Posts about MWAA
Loudoun County might decide to drop out of the Silver Line project. If they do, Loudoun will lose out the most, but Fairfax residents will also be hurt if Loudoun neighbors can just drive to Fairfax stations and park. Virginia shouldn't let Loudoun get something for nothing.
Some Loudoun County board members are suddenly very concerned with fiscal austerity after regional leaders have worked for 4 decades to get the line.
If Loudoun drops out of the system, the Silver Line will end at Dulles Airport, and the westernmost stations, Route 606 and Route 772, will be cut. Loudoun residents will miss out on accessibility to Metro and the associated economic development.
Tysons Engineer believes that Loudoun residents feel that they can essentially get something for nothing. If Loudoun withdraws, they won't have to contribute tax dollars, but they'll still be able to use the system by driving to Fairfax. It's not that simple.
What does losing Loudoun do to costs?
Tysons Engineer estimates that the cost to build the Silver Line's second phase could be cut by almost a billion dollars by eliminating the stations beyond Dulles. Since Loudoun was only contributing $270 million to the construction, the rest of the region will save money on building the line.
However, the other regional jurisdictions were also counting on $10 million annually from Loudoun to support operations of the system. Without that money, Fairfax might need to contribute more than it had been planning.
What about parking at Innovation Station?
The Dulles station, which will be at the end of the line without Loudoun, won't have any commuter parking. For commuters, the Innovation (Route 28) Station would serve as the end-of-line park and ride if Loudoun drops out.
The current proposal calls for installing 2,000 parking spaces at Innovation. But that number was chosen in light of another 6,050 spaces planned for the Route 606 and Route 772 stations. Because riders driving to the Silver Line from Loudoun County would have the option to park further west under the current plan, the spaces at Innovation were meant to serve drivers from a much smaller area.
There will certainly be pressure to increase the number of spaces at Route 28 due to the loss of the Loudoun spaces. And given Innovation's status as the system's most northwesterly park and ride, that's probably a sensible notion. With only 2,000 spaces, Innovation would have the least parking spaces of any end-of-line (the role it would be filling in this case) station in the system.
It's important to build transit-oriented development at as many of the region's Metro stations as possible. Innovation Station is no exception. But end-of-line stations also need to serve the large auto-dependent areas beyond the reach of Metro.
Don't let Loudoun get something for nothing
Regardless of whether Innovation gets 2,000 spaces or lots more, many of those spaces will end up going to drivers from Loudoun. Fairfax taxpayers shouldn't be too happy about giving Loudounites a free ride.
It's not just Innovation. If there aren't enough spaces there, Loudoun drivers will just stay on the Toll Road until stations farther down the line, where they'll still take spaces from Fairfax residents.
The best solution is probably to create a higher base rate for parking at the Silver Line stations west of Tysons Corner. Fairfax could then create a pass program for their residents, whereby they would get a discount at those stations.
Charging drivers much more to park there will help offset the impact of Loudoun drivers parking in Fairfax. Making this part of the plan in the event that Loudoun drops out, might persuade the Loudoun Board of Supervisors to stick with the system.
Innovation could better serve bus riders
If Loudoun does drop out, MWAA and WMATA should consider changes to the design of Innovation Station. The agencies building the Silver Line should further think about the station's role for transit.
The West Falls Church station serves as a major transfer point for bus riders from the Dulles corridor. Buses coming down the Airport Access Road from Tysons Corner and Reston can take exclusive ramps right into a bus loop at the Metro.
If the Silver Line doesn't go to Loudoun, there will likely be more demand for bus service from Loudoun to the Silver Line. Building ramps from the Dulles Greenway and a larger bus loop would make transit a more attractive option. Frequent and fast bus service could encourage Loudounites to take the bus to Metro instead of driving into Fairfax to park.
Loudoun would be best served by being a regional partner in the expansion of transit to and beyond Dulles. If their Board of Supervisors does decide to back out of the project, we can hope that they will work with Fairfax, WMATA, and MWAA to make sure that the truncated Silver Line will accommodate their needs. But they shouldn't labor under the false assumption that they'll be getting something for nothing.
Virginia Governor McDonnell says he fully supports the timely completion of Phase 2 of the Silver Line. Yet his administration's political roadblocks are the biggest threat to the project.
In a Washington Post op-ed this weekend, McDonnell wrote, "Unfortunately, the project has been marked by many controversies, ranging from escalated costs, the prospect of soaring tolls on the Dulles Toll Road, legal and labor issues, and the overall accountability, membership and transparency of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA)."
