Federal aid for the construction of a metro line to Dulles Airport has finally been approved, years after planning began. Sadly, once completed the metro ride from downtown won’t save much time compared to the existing options, which are generally considered poor. One look at the proposed line and the problem becomes clear: from Metro Center there would be 18 stops to the airport and the ride would take an hour or longer. Is this really the best connection to the airport that DC can devise?
Without a doubt, the proposed line, which will connect Tyson’s Corner to the region’s transit network, will promote substantial economic development along the corridor. However, in terms of moving people to the airport it will be less than optimal. Travelers benefit most from an express service – which the proposed line is certainly not. The plan could be revised to remove some of the planned stops, but that doesn’t appear likely or economically practical, since the extra stops may provide more societal value than an express service would.
The struggle here is the split purpose of the line: on one hand it is intended to support economic development along the corridor, on the other hand it is supposed to move travelers to the airport. The two goals are less than perfect companions.
A third option which got only cursory attention was increased utilization of the existing Dulles Expressway. An express bus service with dedicated rights of way out of downtown and onto the Expressway is one of the ideas that may make more sense purely in terms of the best route to the airport. Such a bus with dedicated rights of way would still require significant infrastructure investment, but considerably less than a metro extension all the way to the airport.
Suffice it to say that if multiple options had been equally and objectively considered in the decision of how to get people to Dulles a metro extension may have not topped the list. That being said, it is high time and economically essential that DC finally connects to Dulles via effective transit. Metro service to the airport may not be a perfect solution, but it will certainly be an improvement over the current choices.