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Connolly cites Tysons as “success story” during Metro Congressional hearing

Rep. Gerry Connolly talks about the Silver Line in Tysons at a House subcommittee hearing on Metro (via Oversight Committee/YouTube)

(Updated at 10:10 a.m.) Tysons got a shoutout yesterday (Wednesday) from Rep. Gerry Connolly (D) at the Congressional hearing on Metro.

Connolly called the hearing before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Reform, which he chairs, in December to address the safety issues that have sidelined more than half of the transit system’s trains for nearly three months now after a derailment in Arlington.

The two-hour hearing primarily featured Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency leaders addressing questions about the prolonged effort to fix the 7000-series trains, ridership declines, and a looming budget shortfall with federal relief funds running out.

However, it also saw Connolly defend the investments made to bring Metro into Tysons and Reston. The first phase of the Silver Line opened in 2014, after Connolly assumed office in Congress, but the groundwork for the $2.9 billion project was laid while he served on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Asked whether the D.C. area has the density to support Metro, witness David Ditch, a policy analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation, suggested local governments should privatize rail or shift resources to buses, which he argued are “more economical” since they “share road infrastructure.”

“When you’re in a hole, stop digging,” Ditch said. “Past spending on transit infrastructure is not a justification for ignoring high costs and limited benefits or adding even more high-cost infrastructure on top of what we already have.”

Connolly countered that federal and local officials “experimented with” a variety of options for the Silver Line, including the inclusion of a bus rapid transit system as part of the project. Fairfax County launched an express bus service in the Dulles corridor in 1999.

However, he said the buses saw a third or less of the ridership of the existing Metro trains, indicating that rail would be the better investment.

He pointed to Tysons as an illustration of how transit can spur economic development, drawing more residents and businesses that will sustain the system long term, at least if Fairfax County’s comprehensive plan pans out.

“When we built the Silver Line through Tysons, we had 17,000 people live in Tysons, a physical area bigger than downtown Boston,” Connolly said. “Because of the advent of rail, there’ll be 100,000 additional residents in Tysons. The density, in some cases, is dependent on the investment in rail, and I believe Tysons is a great example of a potential success story.”

Unmentioned during the hearing was that plans for bus rapid transit in Tysons are in the works, though the proposed system will be tied to Route 7, rather than the Silver Line.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is also scheduled to approve plans to enhance bus service in Reston and Herndon later this month, as Metro prepares to open the Silver Line’s second phase this spring after years of delays.

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