For the first time, Metro is providing a time span around when the Silver Line will open.
The transit agency is expecting it to open this summer -- but they still aren't providing an exact date.
Furthermore, there are a number of issues that still have to be worked out, so Metro probably won't fully take control of the project until late May, said Metro's general manager, Richard Sarles, in a Metro board meeting Thursday.
Thursday was also the day that a crucial deadline arrived for the Silver Line, as the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) announced that the project's first phase of construction is substantially complete.
Substantial completion is a contractual term between MWAA and the contractor that built the Silver Line. It essentially means the major elements of the system -- the stations, the tracks, the communications systems -- have been delivered.
The project is already seven months behind and $150 million over budget. On April 9, the contractor submitted its declaration of completion -- its second after MWAA rejected an earlier declaration in February.
MWAA was given 15 days to decide whether to determine whether Phase 1 of the Silver Line is substantially complete, and that deadline hit Thursday.
When it opens, the Silver Line is expected to have a big impact on Fairfax and Loudoun counties. The 23-mile addition to the Metro will mark the first time the rail system has expanded into Loudoun County, connecting commuters with downtown and travelers with Dulles International Airport. Additionally, the Tysons Corner section of Fairfax County, already booming with business, will likely see a huge surge in growth as four Silver Line stations open in the area.
Phase 1 of the project -- the phase that's now been deemed substantially complete -- is an 11.7 segment that branches out from Metro's Orange Line near the West Falls Church station. It includes those four Tysons Corner-area stations and one in eastern Reston at Wiehle Avenue.
"Achieving substantial completion is a significant milestone," said MWAA CEO Jack Potter in a release. "We have conducted a thorough review of the contractor's submission and are satisfied that Phase 1 has met the contractual requirements that will allow the project to now move to the next steps in the process to begin passenger service."
But dozens of outstanding tasks still need to be addressed.
Sarles said that he and Potter intend to sign an agreement outlining specific items MWAA still needs to complete. That agreement will include a timeframe for their completion.
Some critical items will need to be done before MWAA hands the system over to Metro.
"As soon as the system is turned over to us, Metro is ready to move ahead with the testing, inspections, monitoring and training needed for the Silver Line to open to the public," Sarles said.
Metro can work in tandem with MWAA as the remaining work is conducted, he said.
"So as MWAA works to establish substantial completion with its contractor, we are working on a parallel track to move the project forward so that we can provide service this summer," Sarles said at the Metro board meeting Thursday.
While Metro conducts its final testing, MWAA will continue to cross off the remaining items on its list, including replacement of public address speakers, leaks and drainage issues and traction power reliability issues.
"I want to assure the board and the public that once passenger service begins, any outstanding items on MWAA's checklist should in no way affect the quality of service on the Silver Line," Sarles said.
He will provide another update at the Metro's May 22 board meeting.
Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said he welcomed Thursday's news, but urged transportation officials to "maintain a sense of urgency."
"...Too many travelers and taxpayers have waited too long for these final steps not to be resolved as quickly and efficiently as possible," he said in a statement.
Once Metro does receive the project, it could take up to three months to test the line and make sure everything is working properly before opening Phase 1. The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Transit Administration and the regional Tri-State Oversight Committee will also review the project.
The bottom line: The Silver Line is in a better position Thursday than it was a day earlier, but we still don't know when it will open to riders.