During dozens of conversations leading up to the Loudoun Board of Supervisors decision to participate in the proposed Metro project to Dulles Airport and beyond, no one knew how the votes would fall.
Would it be 5-4, 6-3? People in the audience, county staff members and even supervisors waged small bets on the final vote, and those who picked 5-4 won the day.
Heading in to the vote, there were two supervisors considered potential swing votes: Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) and Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian). Speaking with a wide range of “insiders” during the past two months, odds appeared to be on Volpe to support it, with Reid possibly joining the majority. But that would have been the wrong bet.
Reid, who had a history of opposing the rail project, said Tuesday that a tax district the county intends to rely on gave him the comfort he needed to support the project, because it likely will not result in taxes for anyone in his district. He faced criticism heading into the vote, which he brushed off.
“It is what it is. That’s the nature of the game in politics today,” he said, adding that his primary goal was to avoid use of the county general fund or any additional tax on Leesburg residents. “I believe we accomplished those goals.”
While Reid supported the vote, Volpe opposed it, following an explanation that gave little hint of her decision until she actually uttered it.
“A lot of this is a leap of faith. There are a lot of costs we don’t know,” she said, specifically expressing concerns that if a disabled person from Loudoun called Metro for a pickup it would result in exhorbitant fees to the county. “I will not support the motion.”
Also voting in the minority with Volpe were Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge), Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) and Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling).
“The situation is, is this the right time, the right place, the right deal?” Clarke, the board’s vice chairman, said before the vote. “I am absolutely in support of rail, but not in the way it’s been packaged and presented to this county.”
Those who supported the project pointed to the significant public support based on polls, public comments and email messages. In addition, supporters consider Metro Loudoun’s best chance to draw high-end commercial development that can offset the residential real estate tax base.
“A yes vote is for the prosperity of this county,” Buona said during discussion before the vote.
Supervisor Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run) was credited with creating the tax district supervisors said they would pursue around the Metro stops. The district would include Dulles International Airport as well as all of the commercial property around the stations. In addition, with the tax district, there would be half-mile inner districts that could be used to lower rates on the outer district as development occurs.
“The county wants this,” Williams said. “Some folks will never be satisfied that we answered every question. There’s no doubt in my minds that this is the right decision in Loudoun to move us forward.”
After the vote, several people who been closely following the debate and support the project weighed in.
“It think this is an important day for Loudoun County and an important day for the region,” said Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, adding that he believes the line will draw new business with high-paying jobs and the young professional needed to fill those jobs. “I think it’s going to be a very positive factor.”
So just as phase one nears completion phase two can move forward.
“Now we can go to work,” said Eric Wells, a member of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board of Directors. “There’s going to be a lot of hard work to make this happen.”
Wells and several others said they had hoped for a clearer majority.
“I think this board has planned well for this,” Wells said. “It is a bit of a letdown that it was a 5-4 vote.”
Tony Howard, president of the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce was grateful the project won support.
“We want to congratulate five supervisors who voted with the majority and supported rail to Loudoun,” Howard said, adding that the entire board worked hard to gather relevant information, which “demonstrated it’s the right vision for the future, the economy and the quality of life. I was disappointed with the explanation offered by three of the four dissenters. I don’t think they made themselves clear.”
Howard said Delgaudio has been a consistent vocal opponent, so his position was clear.
Supervisor Williams also said he had wished for a larger majority, but that he’s happy with the final result.
“I’m glad we got it passed,” he said.
Pat Nowakowski said MWAA would begin preparing procurement contracts immediately and the work would begin, estimating that would take at least nine months.
“We are ready to go,” he said.
The Metro project has been a bit of a distraction for supervisors, who have lots of other initiatives on which to work.
“I’m glad that we have closure,” said Ben Mays, the acting director of Loudoun Management and Financial Services, adding that county can look ahead with Metro in the picture, rather than having uncertainty about whether the project would come. “We have direction on where to move forward.”
Supervisors plan to hold a public hearing on the proposed rail service tax district prior to Nov. 1.