James Clarke is a field geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston. He describes himself as an ordinary patriotic American who, once every morning and afternoon, becomes "mad, angry and livid at the federal government."
The cause of his anger is the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) policy against allowing commuters such as Clarke to use the Dulles Airport Access Road. He and approximately 15 other citizens at a public hearing last week in Falls Church held by the Washington Area Council of Governments (COG) urged that the lightly used airport oad be opened up to commuters.
Using his southern drawl and a few theatries to emphasize the irony of his daily commuting frustration. Clarke was a forceful and humorous spokesman for wider use of the Dulles road.
"Every morning, when we drive out to work, we go up this road and we go right by our building. We can't get off. We have to drive another five miles out to the airport, turn around and go back five miles and then get off," he said.
"What's the airport like at that time?" he asked rhetorically. "I've counted, and 19 out of 20 cars make the turn and come around. In the morning, most of us go to work at 7 o'clock. There are no planes until 10."
Scientists such as Clarke who work at the geological service's national headquarters in Reston conduct "basic research to help this country find oil, gas and coal," he said. But Clarke said his daily commuting habits frustrate that end.
Holding up a gallon jug of apple cider to planners at the COG public hearing, Clarke said, "Every day each vehicle wastes this much gasoline." The estimate is based on a gallon of gas for the 20 extra miles driven on the Dulles road daily.
"Now are we in the moral equivalent of war?" Clarke asked. "To waste this much gasoline every day - that's like having a certain number of your soldiers go defect to the enemy every day!"
Planners for COG and its consultant for a study on improving access to Dulles Airport, Howard, Needles, Tammen and Bergendorf, told Clarke and other citizens who urged opening up the Dulles road that their recommendations would be considered. But they gave little encouragement for immediate action, saying any decision would wait at least until December.
Ronald W. Stehman, the consultant's project manager, said he was concerned that if the Dulles road was once opened to commuters, it could never again be closed if commuters began delaying airport traffic. And he told Clarke that he feared the consequences of allowing all 2,500 U.S.G.S. employees to use the road.
"Why don't we try?" Clarke shot back. "What if scientists used the argument that you fellows used - that we don't try anything? Columbus would never have discovered America!"
Most citizens and public officials at the public hearing supported Clarke's position. Most urged that the Dulles road be opened to commuters until traffic levels began interfering with airport traffic. And some said that even then that airport users should not be given the road all to themselves.
One citizen criticized the planners for their unwillingness to decide on tests of commuter use of the Dulles road until the study is completed. "All these people who have been speaking from the U.S.G.S. - they're going to be retired by the time you open the road," he said.
Vienna Town Councilman Vincent Olsen, representing the mayor and council, called it "completely indefensible that a road such as the Dulles Access Road is so lightly used when other roads in the county are so heavily congested," and said the road should be opened to commuters immediately.
Lilla Richards, president of the McLean Citizens Association, described the Dulles road as "the world's largest private driveway," but recommended only limited commuter use so that car poor and public transportation are encouraged.
She urged, however, that officials plan separately for the 1.8 miles of the road between the beltway and Route 7. Leesburg Pike Road, and for the longer stretch of the road to the north. While the northern stretch is used by commuters going into the core area, the final 1.8 miles serve as a bypass to the congested Tysons Corner area for motorists going into Maryland.
Several citizens and officials were openly skeptical of the FAA, which owns and runs Dulles, and its insistence that the access road be limited to airport users. When COG official Alan Zusman said the FAA was being cooperative and deserved the name "Friendly Avaition Association," many of those at the hearing simply chuckled.
Fairfax County Supervisor John P. Shacochis said simply that the first step toward improving Dulles is "getting the FAA out of the managment of our local airports. . . . I hope we either get the FAA to cooperate with us or we get the FAA out of the way."
Albert Nelson, a member of the Virginia Governor's Council on Transportation, asked COG officials and consultants for figures on use of the Dulles road. He suggested that the road should be used by commuters until it reached a certain service level, when it could then be limited to airport users and carpooling commuters.
Stehman said the road is used now by 3,000 cars, about 1,600 of whom come in the peak hours and thus may be commuters such as Clarke. On questioning by another citizen, he said that 1962 estimates projected 10 million users for Dulles this year. But the airport is only used by 3 million persons now, and the current 1985 projection is for 8 million.
Only one citizen at the hearing opposed expanded use of the Dulles road. Francis Lattin, vice-president of Citizens For Dulles, warned that if commuters were allowed on the road they will never leave. "I submit that anytime you open up a road and then you take it away, you've got more trouble than you'd ever imagine," he said.
The public hearing last week was part of a $10-million federal project primarily designed to improve access to Dulles from the District. The secondary purpose of the project, to allow the best commuter use of the existing Dulles road, dominated the attention of citizens at the Falls Church hearing.