Home Transportation Metro to Dulles Debacle: A Tunnel Where It Shouldn’t Be; No Tunnel...

Metro to Dulles Debacle: A Tunnel Where It Shouldn’t Be; No Tunnel Where It Should Be

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So, in their infinite wisdom, our fine elected officials – and also the folks who run the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority – have managed to get things exactly backwards on the Metro to Dulles project. In the first place, they managed to punt on the serious possibility of running Metro underground through heavily built-up Tysons Corner, despite strong evidence that such an approach would have been far preferable in just about every way (faster, cheaper, smarter growth, easier access to the stations, better integration of Metro most effectively into the community) to the ridiculous, ugly, penny-wise/pound-foolish “aerial” approach that was selected. In sum, deciding not to run Metro via tunnel through Tysons Corner clearly was a huge mistake, one that we will regret for decades to come.

Now, the WashingtonPost writes, we’ve gone ahead and made the exact opposite mistake at Dulles Airport itself:

In electing to build a hugely expensive, financially reckless and utterly unneeded underground Metro station at Dulles International Airport – rather than an aboveground stop that would have sufficed – the board that runs the airport didn’t just rebuff the pleadings of Virginia officials and the board’s project partners, Fairfax and Loudoun counties. It also rejected the advice of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s own staff, which recommended the aboveground option. In doing so, the airports board heedlessly handed a $330 million bill to itself, to the counties and, most of all, to commuters on the Dulles Toll Road, who can expect to foot the bill in the form of higher tolls.

[…]

It’s true that five years ago, all the parties agreed in principle to an alignment that included an underground station at the airport. But that agreement was based on a preliminary cost estimate for the Phase 2 extension that was $1 billion lower than the revised cost announced last fall. What’s more, what may have looked affordable in 2006 is simply not affordable today. Local officials in Fairfax and Loudoun, along with toll road users, should push back hard against the airports board’s profligacy.

Brilliant, huh?  Actually, on both counts – the “aerial” monstrosity in Tysons Corner itself and the tunnel white elephant at Dulles Airport – these were both huge, yet totally avoidable, mistakes. Which does make one wonder: what’s driving these constant screwups? Are the people making the decisions idiots? I doubt that. Do they simply not understand transportation, smart growth, etc? Possibly. Or, are there major financial interests at stake that keep pushing these decisions in the opposite direction of what smart policy choices, made solely on the merits, would have dictated? I vote for the latter. Anyway, I hate to say “we told you so,” but the Tysons Tunnel folks and their allies – John Foust, Chap Petersen, Dave Marsden, Charlie Hall, and many others, including yours truly – warned against this over and over again back in 2007 and 2008. Did the “powers that be” listen to us?  Of course not. Do they ever listen to the people over the powerful? As the recent redistricting fight, which ended up with politicians protecting themselves and choosing their own voters, totally overriding communities of interest or any other considerations that weren’t motivated by pure power politics, the answer is “rarely if ever.”

  • independent in arlington

    I agree with you that the tunnel should have been built in Tysons, but why do you think burying the line at the airport was the wrong choice?

  • listlady

    might drive the MWAA Board to this expensive decision? If you have any information, do share. Otherwise it just looks like a choice among imperfect alternatives — probably the wrong choice, but not as selfishly “motivated by pure power politics” as you suggest.

  • LittleRed

    As a resident of the Tysons Corner area who has been living through the construction of the aerial track, I have to disagree with the Post about the end station at the airport.  The above ground station being proposed was too far from the terminal to make it an attractive option for travelers.  They would have had to either get on another bus or had to schlep their luggage a very long distance to the terminal.  To get people to choose the mass transit option, you have to make it the easiest alternative as possible.  By putting the station under the terminal, travelers avoid any further transportation hassles.  Choosing the further away, above ground station would have been as dumb as the decision to put up the aerial track through Tysons instead of a tunnel.