Del. Ken Plum: Silver Line Post-Game Analysis

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.

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