I had another one of those odd “no longer such the new guy in town” moments today when I took my first trip on the Silver Line, the new subway line what opened back in late July. I remember my college years, when the Silver Line was a set of concept designs, and a few lines on a map.
The Silver Line goes all the way back to the early 1970s. The Washington Metro was born in the early to mid 1960s, with plans that the line extend west from downtown to the Virginia suburbs of Falls Church and Vienna. Falls Church sold bonds to pay for two stations on the new line. But in the several years it took to design and engineer the line, the Tysons Corner area of Virginia really began to take off and become a hotspot for developers. So in the early 1970s, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced that the new subway line would no longer pass through Falls Church and Vienna, but instead through the newly-bustling Tysons Corner and McLean. Except Falls Church had sold municipal bonds on the promise that the line would pass through its city, so the city sued the transit authority for breach of contract, and won in court. The orange line would pass through Falls Church after all, by court order.
Which left the Tysons/McLean problem yet unresolved. So the silver line was needed, branching off from the orange line, to serve the yet-ever-more booming Tysons and McLean areas, and eventually all the way out to Dulles Airport. By the time I finished college, plans for the silver line were in full swing. But then stopped again…during the four years I was in the Navy, almost nothing happened while a bitter fight over prevailing labor laws played out. You see, the transit authority spans three legal jurisdictions; the Commonwealth of Virginia, the State of Maryland, and the District of Columbia. I should pause to explain that Maryland and the District of Columbia have a very different set of prevailing attitudes towards organized labor than does Virginia. In fact, Virginia is a right to work state in which state statute bans paying the so-called “prevailing wages” set forth in the Wagner Act. Because the new silver line was entirely in Virginia, the Old Dominion state put up nearly all the money for the new line. And here we ran full speed ahead into a legal problem: the transit authority’s headquarters (and contracting and legal shops) were in the District of Columbia, where paying Wagner Act wages was required by law, but nearly all of the funding was provided by Virginia, where paying Wagner Act wages was forbidden by law.
The terms of the settlement were very hush-hush, but finally earth was moved. Some tunnel vs. elevated track, and some minor squabbles over station naming and fire codes later, the new line opened for business at the end of July 2014. Today I went downtown for a business lunch, and after all of the maneuvering and jockeying required to get to this point, I was happy that the train just showed up and I was able to just sit down. On this life in a day, I give thanks for simply being able to get where I’m trying to go.