ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — The Washington area’s airports board voted Wednesday to build an above-ground Metrorail station at Dulles International Airport, a reversal that followed pressure from federal, state and local officials who said an underground station would be too costly.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority voted 11-1 in favor of a proposal by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to build the station above ground, a move that’s expected to save more than $500 million according to recent estimates. The board had voted 9-4 in April in favor of the underground station.
The above-ground station would be about 600 feet — or two football fields — farther away from the airport terminal than the proposed underground stop.
Board members who supported the underground station had argued that it would be more convenient for travelers, less costly to maintain over the long term and more respectful of the airport’s architectural heritage. The approved plan calls for moving walkways to carry travelers between the rail station and the main terminal.
The board’s about-face drew praise from Republican Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell; Fairfax County, Va. board chairman Sharon Bulova, a Democrat; and District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray, a Democrat.
Switching to the underground station was part of a broad proposal by LaHood to reduce the cost of the second phase of the Metrorail extension to Dulles, now estimated at $3.5 billion.
Initial estimates from 2005 put the cost at $2.5 billion, and officials want to get as close to that number as possible. The board affirmed its support for the outlines of LaHood’s plan, and negotiations about the specifics are ongoing.
Construction is underway on the first phase of the project, which will extend the Washington region’s subway system from Falls Church to Tysons Corner, Va., at a cost of $2.75 billion. That portion of Metro’s so-called Silver Line is expected to be completed by 2013, while the Dulles extension is slated for completion in 2016.
The 13-member, quasi-public airports board has members appointed by the president, the governors of Maryland and Virginia and the D.C. mayor. Most of the Virginia members supported the above-ground station initially out of concerns that local governments and commuters on the Dulles Toll Road would be stuck with cost overruns. The authority, which operates the toll road, is relying in part on revenues from it to fund the rail extension.
However, Mame Reiley, a Virginia member, was the board’s staunchest advocate for the underground station. She changed her vote Wednesday, but not quietly, saying in a statement that elected officials had misled the public about the prospect of the underground station leading to higher tolls.
“During this process I’ve learned an unfortunate lesson: Don’t ever let doing the right thing stand in the way of politics,” Reiley said. “I believe, to our detriment, we are preparing to act in a shortsighted way.”
Reiley had argued in April that the underground station preserved views of the historic Jet Age terminal designed by famed architect Eero Saarinen, and would not require environmental review because it had already been approved.
Robert Clarke Brown, a presidential appointee, was the only board member who voted for the underground station.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)