Deal not done on Dulles rail

Robert Thomson
Columnist July 23, 2011

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The goal of the rail to Dulles should be just that — to the airport terminal — not a parking lot. I hope that the advisers in this matter keep that in mind. Maybe they should schlep some bags and kids from their proposed station a few times to see what it is like.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region. View Archive

I expect that the Dulles line will be one of the most used, well beyond planning estimates. Remember the Green Line planning versus its actual usage when it opened.

— Paul Signet, Springfield

The airports authority last week succumbed to a political pummeling and decided not to put the airport Metrorail station where air travelers are likely to use it. That will be remembered the way we remember earlier decisions on Metro: relying on escalators that break, limiting the tunnel space to two tracks through downtown D.C. and building the Orange Line in the middle of Interstate 66, choosing the route of least resistance over transit-oriented development.

At the time, planners had sound financial reasons for doing such things. And we curse them for it.

But the authority’s reversal on the station location doesn’t mean the deal is done to finance this next phase of construction.

Nothing has happened yet to limit the toll increases that got the airports authority into this mess in the first place. The authority and the federal, state and local governments involved in financing the extension still need to agree on who’s paying for what.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As a regular driver along the Dulles Toll Road, I cringe at the prospect of spending $5-$10 each way in tolls to help fund construction of the Silver Line to Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County.

One possible solution to the funding dilemma seems to have gone largely overlooked: Add a surcharge on all Metrorail trips that depart and begin at Dulles Airport. San Francisco imposed a surcharge on all trips to and from San Francisco International Airport, and BART officials have credited the surcharge with helping to keep other fare increases more moderate.

This seems to be a much more equitable solution than imposing exorbitant tolls on drivers who have no say in the decision to build a more expensive underground station.

— Mark J. Sharp, Oak Hill, Va.

I wonder if the lack of discussion on such a plan is the result of one authority building the train line and another authority — the transit authority — taking over the operation of the line once it’s built. The Metro board already has crossed that psychological barrier by endorsing the concept of fare surcharges to subsidize projects at certain stations, though it hasn’t applied them yet.

And asking air travelers to help pay for a convenience is fair, although before last week, it was going to be a little more convenient than it looks now. Technology should even allow Metro to offer a surcharge-free fare for workers who commute to the airport. Perhaps the two authorities could get together on this.

A note about the cost-cutting: So far, the intense scrutiny of the Dulles extension plan hasn’t exposed a transit Taj Mahal. Federal Transit Administrator Peter M. Rogoff gave an informational presentation to the Metro board on July 7 that included a list of proposed cost reductions he’s helping to work out.

The station location was far and away the top item. The savings list also included reducing train yard facilities, transferring responsibility for the Route 28 station to Fairfax County, transferring responsibility for five parking facilities to Fairfax and Loudoun counties, changing the canopy design, using steel structures rather than concrete and modifying station finishes.

Apparently, the costs don’t include chandeliers for the platforms, or club cars for the commuters.

Doors askew?

This letter writer was perplexed by an artist’s rendering of the new Metrorail cars that appeared on the July 17 Commuter page.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The drawing of the proposed interior of the 7000 series rail cars clearly shows the center doors offset from each other, but in the drawing of the full rail car, the doors seem to be facing each other with no offset. Can you clarify this inconsistency?

— Bobby Baum, Bethesda

Several readers asked about that, and I started to wonder, too. So I checked with Barbara Richardson, Metro’s assistant general manager for customer service. The new car design is very different, but not that different. The center doors will be directly across from each other, as they are on the rest of the rail car fleet.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or
e-mail drgridlock@washpost.com .

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