Metro service changes announced last week — including increased services, late night hours, and reduced fares — are being praised by many in the community.
On Thursday (June 10), the Metro Board approved a host of improvements with the intention of luring back riders after more than a year of reduced services and free-falling ridership.
The changes include more frequent service during both peak and non-peak times, extending operating hours until 1 a.m. on weekends, a flat $2 weekend rate, and free transfers between bus and rail.
The changes will take effect starting Labor Day weekend, the traditional end of the summer.
“These are all very positive changes,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn told Reston Now. “The only thing that made these service improvements possible is the money from our federal partners. Because Congress stepped up and delivered, we’re able to make these service improvements and, frankly, do what needs to be done to help build back ridership.”
Metro received nearly $723 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds, including $193 million from the American Rescue Plan enacted in March. These funds not only prevented severe cuts, but allowed Metro to increase services while cutting fares.
Local labor unions are also pleased with the changes, including ATU Local 689, which represents more than 10,000 regional transit workers and said it “strongly supports” the service increases.
“We know that public transit is a safe and effective way for riders to get where they need to go, but we have to do the work to rebuild rider confidence,” ATU Local 689 President Raymond Jackson wrote in an email to Reston Now. “The first step to this is making sure that passengers know there will always be a bus or train there for them when they need it. That requires full service. We’re proud that WMATA took this step.”
Alcorn says that, during the pandemic, cuts to service were a “significant hardship” for those who couldn’t work from home, like hospitality workers, who often need rail and bus service at different times than those in other industries.
“We realized that, in the middle of the pandemic, that there’s still a lot of folks that depend on transit to get to work and to do what they need to do to get around,” Alcorn said.
John Boardman is executive secretary and treasurer for Local 25, a union that represents about 7,000 people who work in hotels, casinos, and restaurants in the D.C. metro region. He says expanding services is inherently beneficial to their members.
“Our jobs are not 9 to 5 jobs. They start early in the morning and can go late into night,” Boardman said. “More transportation and longer hours helps our workforce. Reliable transportation is one of the issues that affects people’s ability to get back to work.”
Increased service and fare cuts will also greatly benefit those most vulnerable in the community, such as the clients the D.C. Reentry Action Network, a regional organization that assists people being released from prison.
“Any reduction in the cost of transportation would contribute greatly to reducing the already tremendous hurdles one faces when returning home,” founder Paula Thompson told The Washington Post.
Metro admits it could still take years for ridership to return to pre-pandemic levels. A graph presented at the transit agency’s June 10 board of directors meeting estimates that even by the end of 2024, ridership may still be off by as much as 25% from late 2019 levels.
But it’s hoped that these changes could at least spur gradual growth. Read More
Silver Line Phase 2 remains on track to open in the first quarter of 2022, the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority says.
In an update on the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project issued on Monday (May 17), the agency says it is “confident” that construction will be finished “around Labor Day,” at which point the long-delayed $2.8 billion project will finally be handed off to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
If that happens as planned, WMATA will begin conducting “operational readiness testing.” That step includes more inspections, trainings, delivery of spare parts, certifications, and the correction of any issues.
That process should take two months if there are no outstanding issues, according to a Metro presentation on Silver Line Phase 2’s progress from March.
After that, there will be “pre-revenue activities,” including more trainings, testings, and the issuing of safety certifications. That step could take up to 90 days.
Putting all of that together, that leaves five months between when WMATA receives the project and when Silver Line Phase 2 and its six stations — Reston Town Center, Herndon, Innovation Center, Dulles Airport, Loudoun Gateway, and Ashburn — would officially open.
If WMATA does receive the project on Labor Day from MWAA, that puts a potential opening for revenue services and operation in early February 2022.
Of course, not all of this is guaranteed. MWAA says the timeline is “subject to change depending on the Airports Authority’s final completion date and the results of complex testing that are needed for Metro operations.”
What’s more, MWAA notes that the contractors building the tracks and the Phase 2 rail yard and maintenance facility have both missed deadlines.
“Each contractor missed its respective contract completion date but is striving to be ready for a September turnover,” the update says.
The contractors “knows what needs to be done,” says project head Charles Stark, who is retiring in July.
