Talkin’ Transit: The Longest Walk

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘dr_kim_veis [”o ]’

One thousand one hundred feet. Does that sound like too long of a walk? What if you had bags and were headed to an airport?

That was the decision in front of the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority Dulles Corridor Committee this morning, and it seems the answer was, “yes, it is too far to walk.” The committee, as reported by WTOP’s Adam Tuss, voted to support a below ground station that would bring the Metrorail extension to Dulles about 500 feet from the terminal.

The problem is that this is going to come at an additional cost of about $300 million. That’s roughly half a million dollars per foot that we move closer to the terminal.

Photo courtesy of
‘226/365 – dulles’
courtesy of ‘dracisk 365/365’

I’m a little bit dismayed at this decision. The full board voted to support the committee vote, as expected. Perhaps the board should have considered more that while WMAA is raising the funds for this, everyone had better consider the shape of the Metro as a whole, though, before deciding this.

Yes, the billions being spent on this extension to Tyson’s and Dulles have no direct impact to the Metro budget. But if Virginia is willing to cough up some part of $300 million to move a station 600 feet, I’m sure I’d like to hear why we’re discussing reducing service to close the budget gap, instead of, say, contributing more?

If the state isn’t willing to cough up much of the cash (I’m thinking that’s a good bet), how can you justify charging an extra $0.50 per car on the toll road to pay for 600 feet?

And even if the board manages to find $300 million in savings in other parts of the project, doesn’t that lead to the question of “why are there $300 million to find, and if there aren’t, what other essential systems are we going to short change by ‘value engineering’ this?”

Photo courtesy of
‘Mobile lounge’
courtesy of ‘afagen’

To add insult to injury, these three tweets (1, 2, 3) show the argument that the National Airport station being 1000 feet from the terminal hurt the airport with low usage. When terminals B and C were built, steps from the station, usage spiked. Because, you know, usage didn’t spike from having two new modern large terminals there? It was just that it was a few hundred feet closer? Really?

If MWAA thinks $300 million to move a station 600 feet closer to the terminal is a good idea, perhaps they should show how that will result in $300 million in revenue. Or how building moving walkways to ferry people to the terminal wouldn’t be cheaper.

Or, you know, maybe reuse those people movers in a new role: station to terminal transport!

Born in Lebanon, Samer moved to DC to go to college. A lot of good that did him. Twenty-two years later, he still lives in the area. When he’s not writing for a blog or tweeting incessantly, he wanders the streets (and the globe) photographing whatever gets in his way.

7 thoughts on “Talkin’ Transit: The Longest Walk

  1. By paying the $300 million to move Metro closer to the terminal the region gets a very tangible enhancement to the system. If the same money was given to metro for operating, nothing would improve and most of the money would go into the hands of unionized employees who are getting paid too much for pension and health care benefits. Puff, the money would be gone, no improvement in service, nothing accomplished. I’m a big fan of public transportation but I’ve come to believe that nothing will get better with WMATA until someone stands up to the underworked and overpaid union employees. Otherwise, get used to budget shortfalls every year to pay for sky high healthcare and pensions.

  2. Jim, can you explain how moving a station from it’s proposed location to one 600 feet closer to the terminal is a “very tangible enhancement to the system”? We aren’t talking about not building a station at Dulles, this is $300 million to move that station 600 feet.

  3. Hang on, Virginia IS willing to cough up the money to prevent service cuts. Yes, the governor isn’t exactly a fan, but the commonwealth doesn’t contribute to WMATA, the localities do (Assuming you count local taxes state government collects and sends to the localities for distribution to be locality spending, which I do). And in last year’s budget, Virginia’s localities were the first to come up with their share of the funds to avert a service cut. So, this might not be the best use of funds, but it is consistent with the Virginia localities’ strategy of spending more money for better quality service.

  4. By moving the station closer to the terminal, you encourage significantly more use than if it was 200 yards farther away. An estimate of how much more use would be a nice metric to have, but I think it’s completely logical to be in favor of this move.

  5. Terminals B and C at DCA opened in July of 1997, but there doesn’t appear to be much of a spike in Passengers served in 97 or 98 ( so if the amount of use that the DCA Metro Stop was getting did, in fact, noticeably increase, then it speaks well of today’s decision.

    If anyone can find me Metro Ridership data for the National Airport station dating to back then, I’d be happy to look further into it.

  6. I’m a reader of Greater Greater Washington, a progressive smart growth blog. They were in support of the closer spot, thinking long term benefit and keeping the views of the iconic airport.

    The schlepers and First Impression Society of Washington should be happy too!

  7. Virginia is not paying the $300M for the station, the MWAA is, financing it as you know, from toll income. The MWAA has a vested interest in making the station as convenient as possible, thereby making the airport more valuable. The airports are their base business — the toll road and the subway line are simply means to support and enhance the airports.

    I would be interested in seeing the ridership information for the National Airport Metro station discussed above. I expect that the usage spike was referring to use of the airport station, not the use of the airport overall; it would be great to be able to see what the actual impact was.

    I remember very clearly how inadequate the old arrangement at National was, and what an improvement the new terminals provided, both in regards to Metro, and the airport overall. I am very pleased that this decision was made at Dulles – I am sure it will be worth it in the long run. After all, it seems unlikely that Dulles will be recreated in the future as fundamentally as National has been – or at least, not any time soon.