It’s easy to see why some people are uneasy about the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s plan to take control of the construction of the Metrorail extension from West Falls Church to Dulles Airport, via Tysons Corner and Reston. The idea, quickly accepted by Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine, moves a public project into the semipublic sphere, and will probably put a specific financial burden on people who drive the Dulles Toll Road—whose tolls will increase to pay for Metrorail—for a project that will benefit the entire region.
Still, the airport authority’s scheme seems workable, at a time when most other proposals to expand the area’s transit infrastructure are going nowhere. And, realistically, aren’t most contemporary local public development plans in reality semipublic these days? The new Nationals baseball stadium certainly is, and so is the D.C. Circulator bus operation, which recently decided (in private) to spend more public money to cover the failure of its first two routes by adding a third one. And Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s major transportation project, the Intercounty Connector, seems designed primarily to benefit a single landowner, Kingdon Gould, who wants to build a major development, Konterra, at an ICC interchange.
But what’s more interesting about the Dulles Metro extension is that it’s the work of Virginia, the one among the three local states (counting D.C. as a state, which is most ways it is) that has traditionally been most hostile to paying for transit. Logically, Maryland and D.C. should be making common cause with the suddenly transit-friendly Virginia in an attempt to get their own Metro extensions. Balancing the three jurisdictions’ interests is how the original system was built, after all. But the other two have declined to look forward, focusing instead on small projects (and one big highway, the ICC) that will have little or no effect on local mobility.
Metro once suggested building a new east-west downtown line that would have a major underground rail yard at the old Convention Center site. This route, running roughly parallel to the current Orange/Blue line, could bring Metro service to H Street NE and Georgetown, and tie—through an expanded station at Rosslyn, Metrorail’s worst chokepoint—into the Dulles extension. Add a Yellow Line addition that turns west to Logan Circle, north to Adams Morgan, and then loops east to Howard University, the redevelopment-ready McMillan Reservoir, and the Red Line at Brookland, and all of the city’s busiest neighborhoods would be connected by heavy rail.
In Maryland, the Purple Line should loop from New Carrollton to Bethesda, and then across the river to Tysons, connecting population centers and Metro lines, and allowing access to Dulles via Tysons. (To assuage boosters of BWI who fear its passengers would defect to Dulles, the Green Line would be extended to Maryland’s major airport.)
But none of these projects are currently under serious discussion, at least not in public. So it’s no wonder Kaine quickly accepted the airport authority’s bid to end the dithering over the Tysons–Dulles extension and beginning planning to build the thing. Sometimes an autocratic semipublic authority looks more appealing than a fully vetted public process that hasn’t accomplished anything in years.