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Counting to Five

Five supervisors will decide the fate of Metrorail to Loudoun.

In my , I listed ten reasons why I thought the Silver Line would ultimately be extended into Loudoun County. It was partly a prediction, and partly an argument in favor of the project.

Eleven months later, the fate of the rail project remains undetermined. While I still think a majority of the will vote in favor of the project, it is hard to see where the necessary five votes will come from.

Chairman Scott York and supervisors Ralph Buona and Shawn Williams have been vocal advocates for the project. It appears likely that Dulles District Supervisor Matt Letourneau will also get on board.

But that fifth vote is proving to be elusive.

I have spoken with several people inside the county government recently and asked their opinions about the prospects for rail to Loudoun. Most seemed doubtful, saying that they could not count five votes in favor of the project – even after the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) dropped an incentive for union-friendly project labor agreements.

Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio has opposed the project for years, and can be counted as a definite “no” vote. The other four supervisors – Janet Clarke, Geary Higgins, Ken Reid and Suzanne Volpe – have had much more to say against the project than in favor.

Having closely observed the Board of Supervisors for more than two decades, I know how difficult it can be to predict how a majority of supervisors will vote on a given issue. The fact that those four supervisors have been on the board less than six months makes it even harder to guess what they will do.

One fact that has certainly gotten the attention of all the supervisors is the clear support that the project has in the community. Opinion polls and public input consistently show that more than 70 percent of Loudoun residents want Metrorail in Loudoun County.

While one might question the validity of any measure of public approval, there is a developing consensus that a sizable segment of the community wants this project. That is difficult for any politician not named Delgaudio to ignore.

Ashburn Patch editor Dusty Smith that could affect the outcome. He quoted County Attorney Jack Roberts as saying that the board must take action if it wants to opt out of the project. Failure to act by the July 4 deadline would, in effect, be a decision to opt in.

This means that it will take five votes to opt out, but not necessarily to opt in. As strange as it might seem, that could make a difference. If one board member is absent for the vote, or chooses to abstain, a motion to opt out could fail 4-4.

Conventional wisdom holds that the Metrorail project is more popular in eastern Loudoun, where many residents commute eastward to jobs in Fairfax, Arlington and Washington, D.C. This places additional pressure on Volpe and Clarke, in particular, to vote for the project.

This might surprise some who still consider the Blue Ridge District, which Clarke represents, to be a western Loudoun district. But since the recent redistricting, more than a third of the district’s residents live in Brambleton precincts, in the shadow of Dulles Airport. Metrorail would present a viable commuting alternative for them as the roads around Dulles get increasingly congested.

If Clarke envisions a political future for herself beyond 2015, she probably would not want to be known as the supervisor who cast the deciding vote to kill Metrorail to Loudoun.

The stakes are particularly high for York, who has worked hard and effectively on this project for a decade.

In the November 2011 elections, York endorsed Reid, Volpe and Delgaudio over Democratic opponents who were likely “yes” votes for Loudoun Metrorail.

If those three become part of a majority that bands together to kill the project, it would be a bitter pill for him to swallow.

This is the most important issue that board has faced during York’s 12-plus years as chairman. If he cannot pull together four members of an all-Republican Board to support him on this key issue, it will appear to many observers that Delgaudio, not York, has become the de facto leader of the board.

I still think the board will ultimately decide to opt in to the Metrorail project. But I’m still trying to count five votes, one way or the other.

Victoria Glenn June 17, 2012 at 02:57 AM
You do realize piggie that nothing is certain in life right? Sometimes speculation and projection are all you have and no progress was ever made through out history, by people waiting for a sure thing, and that includes the government. So unless that pig of yours is a time machine how can you say you are not basing your opinions on speculation as well?
abroderick June 17, 2012 at 03:59 AM
I don't understand this idealized bus system. I don't know if you've ever actually taken a bus, but they are slow and indirect. They are also almost always late. I welcome the Metro because it makes sense.
Bob Bruhns June 18, 2012 at 09:22 PM
Show me a bus system around here that is in dedicated bus lanes, and let's see its schedule performance.
J Williams June 19, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Dedicated bus lanes? Where exactly would you put those on our already congested roads? And where would the money to build and maintain them come from? This does not sound like a viable solution to me. The metro is the way to go for the benefit of Loudoun
Bob Bruhns June 19, 2012 at 03:03 PM
I would start by placing them into the present rail right of way, from Wiehle Avenue to Ashburn. If you don't think bus would fit in there, how do you plan to fit rail in there? With the money that would be saved, I would extend dedicated bus lanes further into Loudoun County, to Leesburg and beyond. This will establish transit corridors and reserve future rail right of way. Tell me, do you or your leaders have any plans to reserve future rail right of way in Loudoun County, or are you all just play-acting a supposed plan for the future, that is only a quick ripoff today? You need to reserve future railway with dedicated bus lanes, and let the bus transit prepare the way until rail actually becomes appropriate. It sure isn't appropriate now - witness that you really can't pay for it. You are ignoring most of the real costs, and then you are struggling to figure out how to pay the small part of the costs that are visible through the blinders that you put on. Face it, you need to go with bus until rail becomes appropriate. That will probably take twenty to thirty years. Yes, I know - you want RAIL! NOW! Etc. But jumping the gun will only break the bank.

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