Photo by Wayan Vota on Flickr.

Loudoun County might decide to drop out of the Silver Line project. If they do, Loudoun will lose out the most, but Fairfax residents will also be hurt if Loudoun neighbors can just drive to Fairfax stations and park. Virginia shouldn’t let Loudoun get something for nothing.

Some Loudoun County board members are suddenly very concerned with fiscal austerity after regional leaders have worked for 4 decades to get the line.

If Loudoun drops out of the system, the Silver Line will end at Dulles Airport, and the westernmost stations, Route 606 and Route 772, will be cut. Loudoun residents will miss out on accessibility to Metro and the associated economic development.

Tysons Engineer believes that Loudoun residents feel that they can essentially get something for nothing. If Loudoun withdraws, they won’t have to contribute tax dollars, but they’ll still be able to use the system by driving to Fairfax. It’s not that simple.

What does losing Loudoun do to costs?

Tysons Engineer estimates that the cost to build the Silver Line’s second phase could be cut by almost a billion dollars by eliminating the stations beyond Dulles. Since Loudoun was only contributing $270 million to the construction, the rest of the region will save money on building the line.

However, the other regional jurisdictions were also counting on $10 million annually from Loudoun to support operations of the system. Without that money, Fairfax might need to contribute more than it had been planning.

What about parking at Innovation Station?

The Dulles station, which will be at the end of the line without Loudoun, won’t have any commuter parking. For commuters, the Innovation (Route 28) Station would serve as the end-of-line park and ride if Loudoun drops out.

The current proposal calls for installing 2,000 parking spaces at Innovation. But that number was chosen in light of another 6,050 spaces planned for the Route 606 and Route 772 stations. Because riders driving to the Silver Line from Loudoun County would have the option to park further west under the current plan, the spaces at Innovation were meant to serve drivers from a much smaller area.

There will certainly be pressure to increase the number of spaces at Route 28 due to the loss of the Loudoun spaces. And given Innovation’s status as the system’s most northwesterly park and ride, that’s probably a sensible notion. With only 2,000 spaces, Innovation would have the least parking spaces of any end-of-line (the role it would be filling in this case) station in the system.

Shady Grove5,745
New Carrollton3,519
Branch Avenue3,072

It’s important to build transit-oriented development at as many of the region’s Metro stations as possible. Innovation Station is no exception. But end-of-line stations also need to serve the large auto-dependent areas beyond the reach of Metro.

Don’t let Loudoun get something for nothing

Regardless of whether Innovation gets 2,000 spaces or lots more, many of those spaces will end up going to drivers from Loudoun. Fairfax taxpayers shouldn’t be too happy about giving Loudounites a free ride.

It’s not just Innovation. If there aren’t enough spaces there, Loudoun drivers will just stay on the Toll Road until stations farther down the line, where they’ll still take spaces from Fairfax residents.

The best solution is probably to create a higher base rate for parking at the Silver Line stations west of Tysons Corner. Fairfax could then create a pass program for their residents, whereby they would get a discount at those stations.

Charging drivers much more to park there will help offset the impact of Loudoun drivers parking in Fairfax. Making this part of the plan in the event that Loudoun drops out, might persuade the Loudoun Board of Supervisors to stick with the system.

Innovation could better serve bus riders

If Loudoun does drop out, MWAA and WMATA should consider changes to the design of Innovation Station. The agencies building the Silver Line should further think about the station’s role for transit.

The West Falls Church station serves as a major transfer point for bus riders from the Dulles corridor. Buses coming down the Airport Access Road from Tysons Corner and Reston can take exclusive ramps right into a bus loop at the Metro.

If the Silver Line doesn’t go to Loudoun, there will likely be more demand for bus service from Loudoun to the Silver Line. Building ramps from the Dulles Greenway and a larger bus loop would make transit a more attractive option. Frequent and fast bus service could encourage Loudounites to take the bus to Metro instead of driving into Fairfax to park.

Loudoun would be best served by being a regional partner in the expansion of transit to and beyond Dulles. If their Board of Supervisors does decide to back out of the project, we can hope that they will work with Fairfax, WMATA, and MWAA to make sure that the truncated Silver Line will accommodate their needs. But they shouldn’t labor under the false assumption that they’ll be getting something for nothing.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master’s in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Dupont Circle. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, and is an employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer.