Silver Line Forum: How Can Loudoun Pay for Metro?

Government leaders, attorneys, and developers with property all along the Silver Line Metrorail extension into Loudoun gathered Wednesday to talk about the project’s progress. One question for Loudoun stood out: How are we paying for this thing?

Loudoun is on the hook for 4.8 percent of the cost of the rail extension, a share estimated to come out to $273 million. After a federal loan worth about $195 million, which the county expects to pay off in 2042, Loudoun still needs to come up with $78 million.

In 2012, county supervisors created a Metrorail Service Tax District around the areas that will be served by the planned Metro stations to help pay for Loudoun’s share. After the initial construction costs are paid off, two smaller tax districts around the Rt. 606 and Rt. 702 stations will keep pulling in money to pay for Metro.

From fiscal years 2014-2016, the Metrorail Service Tax District produced $20.4 million—but real estate attorney Antonio Calabrese, of Cooley LLP, said that’s not enough.

Antonio Calabrese talks about the challenges he sees in paying for Metro in Loudoun. Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)
Antonio Calabrese talks about the challenges he sees in paying for Metro in Loudoun.
Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

“We don’t have a lot of room, and we don’t have a lot of time, I would

respectfully submit, to really change direction,” Calabrese said during the program sponsored by the Committee for Dulles, Dulles Corridor Rail Association, Dulles South Alliance and the Washington Airports Task Force.

Calabrese said that of the more than 14,000 acres in the tax district, only 1,724 remain developable—about 12 percent of the district. The rest is either already built or is federally owned land at Dulles Airport. Calabrese said it’s “not a lot to work with to move the needle.”

But Calabrese also said Loudoun’s traditional development models aren’t a good fit. Data centers make a lot of tax revenue, but aren’t very rail friendly. Retail is already overbuilt. And of suburban office parks, like the AOL campus where the meeting was held, he said, “This type of development is great, but it’s had its day.”

Instead, he said, walkable, mixed-use developments—like One Loudoun, and like the ones at the center of the Nighttime Economy Ad Hoc Committee’s plans—are the best way to boost tax district revenue.

“I think his comments come from the perspective of his clients, not from the county perspective necessarily,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run), who spoke at the meeting, and whose election district includes a large part of the tax district. It’s not enough for Loudoun just to build mixed-use, Meyer said. The county needs to figure out how to distinguish itself in the market.

“We can’t be another Reston, another Merrifield—we have to be our type of community,” Meyer said. “If people want to live in an urban environment close to the city, they have literally dozens of options popping up.”

Meyer also said he would like to see future data centers located away from residential areas and steer toward high-noise areas, such as near the airport or highways.

Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian), who chairs the county board’s Transportation and Land Use Committee, agreed that Loudoun County needs a Loudoun solution—which does include data centers, where appropriate.

“I believe there is enough land in eastern Loudoun where our economic development office can work with the data center providers,” Volpe said.

Del. Ken Plum
Del. Ken Plum

“We’re at an important crossroads, like Arlington was 40 years ago, like Reston and Fairfax were 30 years ago,” Calabrese said. “You need planning,

vision and fortitude. We have the people in the room capable of delivering on the promises.”

Virginia Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-36), founder and chairman of the Dulles Corridor Rail Association, closed out the program.

“Make no mistake about it, the discussion has to continue,” he said.

5 thoughts on “Silver Line Forum: How Can Loudoun Pay for Metro?

  • 2016-04-15 at 4:04 pm

    Hopefully Mr. Myers will move on up in his ambitions, and get to a state government role where he can do no harm. Data centers in the Metro area are exactly what is a bad idea. No jobs, low income tax, and a guaranteed brown field in 20 years. It’s time for Loudoun to move past the data center crack, and provide real utility for Loudoun’s citizens. Otherwise, we’ll have to keep paying for roads and rails to commute to where our jobs are.

  • 2016-04-15 at 4:27 pm

    Just to be sure, the previous board voted to get us into the shifty Metro scheme; they set up a tax district, which collected 20 million bucks in the past two years, and received a funny money loan from the feds, and now we have lawyers, developers, and politicians telling us it’s “not enough?”

    Democrat delegate Plum warns: “make no mistake about it, the discussion has to continue.” Let me translate that into real people language: “Make no mistake, Loudoun Homeowners will be shaken down yet again.”

  • 2016-04-18 at 5:22 pm

    The reoccurring nightmare aka Metro.

    Folks, it is plain as day where this is going. The one shortcoming of the Special Tax District is that it has a cap. If there isn’t enough revenue collected, then the implicit fallback is to take it from the general funds, which means a property tax increase. So, here we are 4 years after Loudoun mistakenly voted into this debacle and Metro is in no better shape (and, actually, so bad they now have a bankruptcy lawyer).

    No matter how much money gets sucked into this silver hole it will always require more. As I’m typing that euphemism, I think the “Silver Line” should be called the “Silver Hole” for its never-ending avarice.

    What should actually be done? The expansion should be on hold until Metro straightens itself out and we come up with an actual plan to pay for it all. We are plowing forward with big, unanswered questions. On top of this, just as the Opt-Out crowd warned, Metro now says it will need billions more to catch up with deferred maintenance…and then it will be pension funds…and then another tunnel…etc. All the stuff that was predicted.

    This is government at its worst. So many pitfalls in plain sight, and yet they plow forward leveraging a “too big to fail” mentality to chew off more and more money.

    Metro shouldn’t be expanding, it should be contracting to its urban core where it is most useful.

  • 2016-04-22 at 4:37 pm

    ^^ All of the above.

    “Loudoun is on the hook for 4.8 percent of the cost of the rail extension, a share estimated to come out to $273 million. After a federal loan worth about $195 million, which the county expects to pay off in 2042, Loudoun still needs to come up with $78 million.”

    Maybe they can auction off some of those pretty green t-shirts.

    Loudoun does not have to come up with $78M, it has to come up with t least $273M plus interest on a percent share, not a fixed number. Why? To replace frayed cables and decrepit rail cars, and to cover liability for running a system that gets people hurt. No, we’re not just on the hook, we’re about to be served steaming on the plate, which is where the past and present BOS have put us.

    Come on, are we so naive that we are surprised (not) that the revenue models that were bandied about to support voting for Metro to Loudoun are coming up short?

    IF Loudoun is to be a sound market-driven economy (not speculative), the strength of of the market should cover the cost of transportation. Where’s the demand? Until you have the scale of Reston Town Center, forget it. Wait 25 years for the market to mature, then maybe Ashburn can siphon from Reston the way Reston has siphoned from Tysons.

    A far more sensible solution would be to invest, with key partners, in a light rail system from Leesburg to Herndon along Rt7/Rt.28. By connecting the major urban center of Loudoun with the edge of the regional transportation network at Dulles, you get a lot more bang for the buck, both speed and congestion relief. Connecting suburbs to suburbs with heavy rail is almost as dumb as letting a big Australian bank run your toll road.

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