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Tim Kaine on board with Metro Silver Line extension

The Metro Silver Line had at least one new passenger Tuesday morning: Former Virginia Governor and U.S. Senator Tim Kaine.

Fresh off his unsuccessful vice presidency bid, the senator boarded a train at the Tysons Corner station around 9:00 a.m. and got off at the Wiehle-Reston East station about 20 minutes later, occasionally pausing on the platform to greet, shake hands and even take a selfie with surprised constituents.

Of course, Kaine wasn’t riding Metro just on a whim. He was on a scheduled tour of the Silver Line, a project that he once advocated for as governor of Virginia.

Accompanied by Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, Kaine passed through the five stations in Tysons and Reston that constitute Phase 1 of the Silver Line before taking a bus tour of the Phase 2 construction led by Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) executive project director Charles W. Stark.

“I’m a huge supporter of the Silver Line,” Kaine said when his tour concluded with a look at the planned extension of Dulles International Airport. “It’s just a necessary project to keep up with the growth of Northern Virginia, and especially to serve this international airport, which is one of two key hubs to Virginia’s international economic reach.”

As governor of Virginia from 2006 to 2010, Kaine helped push WMATA’s Silver Line from a long-in-the-works plan to a project that would actually be built, shifting it from an underground rail around the Tysons Corner area to an elevated track and eventually securing $900 million in federal funding.

Phase 1 includes stations at McLean, Tysons Corner, Greensboro, Spring Hill, and Wiehle-Reston East and officially opened for passenger service on July 26, 2014.

Phase 2 consists of an 11-mile track connecting six stations at Reston Town Center, Herndon, Innovation Center, Dulles International Airport, Route 606 and Route 772 in Loudoun County. Construction on this phase started in 2014 and is expected to be completed around 2020.

According to Stark, the Innovation Center stop on the Dulles Toll Road near Route 28 in Herndon is the furthest along in construction of the Phase 2 stations, with crews now in the process of installing wiring.

Kaine acknowledged Tuesday that Metro has had a tough couple of years as it attempts to address recurring safety and service issues with its massive SafeTrack repair program, but he praised Wiedefeld as an improvement in leadership for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).

“I have been a fan of what Paul Wiedefeld has done in his first year with really putting safety first and giving advanced notice to people about the SafeTrack surges,” Kaine said. “I think the management of Metro has been going in a positive direction.”

The WMATA board of directors appointed Wiedefeld as Metro’s general manager and CEO in 2015.

Metro has also faced financial issues in recent years, as the public transportation system still lacks a dedicated funding source, in part due to the challenges of coordinating across jurisdictions.

Kaine admitted that public transit can be a “hard sell” in Congress but expressed optimism that the federal legislative body will ultimately provide Metro with the support it needs, as long as progress on the system’s safety and operational issues continues.

“The region doesn’t work without [Metro],” Kaine said. “The better management does, and the better they address the safety issues to give people a feeling of confidence, the more and more likely Congress is to do the right thing.”

Though the Silver Line and other transportation and infrastructure projects took center stage during Kaine’s tour, the Virginia senator also addressed issues facing the federal government as it prepares to transition to a new White House administration.

After a brief lame-duck session highlighted by the last-minute passage of a stop-gap funding bill, Congress adjourned for the rest of the year on Dec. 10. Kaine said Tuesday that he was surprised by the decision to call for recess so quickly.

The 115th Congress will convene on Jan. 3, 2017.

In the meantime, the country’s attention has been fixed on President-elect Donald Trump’s slow unveiling of his cabinet members.

Perhaps the most contentious of Trump’s selections so far has been ExxonMobil Corporation chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson to lead the Department of State. The corporate executive has come under scrutiny for potential conflicts of interest that stem from his corporate ties, including past business dealings with Russia.

Trump officially announced Tillerson’s appointment on Tuesday morning, mere days after U.S. officials reported that a CIA assessment determined that Russia had intervened in the 2016 presidential election to help Trump win.

As a member of the Senate foreign relations committee, Kaine will be involved in Tillerson’s confirmation process.

Calling Tillerson’s ties to Russia troubling, Kaine also expressed concern over ExxonMobil’s history of funding efforts to discredit climate change research.

“Even though ExxonMobil has scientists and has been aware of climate science for a very long time, they’ve been part of an effort to muddy up the water and suggest to people we don’t need to worry about this as a problem,” Kaine said. “You can be sure the foreign relations committee will really dig into Mr. Tillerson’s role and ExxonMobil’s role in fighting against what we need to do to deal responsibly with climate issues.”

Kaine’s concerns about the incoming administration’s approach toward the environment extended to Trump’s choice of former Texas governor Rick Perry for secretary of energy and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Perry vowed to abolish the U.S. Department of Energy when he campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 and has supported the fossil fuel industry over a shift to renewable energy sources in the past.

Pruitt has written that the debate over climate change is “far from settled,” despite an overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that it exists and is caused by human activities. He has also sued the EPA multiple times throughout his career, including for an ongoing case against the Clean Power Plan.

“There are few agencies that depend more on careful review of science than the EPA and the Department of Energy,” Kaine said. “Every rule or regulation depends on an intellectually honest review of scientific consensus, and the consequences for the health and safety of the American public are critical.”

The Virginia senator says he’ll “continue to fight for federal workers” and will help “protect them from harmful policies under the incoming administration.”

Kaine lists assisting members of the military through the armed services committee, raising incomes in Virginia by supporting a minimum wage increase and more career and technical education programs, and defending Obama administration policies such as the Affordable Care Act among his priorities for when Congress reconvenes in 2017.