I'ts been months since we last heard much about it, but there's still good legislative life left in Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole's proposal to get Uncle Sam out of the airport-ownership business at Dulles and National. This is the proposal that would turn the two airports over to a regional authority responsible to the people and governments of Greater Washington -- which is both a sensible and overdue delegation of federal authority and a smart approach to airport management. That's what a Senate committee concluded last fall and what the full Senate can support with confidence. The point now is to move the bill to a floor vote.
Sen. Paul Trible, with support from his Virginia colleague, Sen. John Warner, has been working for consideration of the measure, and there's no reason it shouldn't be included in the Senate schedule. Secretary Dole, former Virginia governor Linwood Holton and Senate leaders have gone to great lengths to respond to concerns of various legislators in Congress as well as in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. The proposal makes good financial sense, too: the regional airport authority could float tax-exempt bonds to underwrite improvements at National and Dulles.
The federal government should be relieved of all the day-to-day management of operations that it has had to conduct at these airports, and Congress should be eager to put that responsibility where it belongs. For starters, a regional authority could improve the ground layout at National and put in a midfield terminal at Dulles, which is fast becoming an important world center of airline traffic. At the same time, Baltimore-Washington International should continue to flourish as part of a balanced air transportation system linking the Washington-Baltimore "common market" with the rest of the world.
How about a vote next week?