One of the major challenges of the project right now is connecting Phase 2 with Silver Line Phase 1, particularly west of the Wiehle-Reston East Metrorail station. Doing this will require shutting down service at the station for a period of time that could come as soon as early summer.
Reston Now reached out to WMATA to learn more about the timeline and duration of this shutdown, but has yet to hear back as of publication.
A number of elements of the project have been completed in recent months.
The complex stormwater control system, which delayed the project more than a full year, is now finished, along with the 300-plus glass panel windscreen at the Dulles Airport Metro station.
Dulles Airport station’s pedestrian tunnel now has moving existing sidewalks as well as an exhibit showing the history of the Dulles area.
Last month, Metro approved a $4.7 billion budget that officially delayed Silver Line Phase 2 to 2022 but prevented potential very consequential service cuts.
Photo courtesy Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority
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.
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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Metro General Manager Calls Silver Line Phase 2 “A Priority” — Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld declined to commit to a “hard start date” for when the Silver Line’s second phase will open, but he told the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance yesterday “want to get that out as quick as we can” because of the potential impact on ridership and the region’s economic development. [WTOP]
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Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
(Updated at 4:40 p.m.) The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is confident enough in the pace of construction on the second phase of Metro’s Silver Line that the project’s leader plans to retire on Independence Day — two months before the agency anticipates finishing its work.
MWAA Senior Vice President Charles Stark has announced that he will retire on July 4, Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project spokesperson Marcia McAllister confirmed to Reston Now. The Washington Post first reported the news yesterday (Monday).
Now 72 years old, Stark has served as executive director of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project since August 2014, overseeing the ambitious but oft-delayed 11.4-mile extension of Metro’s Silver Line from Reston to Ashburn through the Washington Dulles International Airport.
McAllister says Stark has decided to retire this summer, because construction on the rail line is now “99 percent complete,” and the project will soon be “moving toward testing which will lead to transfer of the project to WMATA.”
MWAA announced earlier this month that it expects the Silver Line to be ready for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to take over by Labor Day in early September.
“We are confident that team is in place to make that happen,” MWAA reiterated in a new statement.
Silver Line phase two will add six stations to the transit system, including one at Reston Town Center and two in the Herndon area. The project has been plagued by construction issues since work began in 2014.
Budget challenges stemming from depressed ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic also had Metro raising the idea of keeping some of the new Silver Line stations closed even after starting operations, presumably next year, though a new wave of federal relief will likely avert that possibility.
WMATA says it has no concerns about Stark’s impending retirement affecting the Silver Line project.
“We look forward to continuing to work with MWAA towards resolution of the remaining issues and acceptance of the project,” Metro spokesperson Ian Janetta said.
MWAA CEO Jack Potter commended Stark for his “leadership in bringing this large, complex project to this stage.
“We wish him all the best in his mid-summer retirement,” Potter said.
Photo by Chuck Samuelson/Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project
D.C. Cherry Blossoms Reach Peak Bloom — The National Park Service designated yesterday as the peak bloom date for the Tidal Basin cherry blossoms after well-above-average temperatures last week sped up the flowers’ bloom cycle. Peak bloom is defined as the day when 70 percent of the blossoms are open. [NPS]
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Metro Inspector General’s Report Details Silver Line Issues — A new report from WMATA’s inspector general contains allegations of sexual harassment, alcohol abuse, and the use of fake badges by Metro employees. The report also identified defects in concrete panels installed at stations in Metro’s Silver Line phase two project. [WUSA9]
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Photo via vantagehill/flickr
Silver Line Phase 2 to Open January 2022 At the Earliest — “During a Thursday briefing, before the Metro Board’s Safety and Operations Committee, Laura Mason, vice president of capital delivery for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, said at least 10 Silver Line construction items remain unresolved before Metro will be satisfied with the work by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and its contractor.” [WTOP]
New Fairfax County General Registrar Appointed — “The Fairfax County Electoral Board appointed Scott O. Konopasek as the county’s new general registrar and director of elections at its March 11, 2021, meeting. He will lead the Fairfax County Office of Elections following the retirement of the current registrar Gary Scott who has worked in the office for the past 24 years. Konopasek’s tentative starting date is April 19.” [Fairfax County Government]
