Metro committee approves proposed budget that maintains current service levels, delays Silver Line Phase 2

If Metro’s board of directors adopts the proposed Fiscal Year 2022 approved by its finance and capital committee yesterday (Thursday), the start of service on the second phase of the Silver Line will officially be delayed until next year.

The $4.7 billion operating and capital budget moves the start date for Silver Line Phase 2 from July 1, 2021 — as stated in the FY 2021 operating budget — to January 2022 at the earliest, citing the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority’s expectation that it will be ready to hand over the project to Metro by Labor Day.

The budget also defers an additional $43.1 million subsidy contribution to the project until FY 2023, though $20 million will still be included in FY 2022 “to mitigate Silver Line Phase 2 service equity impacts,” according to the budget summary.

“We are preparing to welcome back customers as part of a return to normalcy, and welcome new customers who have long awaited the convenience of the Silver Line and new stations serving their communities and workplaces,” Metro General Manager and CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld said. “I am especially looking forward to beginning rail service to Dulles Airport as people resume travel to and from the nation’s capital as one of the great destinations in this country.”

Metro and MWAA officials stated as recently as January that construction on the second phase of the Silver Line, which will extend the transit system from Reston into Loudoun County, would be finished this spring, putting it on track to potentially start service in the fall of 2021.

However, the project continues to be plagued by construction issues that need to be resolved before the Metropolitan Washington Area Transit Authority will take over and begin testing.

In addition to delaying funding for the Silver Line, the proposed budget keeps rail and bus service at their current service levels, which are, respectively, at 80 and 85% of their pre-pandemic service levels.

Significant service and personnel cuts that were previously on the table have been averted, thanks to the infusion of $722.9 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds. That includes $193.4 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) enacted by Congress in March.

“The impact of the pandemic on ridership and revenue forced us to consider drastic cuts that would have been necessary absent federal relief funding,” Metro Board Chair Paul Smedberg said. “Thankfully, the American Rescue Plan Act has provided a lifeline for Metro to serve customers and support the region’s economic recovery.”

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn expressed relief that the federal relief funds will save Metro from making the proposed cuts, which could have included the closure of 19 existing rail stations and three unopened ones on the Silver Line.

“While the WMATA board is working to finalize the FY2022 budget, the Silver Line Phase 2 will now open whenever it is ready and because of the federal funds all Metrorail stations will stay open,” Alcorn said in a statement to Reston Now.

WMATA says it received more than 22,400 responses during the public comment period on the FY 2022 budget, which lasted from Feb. 20 to March 16. That is the most comments the transit agency has gotten on a budget proposal in the past 10 years.

WMATA’s board of directors is scheduled to give final approval to the proposed FY 2022 budget on April 22. The fiscal year will begin on July 1 and last until June 30, 2022.

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