In my first column about the Metrorail to Loudoun project, 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 Board of Supervisors 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 recently pointed out an interesting fact 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.