The governor is blowing out of proportion MWAA's governance, legal, and labor issues in a way that unfairly sows doubt about the transit line. Today's interim report by the USDOT's Inspector General found real transparency, spending, and accountability problems at MWAA, but does not find that the agency mismanaged the Silver Line project.
The high tolls are a direct result of the state's failure to invest its own money in this critical transportation project, placing the burden fully and unfairly on northern Virginians. Instead of making the case to the Loudoun Board of Supervisors for the importance of moving forward, McDonnell's administration is making it easier for them to vote no, endangering the whole project.
The Governor just threatened again, via a budget amendment, to withhold the state's meager $150 million contribution to Phase 2 if his new appointees to MWAA were not seated immediately instead of on July 1st. Fortunately, the Virginia House of Delegates voted yesterday to kill the amendment, stopping this latest threat.
One of the main points of disagreement between the McDonnell administration and MWAA has been Project Labor Agreements (PLAs). These have been successful on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and Dulles Rail Phase 1 projects.
PLAs are not just about regulating union labor and wage rates for workers. They also require unions to help secure an adequate supply of skilled trades for these massive projects, and to ensure effective coordination among the dozens of trades and subcontractors, both union and non-union, for smoothly functioning, safe, and timely construction. The preference for PLAs in the bidding process seems a reasonable solution. We should move forward with these provisions.
The governor says he is greatly concerned that Virginia doesn't have a majority of seats on the MWAA governing board, which controls Dulles and Reagan National Airports, as well as the Dulles Toll Road and the Silver Line project. But this regional agency has effectively served our region for a long time, completing major and complex expansions of both airports.
It is true, however, MWAA could be much more transparent and accountable, as the IG report notes. The Coalition for Smarter Growth was among the first to raise this issue in 2006 when the Kaine administration proposed handing control of the project over to MWAA. Pressure from the governor, our federal and state legislators, and local elected officials has resulted in key reforms at MWAA. These reforms should continue, but so should the Silver Line.
The attacks on MWAA may have more to do with securing state control of future toll road revenues, for use on road projects like the Northern Virginia Outer Beltway and other rural highways, than about fixing the governance of MWAA.
We can't know that for sure, but it's very plausible given the administration's power grab at the Virginia Port Authority. After reorganizing the port authority's board to ensure control from Richmond, the administration pressed new board members to approve diverting $250 million to Route 460, a rural highway between Hampton Roads and Petersburg that Hampton Roads leaders say is not their top priority. A similar effort by the governor to secure a controlling majority on MWAA in order to do the same thing would not work to the best long-term interests of Northern Virginians.
McDonnell says that he could not even contemplate funding another $300 million for Dulles rail without raiding other projects throughout the state. But is he setting the right priorities? What money might actually be available?
The governor is proposing to spend over $750 million on the Route 460 project. Another $244 million is being earmarked to the controversial Charlottesville western bypass, a road that appears to be ineffective and a waste of money. Millions are going to the Coalfields Expressway to support mountaintop removal in an area with little traffic.
Even accounting for these projects, there may be another $400 million available in the $1.5 billion Public-Private Transportation Act fund. Setting different priorities would free up hundreds of millions more.
It's hard to respond to the governor's argument that Northern Virginia is getting its fair share of the state's funding without seeing the full picture. A clearer accounting of complicated funding flows would be helpful for both the public and legislators. Certainly, making significant investments in addressing the transportation needs of Northern Virginia should be a priority given the importance of the region to the state's economy.
Perhaps symbolic of the administration's priorities, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Transportation David Tyerar made two recent trips from Richmond to Leesburg to appear before the Loudoun Board of Supervisors. He didn't go to make the case for Dulles Rail. Rather, he spoke to promote the Outer Beltway.
The governor and secretary revived planning for the Outer Beltway, added it as a new Corridor of Statewide Significance, and are exploring the route for yet another public-private partnership. Yet this highway would do little to help massively congested corridors like I-66, Route 50, and Route 7. The contrast between the obstacles put before Dulles Rail by the McDonnell administration and their full-court press for the Outer Beltway couldn't be starker.
If the Silver Line's phase 2 fails, it will be on Governor McDonnell's watch. He should lead the way to compromises that will allow the project to move forward, and focus more of the state's transportation resources on this economically critical project.
A proposal to use a people mover instead of Metro for the final 1.5 miles of transit to Dulles Airport drew criticism here and from airports authority board members. But this could actually save traveling time as well as money, and is an effective practice in many other cities.
Instead of bringing this $2.8 billion rail link directly to the airport, Brown noted that replacing the final 1.5-mile connection with a people mover would save $70 million thanks to a more limited right-of-way and the construction of one fewer Metro station.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the idea was perceived as heresy, both by Dan Malouff and MWAA board members. Mame Reiley, one board member, said, "I just don't think that's what we labored for... it is not rail to Dulles."
