The opening of the Silver Line brought an overflow crowd of dignitaries and well-wishers to cut the ribbon and ride the first train. The half-completed project received a lot of acclaim with its airy and sleek stations and gleaming new equipment. The first-phase extension of Metro that will increase the size of the mass transit system by 25 percent has clearly captured the spirit of most of the community.
The feelings about heavy-rail transit in the Dulles Corridor have not always been viewed so positively. While the idea of mass transit to Dulles Airport has been around for more than 50 years, positive steps to make it a reality were slow in taking place. When I organized the Dulles Corridor Rail Association (DCRA) in August 1998 to provide mass transit in the corridor, there were many doubters, naysayers and skeptics. The original board made up of community and business leaders and professional planner Patty Nicoson, who became and remains president of DCRA, went about building the case for a mass transit approach. Population growth projections for the region provided the clearest evidence that highways and cars would not be adequate to meet transportation needs in the future. The idea that the nation’s capital did not have a rail connection to its international airport was appalling to many. Air pollution’s effect on the health of the region was also a concern.
DCRA was able to get the conversation going about mass transit for the corridor and kept it before the attention of public officials as the many issues related to the project were debated. Should rail just go to Tysons Corner? Dulles Airport? Loudoun County? Should it be bus? Bus rapid transit? Light rail? Heavy rail? Should it be a subway system? Aerial system? How many stations? Where?
DCRA played a role in making sure that public officials got a regular flow of information on what was happening in other localities, advantages and concerns related to options, and the costs and consequences of inaction. As planning progressed and the project went through its ups and downs and near-death experiences, the DCRA board and its members were there to write letters, provide fact sheets and opinion columns, line up speakers for public hearings, and even run full-page ads in The Washington Post at a critical time in the approval process for the project. Twice a year DCRA held receptions at significant locations along the route of the rail line, and recognized individuals and organizations that had contributed to moving the project forward.
I was honored to be asked to speak at the opening ceremony for the Silver Line where I acknowledged as I want to do here the critically important and very effective work of Patty Nicoson towards the success of this project and the significant help of current and past DCRA board members. Many have mentioned that we might still just be talking about it if not for the work of DCRA and its success in keeping it truly nonpartisan. I am pleased to have been a part of such an effort that will be transformative for our region.