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Posted at 11:51 AM ET, 01/19/2012

Dulles rail must go to Dulles

It seems like a no-brainer that the long-planned Dulles Airport Metro line should include a stop at Dulles Airport, but to one key decision-maker, that remains an open question.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), board member Robert Clarke Brown, a presidential appointee, suggested rerouting Phase 2 of the Silver Line to skip Dulles Airport.

The airport station is expensive, he says, and so MWAA should consider simply not building it. Metro riders hoping to access Dulles would instead transfer to some kind of shuttle or people-mover from the Route 28 station, the next closest.

Skipping the airport and replacing it with a people-mover would reduce the project’s overall $2.8 billion price tag by approximately $70 million. That, argues Brown, is reason to take his suggestion seriously. It shouldn’t be.

To the MWAA board members’ credit, they quickly rejected Brown’s proposal. The main goal of Phase 2 of the Dulles Metro project is to provide service to Dulles Airport. Failing to do so means the project would not meet its main goal.

Cutting so many corners that you don’t achieve your goal is not cost savings, it’s failure. Far from saving $70 million, by failing to provide Metro service to Dulles Airport, Brown’s proposal would actually waste billions.

After all, if you’re going to force airport riders to transfer onto a shuttle anyway, why not make the transfer at Whiele Avenue, the end station for Phase 1? Why bother building Phase 2 at all? The other Phase 2 stations are all primarily park and rides, and it doesn’t make much difference at which station drivers park, so without the connection to Dulles Airport the entire argument for why Phase 2 is necessary in the first place becomes extremely flimsy.

So flimsy that many people would wonder whether the project were worth its $2.8 billion (minus $70 million) price.

The planning history of the Silver Line is replete with compromises. Express tracks to the airport or no express tracks? A subway through Tysons Corner or an elevated line? Airport station at the terminal or a few hundred feet away? At every step of the process, planners have had to weigh the ideal service situation against the costs. That’s life in the world of transportation planning.

But this is one compromise that absolutely cannot under any circumstances be made. The absolute minimum requirement for a Metro line to Dulles Airport must be that it actually reaches Dulles Airport. Period.

Dan Malouff is an Arlington County transportation planner who blogs independently at The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By  |  11:51 AM ET, 01/19/2012

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