Board members raised concerns that the federal government might delay the program because the board was "starting over." And indeed the proposal appears to have been dismissed by the authority board as unacceptable.
But such a change could be a reasonable money-saver and may actually improve transit service for both commuters and air travelers. The question is immediately relevant to the Dulles Rail extension, but also equally valid to many cities, as the issue of extending rail networks out towards airports is frequently of concern for transportation planners in major metropolitan areas.
The question of how to reach Dulles by rail has been fraught with controversy since project development began. Originally, the concept was to connect the Metro line to an underground station about 550 feet from the main terminal, but after the project's price tag had exploded past $3 billion, cost-savings became necessary.
The MWAA, which runs Dulles Airport in addition to the Metro extension, eventually agreed in July 2011 to move the stop about 600 feet farther away and to elevate it above the ground. Riders wanting to get off at Dulles will have to make the more than thousand-foot walk from the station to check-in.
Brown's likely stillborn proposal to replace the direct rail link with a people mover reflects the fact that riders are likely to see this connection as inconvenient, especially compared with that at Reagan National Airport, where customers only have to walk about 150 feet between Metro platform and the terminal entrance.
Brown suggested rerouting the Metro line away from the airport (the existing plan is shown in orange below and would be about 4 miles from Route 28 to Route 606), so that it runs directly along the Dulles Greenway (in blue, about 2.5 miles from Route 28 to Route 606). A people mover (also in blue, about 1.5 miles) would connect the Route 28 station to the front of the terminal.
Though customers would have to transfer, they would now get a more direct journey, since it would be far easier to fit in front of the terminal the tracks and station for the people mover than it would have been for the Metro line (and in fact this explains why that latter possibility was never brought up).
This would save a total of $70 million, according to planner estimates, because it would replace about 1.5 miles of very expensive Metro infrastructure (readied for eight-car trains) with much lighter automatic people mover infrastructure, designed for one- or two-car trains.
We know this would save some money. How would this change affect customers?
Riders commuting in to Tyson's Corner, Arlington, or Washington from outer suburban destinations on the end of the rail line west of Dulles would save time: At the 35-mph average speed expected for Silver Line trains,* it will take about 6.9 minutes to get from Route 28 to Route 606 using the current plan. The more direct route proposed by Brown would reduce that journey to 4.3 minutes. That's almost half an hour in saved travel time per week per commuter.
Even better, those using the Silver Line to get to and from the airport might actually save time travelling too.** Though these customers would have to transfer between Dulles Metro and the people mover, if that connection were timed and across the platform (as is quite possible when two automated systems are linked and built at the same time), the time lost would be only two or three minutes.
Meanwhile, once they actually get off at the terminal, the experience of riders taking the people mover would be much superior: Rather than walking 1,150 feet to the terminal, which would take them about 4.8 minutes on average, they would walk something more like 150 feet, which would take them only 0.6 minutes.*** See this back of the envelope comparison:
|Arrive at Rt 28 station||Timed transfer to people mover||Time to Dulles Airport station||Walk to terminal||Total travel time|
|Existing proposal||0 min||--||2.5 min||4.8 min (or about 3 min with moving walkway)||5.5-7.3 min|
|People mover proposal||0 min||3 min||2.5 min||0.6 min||6.1 min|
Though the use of the people mover raises questions about operating another rail system, it could be maintained with similar vehicles as those already servicing Dulles on the Aerotrain, which connects checked-in passengers to the terminals.
The Washington region would not be alone if it chose to make its airport rail link stop somewhat short of the terminal itself. In Phoenix, the new light rail system was built in coordination with airport officials, who are currently constructing an automated train between the rail station and the terminals. The San Francisco Bay Area is building an airport connector to the Oakland Airport that will link a BART station some miles away to the terminals.
Riders in these regions will not suffer; they may lose a few minutes transferring between trains, but if the connection is short and timed, that pain can be minimized. Avoiding the airport, paradoxically enough, could both save money and improve the situation for riders.
* 35 mph: PlanItMetro projects it will take about 22 minutes to travel the 12.8 miles between Dulles Airport and Tysons 7 Station.
** The only customers would would lose out with this change would be those traveling to and from Dulles from outer-suburban locations.
*** Assuming that people with bags travel at about 4 feet/second, a bit slower than the average walking speed of an elderly person.
Cross-posted at The Transport Politic.
It seems like a no-brainer that the long-planned Dulles Airport Metro line should include a stop at Dulles Airport, but to one key decision-maker, that remains an open question.
