In this series, Patch looks at the Silver Line, Metro's largest expansion in its 34-year history.
The first 11.7-mile phase of the new Dulles Metrorail is scheduled for completion in less than three years, but there is no official prediction when the line will actually open for commuters.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority — which is managing the new Silver Line construction — says it cannot estimate an open-for-business date because safety tests will be conducted on the new rail after construction is finished and Metro employees must be trained to operate the new track.
"At this point in time, we haven't worked out the details," said Pat Nowakowski, executive director of the Dulles Metrorail Corridor Project.
The first phase of the line — expected to be finished by 2013 — will run from East Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue in Reston and will include four crucial Metro stations in Tysons Corner — the largest employment hub in Fairfax County.
The project's second phase, which will include a new station at Dulles International Airport, is not scheduled to open until 2016.
The entire project is expected to cost $6.5 billion. It will be the largest expansion of the Metro system since it opened in 1976 and will add 23 miles to the existing 106-mile system. The line has been marketed as a "one-seat ride" from downtown to Dulles.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority — which manages the existing Metro system throughout Northern Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia — will assume control of the new line when the Dulles Metrorail is completed, said Marcia McAllister, a spokeswoman for the airports authority.
"We're building it," McAllister said. "When we complete it, WMATA tests it and it becomes theirs. The testing period could be a year."
WMATA spokeswoman Angela Gates confirmed the transit authority is working with the airports authority to develop a testing and acceptance plan, but could not offer any specific information on when the line would open for riders.
But an end to this Virginia "megaproject" is nearly in sight — which is significant considering discussions to build a rapid transit line to Dulles began nearly 50 years ago.
"For a long time it was just something that was out there. It was a dream. It was a vision," McAllister said. "The airport itself opened in 1962 and Dulles was just way out there. Right after that, literally, within days, talk began about building a road and a rail line eventually to connect Dulles to downtown."
Part Two, tomorrow: Why the Dulles Metrorail is a vital piece in the ongoing economic vitality of Northern Virginia.