Perhaps no one was more excited to have the first Metro car roll out of Northern Virginia’s brand-spanking-new Wiehle-Reston East Station than Rep. Gerald E. Connolly.
“From the first day I announced running for public life in 1995, I committed myself to making that my No. 1 priority,” he said of the monolithic commuter rail expansion Kennedy-era officials dared not even dream about. “And I am very proud of the fact that almost 20 years later … it happened.”
The Virginia Democrat has spent decades fighting — originally as a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and now as a congressman — to carry the iconic “doors closing” warning into some of the region’s fast growing suburban enclaves. “It was a grueling, challenging experience that consumed me. And it’s still going on,” he said of the only halfway-done extension.
Phase II, which is projected to stretch service all the way to Dulles International Airport, is scheduled to come online in 2018.
Just getting this far has taught Connolly plenty. Such as the value of working hard, regardless of recognition.
“Like most major infrastructure projects, it’s a long-term proposition. That means that as an elected official you may not live to see it come online. And I don’t just mean live-live, but I mean you may be out of office,” Connolly shared. “And nobody even remembers you were involved. They might even forget to invite you to the ribbon-cutting. Can you be satisfied with that?”
Confronting all the obstacles the Silver Line has had to overcome — including a hostile Bush administration, financing stops and starts, and fending off armchair engineers who wanted to reroute things after the fact, etc. — only hardened his resolve.
Weathering the political storms also helped him develop a deeper appreciation for other unflappable supporters, a cadre of collaborators that includes: former Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va.; Virginia governors-turned-Democratic-Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine; retiring Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va.; and former Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Katherine Hanley.
Now that it’s finally coming to pass, Connolly would be within his rights to simply kick back and enjoy the ride.
And perhaps he will: After replicating the process by expanding the Metro into neighboring Prince William County.
“I’m planting the seeds for a positive outcome,” he said of his next big transportation push. “But I have to be a little bit patient with process and time.”