Reviews | Decades of preparation, the Silver Line reaches its destination

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Six decades ago, when Washington’s Metro transit system was still a nod to transportation planners, the idea of ​​a rail link to Dulles International Airport seemed like a distant fantasy. Not only were commuters scarce in the sparse farmland between the nation’s capital and the airport, but Dulles itself was brand new and its prospects uncertain.

“I think [a train line] is sometime in the future,” a dismissive Kennedy administration official, C. Dalton Stolzenbach, told a congressional committee in 1963.

On Tuesday, the $3 billion, 11.4-mile second phase of the Silver Line, four years behind schedule and massively over budget, is set to start operating at six new stations, including Dulles and two more further east. west, in Loudoun County. That the project took so long and cost so much does not negate a simple fact: Dulles is finally joining other world-class airports served by rail – from Singapore, New Delhi, Dubai, Tokyo and Hong Kong to Madrid, Amsterdam , London, Paris and Berlin.

The United States has been a global laggard in connecting major cities to the airports that serve them. There are no direct trains from Manhattan to John F. Kennedy or LaGuardia airports. Last year, workers inaugurated a rail line to serve Los Angeles International Airport; its completion is scheduled for 2024. International visitors arriving in Dulles for the first time are regularly surprised at the lack of rail service, and Washingtonians have complained about it for years.

The construction of the Silver Line, amid struggles for funding, federal support, and ground or underground stations, energized development in Northern Virginia. It also took years, testifying to the difficulty of building major infrastructure projects in this country and the short-sightedness of opposition forces. Yet the completion of its second and final phase is a timely reminder that long-term planning and determined elected officials are needed to meet the region’s colossal transportation and transit needs.

By 2045, some 7 million people are expected to live in the greater metropolitan area, 1.3 million more than today. More than one million jobs are expected to be added in the region, for a total of 4.3 million. The number of daily road and rail journeys is expected to increase to 21 million from 18 million today. If the region holds firm, the outcome is predestined: longer and more frequent delays for those who live and work here.

To avoid this bleak future, key projects will have to move from the drawing boards to the construction sites. They include the widening of the Beltway and Interstate 270 in suburban Maryland; rebuilding and widening the American Legion Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River; building a bus rapid transit system along the Route 1 Corridor in Northern Virginia and extending it to vital roads in Montgomery County; securing Metro’s future with additional local, state, and federal funding; the extension of the blue, orange and yellow lines of Metrorail itself; and solving the bottleneck problem of Metro’s Rosslyn Tunnel, where three Metrorail lines converge. Better and safer pedestrian and cycle networks are also essential.

These battles are ongoing. The results will shape and determine the livability and prosperity of the region.

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