Livin’ La Vida LoCo
Commuters and jet-setters rejoice! Thanks to a last-minute change of heart, Metro’s Silver Line extension will run to Dulles International Airport and beyond, into deeply divided Loudoun County.
Around 10:30 a.m., Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors voted 5-4 to approve Phase 2 of the project, which will cost it $270 million to build, plus $15-20 million in yearly maintenance costs. If Loudoun had opted out, the two stops beyond Dulles would have been killed, and the airport station itself might have been delayed up to two years. The hero—or villain, depending on your perspective—was Leesburg Supervisor Ken Reid, who was swayed by last week’s board vote to pay for the project using two tax districts surrounding the proposed Metro stops.
Until last week, Reid was one of the project’s most vociferous opponents. In April, Reid even sat down with Loudoun Chamber of Commerce President Tony Howard for a televised debate in which he disputed Metro’s economic benefit to the county, while arguing that the ensuing population growth would actually worsen traffic in the region.
Whatever the reason for Reid’s unorthodox opposition, it’s no surprise that the fiscal conservative in him was won over by the tax district proposal. The districts were drawn to exclude residential properties, ensuring that only the business and real estate interests most invested in the project are paying for it.
So, everyone happy now?
Not quite. Howard, despite his support for the extension, tells me he wasn’t pleased that the costs would be born entirely by the business community. “These types of investments are for the greater good,” Howard says, arguing that the whole county should foot the bill.
And John Grigsby, a key member of the Loudoun Opt-Out faction, says this is only the first shot in a larger battle to keep the county fiscally conservative. Grigsby, who regularly communicates with county politicians, told me he called Reid last Wednesday to ask for an update. "He said as always, 'I think this project is a piece of crap.' But then he says, 'This tax district idea has legs.' I said, 'Ken—that’s schizoid,'…and he just chuckled at me."
Spurned, Grigsby has now put a target on Reid’s back. "At that point I had enough and I said, 'It’s nothing personal,' but I promised him that I’m going to try to find someone to run against him [in 2015]. It shouldn’t be that tough."
For his part, Reid, whose district straddles the suburban and rural halves of the county, realizes that his vote may have imperiled his Loudoun County political life. "In 2015, some of us may not be here," Reid said immediately after the vote. "Could be me."
For the rest of us, however, this seems like a big win. D.C. winos will be that much closer to Loudoun’s lush vineyards, while LoCo’s commuters can begin rehabilitating their collective Restless Leg Syndrome. Finally, while the Dulles Metro stop won’t get built until 2018, it’s now a certainty. And almost anything beats sitting on the Toll Road while your flight takes off without you.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery