LAST WEDNESDAY, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority -- the new regional manager of National and Dulles airports -- began delivering on its promise to improve both terminals. The board approved $30 million in construction projects at National, including a 2,000-space parking structure, a new road approach, new space for taxis to eliminate long lines of cabs and designs for renovation of the main terminal. There's help for Dulles too: a total of more than $70 million for changes that include a new road, taxiways, baggage-claim areas and a new international arrivals area.
These projects are the first of an estimated $1 billion in improvements envisioned over the next seven years, to be financed through bond issues. This was, and still is, a key reason for the transfer of airport management to a regional authority: fi-nancing can be secured more efficiently this way than through the congressional appropriation maze. Eventually, plans call for a National Airport where cabs and cars won't have to mingle in clogged lanes that go around in circles and slants but are passed off today as approaches; where cars might be parked at least in the same time zone as the arriving and departing planes; and where the Metro trains might actually connect with a section of a terminal building, instead of down the road, across the lanes, up a ramp and over a ways.
None of this has to mean that National will be a more disruptive neighbor than it has been. On the contrary, life in and around the terminal should improve if the airport is made more efficient and if newer, quieter aircraft take over. The transition period is sure to be rough on everyone. But National will -- and should -- continue to carry its share of air traffic, subject to existing limits and hours of operation. And ground breaking toward that end is now scheduled for spring.