Dulles to Undergo Major Expansion
Plan Includes Subway, More Parking
By Alan Sipress
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 20, 2000; Page A01
Airport authority directors anxious to keep pace with record growth at Dulles International Airport agreed yesterday on a $3.4 billion building program that includes a new terminal, a fourth runway, thousands of parking spots and a subway system to replace the mobile lounges.
With travelers battling ever-worsening congestion from airport roads and parking lots to ticket counters and taxiways, the authority pledged to begin work on the six-year plan as soon as it wins formal board approval in two weeks.
"We're about to get caught in a tidal wave at Dulles with the growth out there," said William A. Hazel, a member of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board. "We cannot put our heads in the sand and allow any part of this [program] to slow down."
The board consensus emerged during months of discussion as well as talks between authority officials and airline representatives, who have welcomed the program even though the resulting rental charges would make Dulles one of the most expensive U.S. airports for the airlines. After a year in which air traffic at Dulles increased nearly 26 percent, planners determined they could no longer wait to increase capacity at an airport now among the fastest-growing in the country.
"This is the vision of Dulles not just for the next six years but over the next 20 years," said David T. Ralston Jr., authority chairman. "The public will get some long-awaited improvements."
The most striking innovation would be a two-track subway system ultimately running in a loop among all the passenger terminals. Travelers would be able to ride the subway to a pair of stations under each concourse and then reach the terminal level by escalators, elevators and stairs. Much of the line would be built over the next six years, but the loop would not be completed until afterward. The subway and adjacent terminal renovations would cost $1.06 billion.
Because international passengers must be kept separate until cleared by immigration and customs officials, a second, $205 million subway line is envisioned to connect the International Arrivals Building with two other terminals.
When these trains begin running in 2005, it would allow the long-overdue retirement of the lumbering shuttles known as mobile lounges, introduced to Dulles about 40 years ago by Eero Saarinen, the internationally acclaimed architect who designed the airport's signature swooshed-roof main terminal. Once touted as the future of aviation, the mobile lounges have been overtaken by time, technology and the sheer number of travelers, they now are filled with overheated passengers during peak hours.
The capital program also calls for the $750 million construction of a new United Airlines midfield terminal by 2004 to replace temporary concourses C and D. Airport officials said they had been assured by United, the dominant airline at Dulles, that it will continue to enhance its operations there in coming years despite its planned merger with US Airways. "United's concentration at Dulles would do nothing but intensify," said James A. Wilding, authority president.
To alleviate what has become the most exasperating aspect of Dulles, a shortage of parking that often leaves time-pressed passengers scrambling for spots, planners intend to build an $18 million long-term lot with 6,100 spaces by 2003. This would be in addition to a pair of garages, scheduled to open in front of the terminal in two years with 8,700 spots. The money for the garages, totaling $123 million, was approved last year.
The plan also calls for a $70 million road program, including rebuilding the entrance road between Route 28 and the main terminal as a divided highway with improved interchanges.
While many of the projects are designed to address strains on existing airport facilities, Wilding said that the construction of a fourth runway by 2004 for $217 million is meant purely to accommodate growth as Dulles heads toward its target of 55 million annual passengers. The airport is on pace to pass 20 million this year.
These major initiatives are among dozens of projects contained in the plan, which also calls for renovations and expansion of the existing terminals, baggage-handling facilities, a new air-traffic control tower and new taxiways.
David Eynon, 74, a Philadelphia area writer who uses Dulles about six times a year, said he's hopeful the expansion will ease congestion at the airport and make for more pleasant travel.
© 2000 The Washington Post Company