MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Tunnels, of course, aren't just for entomologists with an odd hobby. Here in the D.C. region, they also come in pretty handy when it comes to commuting on Metro. And Metro tunnels, as it happens, are at the heart of one of the regions longest running mysteries. Why, oh, why don't we have a train to Dulles International airport? Well, the plan is there will be eventually, but where that train will stop, well, that one's a little bit up in the air.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We'll find out more on our weekly transportation segment, "From A to B."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Here on "Metro Connection," we've been following the fight over the Dulles Metro Rail project, the more than $5 billion plan to extend the rails through Tyson's Corner, Reston, Herndon and eventually out to Dulles and beyond. A little while back, we brought you a story about the two sides in this fight. First, you've got the group we've nicknamed, the politicos. They are the Congress members, state legislatures, local supervisors, et cetera, who are in charge of finding money for this project.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
And the politicos want the Metro station at Dulles to be above ground. Then you've got the airporters, in other words, the airports authority, which is designing and building the Metro line and they've decided to go with an underground station, even though an above ground station would be at least $330 million cheaper. Of course, it'd also be twice as far from the airport. But anyway, just this week, we've seen an interesting new development in this struggle. And here to tell us all about it is WAMU transportation reporter, David Schultz. Hi, David.
MR. DAVID SCHULTZ
So what's the latest on this whole above ground, underground struggle?
Well, all this time, the politicos have been asking the airporters to reverse their decision, but they've refused. Some politicos have even threatened to withhold funding and pull out of the project all together. Eventually, a third party had to step in and mediate. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood called the airporters and the politicos into his office last month to try to negotiate a deal. And this week, LaHood's office proposed a potential compromise.
And what would that be?
Well, the Metro station at Dulles will be built above ground and several parts of the project would be stripped from the airporters control and given to the politicos. LaHood estimates that doing this would save around a billion dollars.
Not an insubstantial sum of money. But you said LaHood came out with a potential compromise. What are the airporters getting out of all this?
Honestly, nothing. LaHood's compromise says the above ground station would be climate controlled so passengers wouldn’t have to walk out of the train into the heat or the cold. But other than that, there's nothing in here that aligns with what the airporters have been calling for.
So are they going to agree to the proposal then?
Well, remember, the airporters don't want the politicos to have to raise taxes either and they especially don't want to have to raise tolls to pay for the project. Here's Mame Reiley, chair of the airport authority's Dulles rail committee, talking about the compromise.
MS. MAME REILEY
We're going to have to consider it. We, you know, as much as I'm chagrined about it, we need to drive the tolls down.
Reiley says, everything's on the table. But she warns, going with an above ground station may ultimately be the more expensive option in the long run because an above ground station will wear down and need replacing much sooner.
It's easy for the politicians to kick that can down the road because it's not going to happen on their watch.
So it sounds to me like the airporters are kind of resigned to losing this fight. But they still want that station underground?
Yeah, although it's hard to imagine how they can get that with the type of political pressure they're under right now. I mean, think about this. You've got practically the entire Northern Virginia political establishment, both democrats and republicans, pushing the airporters to reverse their decision. You've got LaHood, a Presidential cabinet member, pushing them in the same direction. The Washington Post has published at least nine editorials in the past three months, slamming the airporters for not relenting.
And even Vincent Gray, the Mayor of D.C. and a former backer of the underground station, reversed course this week and came out against it. He says he'd rather see this station built above ground than have no Metro out to Dulles at all.
So it sounds like the airporters are really in a corner here. How have they managed to hold out then for this long?
Well, it's important to remember that the airporters are appointed, not elected. So they're only concern is to do what they think is best for the airports. The politicos, on the other hand, have to stand for re-election. And for those in Virginia, that will be in just a few months. If this conflict between the airporters and the politicos escalates even more, it could become a big issue on the campaign trail.
Well, we'll definitely see how all of this plays out. David, thanks so much for coming in and bringing us up to date.
David Schultz is the transportation reporter here WAMU. Special thanks to WAMU editor Rebecca Blatt for help with this story. To check out Ray LaHood's official letter detailing his proposed compromise, visit our website, metroconnection.org. And if you have an opinion on whether that Dulles station should be above ground or underground, we want to hear it. Send us an email at email@example.com or visit us on Facebook, that's facebook.com/metroconnection.org.
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