At yesterday's meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), board member Robert Clarke Brown, a presidential appointee, suggested re-routing Phase 2 of the Silver Line to skip Dulles Airport.
The airport station is expensive, he says, and so MWAA should consider simply not building it. Metro riders hoping to access Dulles would instead transfer to some kind of shuttle or people-mover from the Route 28 station, the next closest.
Skipping the airport and replacing it with a people-mover would reduce the project's overall $2.8 billion price tag by approximately $70 million. That, argues Brown, is reason to take his suggestion seriously. It shouldn't be.
To the MWAA board's credit, they quickly rejected Brown's proposal. As they should have. The main goal of Phase 2 of the Dulles Metro project is to provide service to Dulles Airport. Failing to do so means the project would not meet its main goal.
Cutting so many corners that you don't achieve your goal is not cost savings, it's failure. Far from saving $70 million, by failing to provide Metro service to Dulles Airport Brown's proposal would actually waste billions.
After all, if you're going to force airport riders to transfer onto a shuttle anyway, why not make the transfer at Whiele Avenue, the end station for Phase 1? Why bother building Phase 2 at all? The other Phase 2 stations are all primarily park and rides, and it doesn't make much difference at which station drivers park, so without the connection to Dulles Airport the entire argument for why Phase 2 is necessary in the first place becomes extremely flimsy.
So flimsy that many people would wonder whether the project were worth its $2.8 billion (minus $70 million) price.
The planning history of the Silver Line is replete with compromises. Express tracks to the airport or no express tracks? A subway through Tysons Corner or an elevated line? Airport station at the terminal or a few hundred feet away? At every step of the process, planners have had to weigh the ideal service situation agaist the costs. That's life in the world of transportation planning.
But this is one compromise that absolutely cannot under any circumstances be made. The absolute minimum requirement for a Metro line to Dulles Airport must be that it actually reaches Dulles Airport. Period.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
With costs rising, a vote by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to support an underground station has pitted elected officials against each other over the location of the future stop. And the controversy even thretens to scuttle the second phase of the Silver Line entirely.
MWAA supports an underground station adjacent to the terminal. But others, including Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, are calling for MWAA to choose an elevated station near the north parking garage. This would save about $330 million, but customers would wait for trains on an outdoor platform and would have to take a moving walkway 600 feet farther than the underground option.
Yesterday, Federal Transit Administration Peter Rogoff discussed the issue. He noted that 3 times as many people will use the Tysons stations than Dulles', and that the majority of passengers at Dulles itself will probably be airport workers, based on other airport stations elsewhere. Those are some of the facts that led him and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to push the region to accept the aerial station in order to keep the project moving.
Here's what our contributors have to say about the issue:
Unfortunately it's looking more and more like the same thing is going on here. If Virginia pulls its support for the project, that's the end of Phase II no matter what MWAA wants. The choice therefore may not be between an above or below ground station, but rather between an above ground station or nothing at all.
As much as I agree that a below ground station would be ideal, we may have to accept that a less ideal station is better than no station at all. The above ground option is simply the best compromise for the greater good. Again.
I think the above ground station is a mistake. While 5 minutes of walking doesn't seem like that much time, it could be burdensome for tired travelers coming from longer international flights, disabled and elderly travelers, or travelers with kids.
Anything that makes it easier to use Metro is good. If the Silver Line is the success we all hope it will be, it could drive more flyers out to Dulles. If that indeed happens, the station should be as convenient for folks as possible.
On the other hand, $330 million is a lot. But I am worried that in several years, we'll regret not having a station underground.
Am I the only person who says, "Sure, let's play brinkmanship, what the hell?"
I mean, I know that if the extension out to Dulles was nixed tomorrow, that money wouldn't suddenly be magically available to build a separated Blue Line in the city the next day. But that's what should happen, if you ask me. Building more and more capacity farther and farther from the center, without bolstering capacity in the core, is just going to lead to problems in the long run.
We have the extension to Tysons Corner. Construction on that leg isn't going to stop now. But if the extension to Reston, Herndon, and Dulles doesn't happen, I'm not going to cry about it.
What I want to know is why this particular underground station is so expensive. I get the desire to keep it out of the sightlines of the Saarinen terminal, but the plan calls for a lot of tunneling that seems excessive.
I'd love to see MWAA develop another alternative that involves bringing rail in along one of the existing roadbeds and changing the auto circulation to fit around that, perhaps like the design John Cambron proposed last year. But I fear that's too much of a change at this stage.