Reston Contractor Working with Space Force — The Reston-based contractor SAIC is working with the U.S. Space Force to develop a virtual reality training platform that lets workers “interact with full-scale digital replicas of national security satellites. The platform lets the armed forces practice responding to missile warning scenarios and collaborate in cyberspace.” [The Washington Post]
Comscore Closes Investment Transactions — Reston-based media measurement and analytics company Comscore Inc. announced Thursday that it has secured $204 million in cash investments from the companies Charter Communications Inc., Qurate Retail Inc., and an affiliate of New York-based Cerberus Capital Management LP. The investments came in exchange for shares of convertible preferred stock, and proceeds were used to retire Comscore’s debts. [Virginia Business]
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
Silver Line Extension Could Open Early Next Year — Phase two of the Silver Line is expected to open in early 2022, according to Metro’s general manager. The announcement comes after the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said it will be ready to turn the project over to Metro by Labor Day weekend. [WJLA]
County Hires Health Care Support — The county is hiring substitute and relief counselors as part of its efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and administer vaccines. [Fairfax County Government]
More Solar Panels Coming to County Schools — The Fairfax County School Board voted to install solar panels on a number of school buildings in order to limit greenhouse gas emissions and improve efficiency. The school system plans to begin the project at three schools and eventually phase out to 87 sites. [Fairfax County Public Schools]
Public Hearings on Metro Budget Begin — A number of budget hearings begins this week. Metro is facing a major budget shortfall due to a dip in ridership. [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority]
Northam Reflects on One Year of COVID-19 — Families, friends and neighbors are mourning the more than 9,000 Virginians who died in the coronavirus pandemic over the past year, Gov. Ralph Northam said Sunday in a video. Many others have lost jobs, income, a sense of security and knowing what would happen next as lockdowns and the virus turned life upside down. [Reston Patch]
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
Updated at 4:30 pm — By Labor Day weekend, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority will be ready to handoff the second phase of the Silver Line project to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Today’s announcement comes after nearly a year of delays for the project, which adds new stations from Reston to Loudoun County. Major construction issues, including the quality of concrete panels, caused significant concerns in recent months.
But now Charles Stark, senior Vice President of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, said major progress has been made.
“Recent progress on outstanding issues has put us in a position to establish a target date for substantial completion and will enable Metro to solidify its plans for final testing, training and starting passenger service.” Stark wrote in a statement.
But a spokeswoman for Metro cautioned that Merro will ultimately determine if it will accept the project.
“Today’s announcement enables Metro to begin planning and budgeting for the start of service in early 2022. As MWAA achieves substantial completion, Metro will be testing, conducting system safety certification, and recruiting and training employees to get ready for passenger service,” wrote Metro General Manager/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld
The project is currently being managed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Phase two extends the line to Loudoun County and includes six new stations and a rail maintenance facility.
This comes as Metro considers closing down three of the newly-opened stations early next year due to drastic budget cuts and dips in ridership.
Metro’s Board of Directors is still proceeding as if the Silver Line Phase II will open this year, but a public survey is asking riders to weigh in on drastic service cuts, including closing the newly-opened Phase II stations in Janurary 22.
Last week, Metro announced that the public comment period for its 2022 fiscal year budget has officially opened.
As part of that, they’re asking riders to fill out a survey about what extreme service cuts they’d be willing to tolerate beginning on Jan. 1, 2022 if additional federal money is not available.
In these options is a question about the closing of 22 stations across the entire system, including two Silver Line stations – McLean and Greensboro – and three potentially newly-opened Silver Line Phase II stations – Innovation Station, Loudoun Gateway, and Reston Town Center.
At last week’s budget work session, an tentative estimate was noted as early November.
A Metro spokesperson tells Reston Now there’s “no clear answer yet” about an opening date, however the Metro Board has to proceed as if it will open in 2021 in order to pass the 2022 budget.
“The Board will take all public feedback into consideration before approving a final budget for FY22,” writes the spokesperson.
So, it is possible that the Silver Line Phase II could open this year, only for the stations to close a few months later due to the budget shortfall.
Complicating the situation is that Silver Line Phase II and the proposed drastic service cuts are essentially on two different timelines.
