Del. Ken Plum: Silver Line No Silver Bullet

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThe Silver Line Metrorail extension will open for riders on July 26! For those of us who have been looking at the seemingly completed infrastructure for many months, announcement of the actual date that we can ride this important new service for our community is welcome news.

Having worked on bringing Metrorail to Reston and beyond for the last 20 years, I am especially excited about the opening. In the 1990s, I was the lone politician calling for rail service in the Dulles Corridor while some dismissed the idea as a pipe dream.

In order to develop support for the rail project, I enlisted the help of business and community leaders who supported the idea. In August 1998, I announced the formation of the Dulles Corridor Rail Association (DCRA) as a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group supporting rail in the Dulles Corridor. Joining in the announcement were professional planner Patty Nicoson, who became president of the group and continues in that capacity today; former Delegate Vincent Callahan, who demonstrated bipartisan representation; former Virginia Secretary of Transportation John Milliken; and Restonians Joe Stowers and Steve Cerny, among others.

We set to work, with letters and opinion columns, testimony at public hearings and a variety of advocacy activities that built support for the project. The task was not easy and not without setbacks. While there was widespread agreement about the need for more public transit options in a metropolitan area that had outgrown its transit service planned for in the 1960s, we had to convince some elected leaders that rail was justified over simply expanded bus service or bus rapid transit.

The idea of putting the extension in a tunnel sounded attractive, but was cost prohibitive. Commercial interests were agreeable to additional taxes to help pay for the system, but the project had to be broken into two phases to accommodate when a business interest would start paying an additional tax and when they would receive service. Toll increases on commuters were projected to be unbearably high requiring DCRA to successfully lobby for more direct state appropriations to keep tolls down.

With no direct financial support for the project and a 2010 goal to deliver a completed system, the 30 men and women who made up the original board and those who have joined and left since that time are to be thanked and congratulated. I am honored to continue to serve as chairman of the board of DCRA.

The Silver Line will not be a silver bullet to solve all our transportation woes. We still live in an area ranked 10th in the country for the worst traffic! Rail and bus riders will be asked to make adjustments; drivers may have to change their commuting habits; and some will complain about tolls and fares. Even so, the Silver Line brings a critically important part of infrastructure to our area that will add to our quality of life in getting to and from work and taking advantage of the rich educational and cultural resources of our region and our nation’s capital.

Ken Plum represents Reston in the Virginia House of Delegates

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