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MWAA board okays agreement for new construction at DCA

A Delta Air Lines jet takes off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., Monday, July 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s board of directors on Wednesday approved a new agreement that will clear the way for construction of a new commuter concourse at Reagan National Airport.

The new concourse would be part of a $1 billion building plan at National, where passenger traffic has increased dramatically over the last several years. This year, MWAA officials expect more than 20 million people to fly through the airport. Airport officials think that growth will continue in 2015. As a result of the American Airlines/USAir merger, officials estimate an additional 2.4 million passengers will fly through Reagan.

The building program is part of a larger use and lease agreement between MWAA and the airlines which use its facilities at National and Dulles International Airport. It is the first new agreement between the airlines and MWAA since 1990. The deal must still be approved by the airlines, but MWAA officials say they don’t anticipate any problems.

The new commuter concourse would be built on land currently occupied by MWAA’s executive offices on the north side of the airport. Those offices would be relocated to other space on the National campus. Construction of a concourse would mean that passengers would no longer have to deal with the hassle of being bused from their flights to the terminal. As part of the project, officials also are looking at relocating airport security screening in Terminals B/C from National Hall upstairs to the arrivals level of the airport. That shift would open up more space for passengers once they pass through security, but would close off popular eating spots such as Legal Sea Foods and Ben’s Chili Bowl to the regular public.

Airport officials believe the shift will help their bottom line. Since passengers will have cleared security before they reach National Hall, they may be more likely to shop and eat in the hall. Right now, travelers may be reluctant to linger in the area too long because they may be concerned about still having to clear security.

But moving security to the departures level raises questions about how airport officials will deal with passengers who take Metro to the airport. Currently, those passengers walk off their trains and directly into National Hall. If that area is closed off to the general public, airport officials will have to come up with a new solution for the 16 percent of passengers who choose to take Metro to the airport.

The agreement between the airport and the airlines also would allow authority officials to share revenues between National and Dulles International airports, said Jack Potter, MWAA’s president and CEO. Under the previous deal between the authority and the airlines, revenues could not be shared between airports. This could boost the fortunes of Dulles, where officials are still trying to pay for a $5 billion expansion program at a time when overall passenger traffic at the airport has declined.

Airport officials were quick to note that the building program at National is not designed to increase capacity at the airport; rather it is an effort to accommodate the growing number of fliers already using the airport. There is not timeline for when construction will begin, but in a separate vote, the board approved  a $2.5 million contract for architecture, design and engineering services related to the building project. The agreement between the airlines and MWAA also includes plans for a smaller construction program at Dulles, but much of that is for maintenance, officials said.

In other board business, this was the last meeting for D.C. representative Shirley Robinson Hall and Maryland representative Dickie Carter, whose terms expire at the end of this month. Former Rep. Tom Davis also recently stepped down from his seat on the board representing Virginia. Davis, a former Virginia congressman was appointed Rector at George Mason University.

In his report to the Dulles Corridor Committee, Charles Stark, executive director of the Silver Line rail project said construction will soon begin on the station at Dulles. In response to a question from board members, Potter said that officials expect it will take until December 2015 to complete the close-out of the first phase of the rail line, which opened July 26.