Earlier this month, Metro’s staff presented an update on 18 different safety and operational issues previously noted in December.
Of those 18, 17 were still in the midst of being resolved or remained unresolved. They range from maintenance issues with the station platform pavers to several thousand damaged track fasteners that need replacing to cracked third rail insulators.
The Metro spokesperson confirms that resolving these safety and operational issues have a greater impact on the timeline for the opening of the Silver Line Phase II than the budget shortfall in 2022.
In fact, Metro’s funding for Phase II construction hasn’t really been impacted by Metro’s overall financial woes.
“The Metro board has not done anything to delay the opening of Phase II as a matter of Metro policy or budget policy,”Metro Board of Supervisors member Matt Letourneau told Reston Now in January. “Thus far the position of the Metro board has been whenever the project is…. deemed acceptable and safe, and gone through testing, we should open it.”
That’s not to say that the Silver Line Phase II won’t cost Metro money that needs to be accounted for in the 2022 budget.
At last week’s work session, it was noted that operating costs for Phase II are about $120 million annually, or $10 million a month.
If it is delayed to November 2021 due to safety and operational issues, that would save Metro about $40 million.
However, retention costs like security and ongoing maintenance are $28.5 million annually or about $2.38 million a month — even if the stations and trains are not running and operational.
In the end, if Silver Line Phase II does not open in early November and gets delayed until additional federal funding does come through, it could save Metro about $7.5 million a month.
Metro is continuing to plan the 2022 budget under the prospect that they will not receive additional federal funding, though.
The most recent coronavirus relief package provided Metro more than $600 million in federal funds. That funding, notes Metro, helped avoid layoffs and provide essential services.
But even with that funding and other austerity measures, “there is not enough money to fill the entire budget gap for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2021,” Metro’s press release reads.
Hence, the potential need to close 22 stations, including the possibly-just-opened Silver Line Phase II stations.
Among the other options for service cuts asked in the survey is closing Metrorail every day at 9 p.m. and trains arriving only every 30 minutes at most stations.
Metro is asking riders to fill out the survey by Tuesday, March 16 at 5 p.m.
There’s a decent chance, however, that these worries over closing stations on Jan 1, 2022 could become moot.
President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan has $20 billion earmarked for public transit agencies.
At this time, however, it remains unclear how much would go to Metro if the plan does pass in Congress.
Photo courtesy Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority
A new audit from the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission has found a dozen items that Metro needs to correct as soon as possible and before the opening of Silver Line Phase 2.
Many of the items are related to the lack of guidance and training for employees on a new structural inspection manual. Additionally, the audit also says Metrorail does not review contracted inspectors’ credentials or qualifications thoroughly enough.
In all, how Metro currently handles structural inspections creates “the risk that safety issues could be misidentified or slip through the cracks.”
Another issue is that Metrorail has yet to provide load ratings for its elevated structures, meaning it’s unclear the size and weight limit of trains and equipment that can safely traverse a bridge or station. This creates a risk that the structures “could be inadvertently overloaded,” according to the audit.
The audit makes the conclusion that all of these issues “demonstrates a separate significant, ongoing problem facing Metrorail: siloed departments that do not fully coordinate on work instructions, materials or procedures.”
All aspects of Metro are audited over a three-year cycle, but the structural inspection process was audited now “due to other othersight work that identified concerns,” a WMSC spokesperson tells Reston Now.
Metrorail has 45 days to submit corrective action plans for the issues to the safety commission.
Beyond that, the timeline isn’t clear of when these required changes will actually take place.
The WMSC spokesperson also tells Reston Now that while some of these items are “relatively straight forward” others, like proper training, could take more time.
When reached for comment, a Metro spokesperson wrote Reston Now via email that they are addressing the issues:
Metro appreciates the efforts of the WMSC in completing this audit, especially the acknowledgement of the substantial progress that Metro has made with our structural assessment and maintenance programs. We require inspection of bridges and related structures at least every two years, more frequently in some instances, to ensure structural integrity and the safety of the riding public.
In addition to inspection and maintenance programs, Metro is investing in an aggressive capital program to ensure the state of good repair of our elevated structures, including addressing priority projects. As we review the findings of this audit and develop our responses, we remain committed to continuous improvement of our program and enhancing the safety of the system.
