Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Ihave lived in this town for some time now, so the humidity could be affecting my memory. I remember the Dulles Access Road before the Toll Road existed. I remember being told that the original Eero Saarinen airport design had local lanes, airport-only lanes and mass transit running down the center and arriving aboveground at the front door of the terminal.

Can we go back to the original design? Shouldn’t we make it easier for travelers and tourists to get around town, or is that too European?

— Gregory Lloyd, Arlington

Reviewing the work of 20th-century planners, a historian might conclude they decided to build a big airport 26 miles from the central city and then figure out how to get people there. More than 50 years after the airport opened, planners still are unsure where to plunk down a transit station.

The main attribute of the airport site selected by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958 was that it was in the middle of nowhere and so could accommodate the terminal and runways.

The access plan for the new airport took a while to gel. The airports authority’s history reflects that: “As Dulles was being designed, a complete study was made of the possibility of adjusting plans for future state and federal highways so that the airport would have access to adequate transportation arteries. This did not prove feasible, and the decision was made to construct an access highway.”

But the Dulles Access Road wasn’t enough. People wanted to go between D.C. and the airport. So Virginia built the Dulles Toll Road to provide local access, for a fee.

Unrealized transit plans have included monorails and rapid bus systems. The Post reported in 1985 that private investors wanted to build a $300 million rail line from the West Falls Church Metro station. The article noted that a mass-transit link to Dulles was rejected by Metro planners because of its high cost.

Plans to build a rail line had then been around for more than two decades. Federal officials had envisioned a rail line along the Dulles Access Road and reserved space for it. Today, construction work in the median extends west to Reston. Phase 2 will push the line through the airport and into Loudoun County.

But costs go up, and our leaders have trouble looking past the next budget or the next election.

This is the issue they’ve created for 2011: Should the airport station be where it’s cheapest to build or where people are most likely to use it?

The U.S. Department of Transportation is anxious to help us solve that one. Maybe a little too anxious. Last week, Peter M. Rogoff, head of the Federal Transit Administration, suggested that the location will be of little consequence to fliers.

Sure, they would want the station to be convenient to the terminal, Rogoff said, but the station will mostly be for airport workers. After all, he said, “airports are also huge employment centers.”

Rogoff and the Department of Transportation are in this to help. They’re getting all the interested parties together to reduce the cost of the line’s second phase. That’s good, because it’s not fair to put such a heavy burden of financing on the backs of toll road drivers.

But this argument about the airport workers vs. the airport passengers is a bit of a bait and-switch. During all the twists and turns in the debates about a transit link to Dulles, the question about a train station was asked the way our letter writer asked it: “Shouldn’t we make it easier for travelers and tourists to get around town?”

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

There was a photo with Friday’s “A peek inside Metro’s new rail cars” [Metro section, B8] that shows the proposed new “digital destination screens.” Apparently, one will be able to get on a train that will pass through Metro Center and then, in order, Gallery Place, Bethesda, Friendship Heights, Tenleytown and Van Ness. What line is this?

Surely there isn’t a Crazy Quilt Line, but it suggests these newfangled digital things may err. Will Metro keep the print system maps on these cars?

— Abby Thomas, Silver Spring

That test sign won’t go any further than the plywood prototype of a new rail car where the photo was taken. But it’s not just for show. The new guide is an exciting innovation that riders on the 7000 series rail cars will find very friendly. And don’t despair: Metro also is updating the system map.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or
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