Dulles may shift Metro station plan

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The long-planned Metrorail station at Dulles International Airport could be moved away from the main terminal to a location next to one of the parking garages, potentially saving millions of dollars in construction and insurance costs but also leading to longer walks for passengers, airport officials say.

The alternative spot is between Daily Parking Garage No. 1 and Saarinen Circle. The discussion is reminiscent of deliberations in the late 1970s concerning the construction of the Metro station at Reagan National Airport.

The 3 1/2 -mile segment of the rail line running through Dulles airport would require about two miles of tunneling; new hangars to replace those that would displaced; a short-term parking lot in front of the terminal; and extra roadways. The projected costs of that portion of the planned Metrorail extension have not been released.

The original design, approved by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority in 2002, is shown on the airport's current master plan.

The alternative Metro station location is being evaluated by consultants, and airport officials are to consider it in the fall. "We're looking to identify the costs and see if there are any potential benefits with moving the station," said Tara Hamilton, an airports authority spokeswoman.

Officials said that although the alternative location is farther from the main terminal than the underground spot, it is near airport offices and would be convenient for workers and would support development along Aviation and Autopilot drives.

"The costs of the original plan were high enough that we had to consider other options," said David G. Speck, a former Alexandria City Council member who represents Virginia on the airports authority board. "Not only is the cost much different, but the gains with the underground station were not all that great. But there's no question that the cost factor was significant."

Tunneling can be pricey. At Dulles, during nine years of construction of the AeroTrain shuttle, the cost to excavate the area for the station under the main terminal and build a security mezzanine jumped from $184 million to $388 million.

But an out-of-the-way Metro station can discourage time-conscious passengers from using mass transit. For 20 years, passengers endured a 15-minute walk at National or a shuttle bus ride to the airport's gates until a new terminal opened in 1997.

"If the Metro station is not perceived as an integral part of the airport, you might as well not have a station. No one is going to use it," said Leo Schefer, president of the nonprofit Washington Airports Task Force.

Airports authority board members said the new station design might result in an extra 500 to 600 feet of walking for passengers, the equivalent of two to three minutes. "It shouldn't make someone miss their plane," said Michael L. O'Reilly, a board member and former Herndon mayor. "But there's definitely issues whenever you're talking about extra time and it being a disincentive to ride Metro."

Theodore C. Lutz, who served as Metro's general manager in the 1970s and was later an executive at The Washington Post, said the above-ground Metro stop at National was similarly chosen over an inside stop to support future development in Arlington. But "we certainly heard a lot about the extra walk," he said.

Metro killed plans to construct a moving sidewalk between the Metro stop and the terminal at National when the station opened in 1977 because it was deemed too expensive and would have carried passengers into United Airlines' ticketing area, giving the airline an unfair advantage. The later installation of moving sidewalks and a pedestrian bridge cut traveling times, and the share of National passengers riding Metro has climbed to nearly 15 percent since the new terminal was built, according to a survey conducted by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

In 2007, almost 54 percent of passengers traveling to Dulles used a private car to get to the airport, compared with 32 percent at National, according to the survey.

Dulles is expected to have a Metrorail station by 2016 when Metrorail is extended from East Falls Church to the airport and into Loudoun County.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company