All of this has left the status and timeline of Silver Line Phase 2, which includes the opening of Reston Town Center Station, Herndon Station, and four other stations extending into Northern Virginia, up in the air.
Over the last several months, a number of audits and reports have called out Metro and have threatened to delay the openings.
In the fall, a WMSC audit reported that Metro’s Rail Operations Control Center is a “toxic workplace” with “racial and sexual comments, harassment, and other unprofessional behavior.”
In September, a report from the Metro’s Office of Inspector General found 342 cracks in concrete panels at a number of Silver Lane Phase 2 stations. This was due to the use of faulty materials, read the report.
As of last month, Phase 2 could still open by the fall this year, but that’s at the earliest.
Reston Now followed up with the Metro spokesperson about an updated timeline for the opening of Silver Line Phase 2, but has yet to receive an answer as of publication.
Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority
The timeline for completion of the second phase of the Silver Line continues to be the subject of uncertainty.
Phase II of the Silver Line has the potential to open in the fall of 2021, at the earliest. That is subject to change, however, as there are multiple issues that must be resolved first.
Laura Mason, head of capital delivery for Metro, discussed 28 issues with Phase II of the Silver Line project during Metro’s Safety and Operations Committee meeting on Dec. 10. She detailed the status of 14 quality issues previously brought forth, as well as 14 unresolved issues.
Of the 28 total issues discussed during the meeting, 10 are unresolved, eight are underway where a tentative agreement exists and resolution is in progress, and 10 are resolved. Metro will require the resolution of the issues by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) and its contractors before accepting the project.
When MWAA reaches a substantial completion date (SSCD) after resolving issues to an acceptable level by Metro, Metro will conduct 150 days of operational readiness testing and pre-revenue activities before the potential start of service. MWAA currently projects a SSCD of April 1, 2021.
“Based on an April substantial completion, that would yield a tentative forecast of a start of service in the fall of 2021,” Mason said.
“However, we maintain that Metro will not set a date until all identified issues have been resolved to meet our acceptance and we have a clear path to an acceptance of the project.”
She clarified that MWAA’s response to the unresolved issues will determine the path forward and the timing of the ultimate acceptance or rejection of the project.
The 14 new issues presented at the meeting consist of four categories: component failures, stations and systems, yard buildings and other open issues with resolutions already underway.
“Individually, each of these issues is not on critical path. However, taken together, they represent concerns to the acceptability of the project,” Mason said.
The issues with the yard buildings involve safe occupancy and correcting problems to ensure Metro’s ability to use the facilities to maintain its fleet of rail vehicles once the line goes into service.
The component failures brought forth detail a collection of components that require replacement even before the system has opened for operations. Mason cited concerns “about the durability of the project” when discussing the component failures.
For example, the contractor has replaced more than 1,500 insulators that were exhibiting cracks as of April 2020. Several thousand damaged track fasteners have also required replacement.
Mason said the damage to the direct fixation track fasteners is one of the biggest areas of concern. The fasteners, which are used to hold the rail in place at the appropriate height and angle, typically have a lifespan of 20 to 30 years. She did label the issue as underway after conversations with MWAA and its contractor.
Two other primary concerns she listed are the installation of the station platform pavers and deficiencies of cross bond spacing.
The station platform paver installation was initially identified as an issue after Phase I and brought to MWAA’s attention in late 2017. Issues with the installation consisted of systemic joint failures at pavers, water penetrating setting bed, and significant efflorescence deposits at the platform edges.
The installation problem is considered a maintenance issue, not a structural issue, for the platform.
The cross bonds spacing issue exists in 20 locations that Metro identified as deviating from design criteria and industry practice. It is regarded as a high-risk item, but a resolution to address the issue is already underway.
“There are and will continue to be other issues that come up, and we will try first to resolve them at the project level,” Mason said.
“We’ve also implemented bi-weekly executive coordination meetings for technical review between myself, my counterpart at the Airports Authority and executives from the contractor teams.”
The project has faced a number of issues that have delayed its completion. More than 11% of the concrete panels at five of the six new stations on the extension were discovered to have cracks that needed to be repaired.
