrating as a potential Silver Line rider to read that the PA system didn’t meet the fire code. That should never have been an issue. The fire code is not some sort of unknown factor. It could have, and should have, been planned for in the design. Considering the horrible botching of the PA systems, I really have to wonder how many other avoidable issues contributed to what are needless delays.

    • Mark Rcca

      sure someone messed up on the PA systems, but it shouldn’t have been a show-stopper. A PA system isn’t a critical element of a rail station. Most of the announcements I ever heard on a train station is the general education stuff, e.g. “see something say something”. . The speakers could have been disconnected, and replaced while the line was in operation. No need to delay the line operation.

  • RERSRESQ

    $2.9 Billion for one line??? Thank God it came in “on budget.” It sounds like Edward Bennett Williams’ line about the Redskins, “I gave them an unlimited budget and they exceeded it.” I live in Reston, moved my office to be close to the Silver Line, but this has been mishandled from the start. It should have been underground, its should have gone to Dulles from the start, and it never should have been the “last” line in the system. That only highlights Ken Plum’s lack of clout. We’re last and we are most expensive! Such a “success?”

  • Dave

    So our elected official is refusing to be part of any investigation and “knows that there is no conspiracy” without an inquiry? I also noticed that there is no discussion in this piece about any mismanagement that may have occurred on the part of MWAA. It appears that MWAA is a “founder” of the DCRA, and DTP is a “partner” in this same organization. Also Del. Plum was likely involved in the turnover of the project to the MWAA in 2006 (since as he reminds us he has served this community for 30 years). I’m sure that none of these factors has any bearing on Del. Plum’s feelings or attitude and level of certainty. Perhaps it’s time to for a real discussion about Phase 1 from an independent panel that will be empowered to make changes so that Phase 2 is better than Phase1 and truly does serve the interests of the community.

  • Mark Rcca

    “Weeks not months”, so that means less than a month? I hope that’s true!

  • Terry Maynard

    One observation on this comment: “Some argue that a $150 million increase in the budget to cover costs of updated standards should be considered an overrun. If so, the project would exceed budget by less than two percent.”

    A $150MM overrun on a $2.9B project is more than 5%, not 2%. It is exactly that kind of arithmetic that put Phase 1 some 10 months passed its four-year construction schedule to “substantial completion.”

    Moreover, in addition to the $150MM in updates, you need to add all the costs of repairs, replacements, mismanagement, and mistakes now being addressed that so far total more than $30MM. Who knows what more Metro will find when it takes control?

    And toll road users will likely end up paying three-quarters of all that extra cost in higher tolls.

    Add to that the special property taxes that Tysons residents and businesses are now paying to cover some $5B in needed transportation improvement investments in Tysons. We estimate some $2B in transpo infrastructure investments in Reston could possibly also be paid for by a special tax district. (The County recently released an early feasibility cost for the Soapstone Connector of $100-$15MM alone– and 2 more crossings are needed, one of them a tunnel, plus much more). There will also be added transpo improvement costs at Innovation Station/Rt. 28, including a bridge.

    We’ll be happy when we can use the Silver Line–even just to/from Wiehle–but the toll road users of Reston and well beyond are being held for ransom to a rail line that they cannot use thanks to bungling by elected officials in Richmond and locally. And Dulles Corridor businesses in Tysons and Reston are being stuck with nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in taxes ($400MM for Phase 1 alone, $330MM for Phase 2) to build this rail line not counted in the transportation infrastructure costs listed above.

    We hope your final prediction is true: “The project will bring immense benefits to our region.” We know it will bring tremendous added transportation (& other) costs, including huge toll increases (even with TIFIA).

  • WW

    The fact that the original budget was $2.9 billion almost – just almost – guaranteed it could come in on budget. $2.9 billion is a phenomenal amount of money to pay for less than 12 miles of track, much of it running in the highway median. I don’t have time for conspiracies or political finger-pointing, but there’s something wrong when a project like this takes nearly a year longer than it’s already long 3-year construction schedule, and comes in even higher than it’s already inflated initial price tag.

    In other news, Bechtel-led project to build Qatar’s new airport came in 6 years behind schedule. I guess here we can feel like we dodged a bullet…

  • Adrian Havill

    Ken says, “in weeks not months, the silver line extension will be opening.” Well yeah, but please define weeks, Ken. Four weeks, 54 weeks, or a hundred? After so many promises, it may be better to go to ground for awhile.

    • Mark Rcca

      I thought it means more than a week, but less than a month.

      • Mid-July makes it 2 months. 7 weeks is your limit until it becomes months. Let’s see if they make it.

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