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Dulles Underground Station

Two main priorities guided the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board of Directors when it voted on April 6, 2011, to retain the underground location for the Metro station at Dulles International Airport: (1) do what is best for passengers and our region, and (2) do it in the most cost-efficient way possible.  Those priorities have not changed, and the underground station remains the best choice for accomplishing them. The approved plan will give Dulles the kind of intermodal transportation connections that passengers expect – and that are becoming the standard for world-class international gateway airports.

The Board retained the Locally Preferred Alternative’s underground station for the following reasons:

• Locally preferred alternative: The underground location was endorsed by all of the major stakeholders early in the planning process. The record is clear that during planning in 2005, all of the partners voted for the underground station as part of the Locally Preferred Alternative.  The planning process that produced the locally preferred alternative was thorough, deliberative, and inclusive.

• Lower cost than original plan: The modified underground station approved by the Authority is much less expensive than the underground station design originally called for by the locally preferred alternative.  By redesigning the station, the Authority project team has been able to shorten the length of the station approach tunnels – and save some $330 million vs. the original plan. The Authority continues to look for additional savings from elsewhere in the Dulles rail project. MWAA is committed to finding further cost savings for the project as the plan moves forward. 

• More convenient for travelers: The underground station is closer to the airport, and airport users will not be exposed to the elements while awaiting or disembarking from trains.  Those are major considerations for airport users in selecting what mode of ground transportation to use.  The difference in proximity to the airport between the two station locations is significant for passengers traveling with multiple pieces of luggage and/or small children. Installing moving sidewalks to an aerial station is not a fully effective solution for all travelers. For example, baggage carts are not permitted on moving sidewalks, so travelers will be left to push the carts the entire distance between the baggage claim areas and an aerial Metro station.

• Cost differential exaggerated: As the alternative aerial station is now designed, it is severely deficient for Dulles International Airport. It currently uses the design of a typical suburban Metro station, which would not meet the standards for an international airport station. Once MWAA augments the design of the aerial station to meet those requirements, such as by constructing a baggage tunnel and other improvements, the cost differential between the two alternatives is substantially closed.

• Architecturally superior design: An underground station is the preferred location because it preserves the architectural vision of the masterful Eero Saarinen that has made Dulles and its setting on Saarinen Circle a design icon worldwide. Washington’s two airports, designed by world-class architects, are worthy of the capital of a great nation.  For MWAA to have decided to provide anything other than a first-rate rail connection at Dulles would be short-sighted, soon regretted, and long lamented.

• Not the major driver of phase 2 costs: The on-airport underground station is only one component of Phase 2 costs, and the cost differential between the aerial and underground stations – even if the unrealistically low cost of the severely under-designed aerial station is used – is less than 10% of total Phase 2 project costs – and less than 5% of total Dulles Metro rail project costs.

• More travelers will use the more convenient location: Washingtonians have already witnessed the consequences of putting a Metro station in the wrong place. The station at Washington Reagan National Airport was originally built at a distance of more than 1,000 feet from the old main terminal, and relatively few passengers chose to make the long outdoor hike, especially in poor weather.  The new Reagan National terminal was located adjacent to the rail station. Since then, Metro ridership by air passengers has significantly increased. Today, about 17 percent of Reagan National’s passengers use Metro, the highest modal share for rail usage of any airport in the country. It is crucial to build a Dulles station that will attract the highest ridership. We expect the number of non-connecting passengers arriving at Dulles to grow from 18 million annually to 42 million. The underground location will attract more riders, and, as a result, keep more of those passengers off of Northern Virginia’s already clogged roads.

The Airports Authority is committed to managing costs well to deliver the highest value in building the best possible system for our passengers and region.  The approved design is vastly more passenger friendly than the alternatives, a key driving factor in airport usage and consumer satisfaction.  And after we cut additional costs from the project, the final dollar differential will be much closer. As a result, a solid majority of the Board agreed that the underground station is the best choice for now – and for the next 75 years. It is the superior design for the international gateway to the capital of a great nation.