The announcement of more delays for the Silver Line have led to concerns from Supervisors Dalia Palchik and John Foust that Metro isn’t giving the communities around the Tysons area a fair shake.
“They are currently talking about reducing Metrorail service across the system to 80%,” Foust said. “Except that they’re saying they don’t have the funds to commence service on Phase II of the Silver Line.”
While Foust said the second phase of the Silver Line expansion isn’t quite ready for opening, it will be soon, and Foust said it deserved to be treated like any other wing of the Silver Line. Foust was particularly vexed by arguments from WMATA that Metro lines that had been operational before the shutdowns will be prioritized for service.
“If they get 80%, we should get 80%,” Foust said. “We’ve invested $6 billion into the Silver Line… I’m advocating for opening Phase 2 of the Silver Line as soon as possible.”
Palchik said these issues have been exacerbated by lack of communication between WMATA and Fairfax County.
“We found out, maybe hours before the public, that the Orange and Silver lines were being shut down,” Palchik said. “The lack of communication between our boards and the WMATA boards is frustrating beyond compare. [We] need to ensure we’re not seen as the wicked stepchild of the metro system.”
With COVID-19 induced budget cuts looming, Metro officials are considering pushing back the beginning of service for the Silver Line expansion to July 1, 2021.
The Metro Board of Directors will meet Wednesday to vote on a slate of proposed cuts, including postponing the beginning of service on the newest addition to the Silver Line, as Metro officials grapple with lost revenues from declining ridership during the pandemic.
While service for the second phase of the Silver Line, which would connect the Wiehle-Reston East Station through Dulles International Airport to Ashburn, was slated to begin in the Spring, financial troubles now mean the Silver Line’s expansion opening has been delayed again.
Due to declining ridership from the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld said he is projecting a $212 million budget shortfall, worse than what WMATA officials originally projected in their spring budget estimates.
Wiedefeld also said he anticipates WMATA will run out of federal funds from the CARES Act, which Congress passed in March to provide economic relief to localities during the COVID-19 pandemic, worsening budget woes. With more federal funding unlikely coming WMATA will need to make cuts, Wiedefeld said.
“What we have found since we developed our pandemic plan in, as you recall, in the spring that the recovery pace is much slower than we assumed when we approved the budget in the spring,” Wiedefeld said.
If approved, the delay in opening service for the expansion of the Silver Line is anticipated to save Metro $53.8 million in its operating budget for the current fiscal year, according to projections from WMATA.
The Silver Line expansion is the second phase of Metro’s plan to extend rail service from D.C. into Loudoun County, to give riders around the region quicker transit access to and from Dulles International Airport. The first phase of the Silver Line began service in 2014 with five new stations in Fairfax County.
Along with the delayed opening of the Silver Line expansion, Metro has also proposed saving money by restoring bus fares, which were suspended during the pandemic, increasing the number of turn-backs and cutting hours for rail service, ending service at 9 p.m Monday through Thursday.
“Some of these actions in one form or another may need to be taken into ensure we can finish the year on budget without the need for additional jurisdictional or federal funding,” said Joe Leader, Chief Operating Officer for WMATA.
More than 11 percent of concrete panels at five of the six new stations on the Silver Line’s extension have cracks that need to b fixed, according to a new report by the Metro Office of Inspector General (OIG).
The report lays out nine conditional steps before the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority can assume ownership of the project and let trains run.
Metro plans to open the extension in July 2021. The OIG audit was initiated at the beginning of the year after a whistleblower complaint in 2016 brought to light Universal Concrete Products’ failure to perform quality control checks. The concrete supplier gave Capital Rail Constructors, the company building the project, deficient concrete panels.
The report found that the Herndon Metro Station has the highest percentage of cracks — 14 percent — while the Reston Town Center Metro Station has a little over 10 percent of cracked concrete panels.
“These panels must be repaired prior to acceptance by WMATA,” states the Metro OIG in its report.
A sealant to repair the concrete panels could be applied every five to seven years in order to proceed with the project.
But the OIG report says that WMATA should not accept this solution “or any other measures short of complete replacement.”
The OIG laid out nine conditions the WMATA board should consider before taking on the project.