I won't cry for Reston and Herndon, either. However, serving Dulles is and should be a major priority. That airport is one of the region's key links to the outside world, and making that connection as seamless as possible is of vital importance to the region.
Cities have always been built around transportation infrastructure hubs, whether that was a great natural port or the confluence of two rivers, or the convergence of several rail lines or highways. Dulles offers a great opportunity, and it's important that the region use this asset well. Dulles might have been a white elephant when first built, but now it has the luxury of spacious runways, excess capacity, and room to grow that other airports do not have.
Ideally, I think we'd also have a direct rail link to downtown as well, but those kinds of improvements can be added later. Metro has considered some options and discussed them on their blog.
If we were really interested in making the connection to Dulles as seamless as possible, we'd have a direct express rail link to the city.
A ride on the Silver Line isn't terribly long for a simple, direct ride to downtown, leaving regularly. It will be appealing for travelers and tourists. I still think the trip will be too long for many who would otherwise need to change trains. Even those of us that would have to ride from some parts of Arlington would still need to change, and that creates a much longer trip.
When I think of a true airport rail link, I think of the CAT in Vienna. That being said, I still use the blue line in Chicago to get from the airport to town. And that can be a very long ride (the website says it is 45 minutes to downtown, but that seems optimistic).
I don't see an underground station being a necessity. So long as it is easily accessible, I am all on board. Especially if it gets the desired savings and keeps the project moving forward.
Also, speaking of timing, a friend of mine was recently in Paris and I asked him to time the trip from the airport to Châtelet. Approximate travel time was 50 minutes, which is about the time projected for the trip from Dulles to Metro Center.
According to PlanItMetro, the trip from Metro Center to Dulles will be 52 minutes. I guess my point is not that the extension to Dulles will not be the best it can be, but will be equivalent to other large airport extensions, though some cities have direct connections, like the express line to London's Heathrow Airport.
However, I think since the Dulles connection will be "good" at best, is that more reason to have a less expensive above ground station if none of that money is going to go to making the metro trip any faster? I'm not 100% sure myself.
I'm split in regard to this debate.
On the one hand, I think $300 million is too much for the underground station. What is the interest payment on that each year, like $9M? And how many people will use it per year? It winds up costing like $2-4 per person per trip. Ask people, would you pay $3 to be teleported 5 minutes closer to the gate and I doubt many people would take your offer. So, I'd be against it on that point.
On the other hand, if the choice is between raising the toll on the toll road to build the underground station and not raising the toll and building an above ground station, I'd choose the aerial option. The road, while very expensive, is still probably underpriced and so let's at least put that money to good use - even if not ideal use.
If there was an option to raise the toll on the toll road and use the money to meet some other, highly rated transit need, I would choose that option. But that option is not on the table.
Passenger convenience and comfort should take priority, because we want people to use the mass-transit option.
But from the perspective of aesthetics, the an aboveground station is better. The below ground station would not be one of metro's dramatic vaults, but instead a lower, split-tube station akin to the ones at Wheaton and Forest Glen. From there, passengers still have to go up an escalator, into the basement. The transit riders won't get the sense of arrival and departure that can distract from the drudgeries of air travel.
Train riders can only see a vista from the side of the railcar. An aboveground station would expose those arriving to a broadside of architectural drama that isn't always easy to get. Once off the train, an architecturally interesting station could frame the terminal better, like a smaller echo in a sympathetic style. You'd be able to see the terminal from the platform, and those in the terminal would be able to see the trains arriving and departing.
But there's no guarantee. In the rush to save costs, aesthetics could be a casualty like convenience. Or it could compensate for the longer walk. But you have to be willing to pay for either.
After believing initially that the few hundred feet length of tunnel was a huge mistake, I've now come around to the fact that probably won't deter many riders.
But I still have big concerns about above ground vs. below ground. I'm sure that waiting outside, exposed to the elements is going to discourage use. Passengers won't want to wait in the DC humid heat or cold winters, as opposed to being underground, in relative comfort.
But seems like consensus is building around above ground. I do really like the approach to Dulles by car and look forward to being able to take in via train.
Above versus below ground is one of the most significant decisions, but there are many other design elements that can at least make an aboveground station more or less pleasant. For example, the moving walkway that passengers would use exists today, in a tunnel.
If the station's escalators lead directly to that tunnel, where their bottom ends open right to the corridor, it could mean less work than if riders have to navigate a warren of twisty corridors to get from one to the other.
Similarly, yesterday Rogoff expressed support for walls or other elements that could make the aboveground station less weather-beaten. If MWAA is going to save a lot of money by building the station outdoors, they should at least use a small fraction of that money to make it a good quality aboveground station.
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