- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2000

The world's fastest-growing major airport will be getting a $3.4 billion makeover.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority yesterday approved a massive construction package for Washington Dulles International Airport.

Plans call for a fourth runway, a new concourse with 44 gates, thousands of new parking spaces, and replacement of Dulles' unique mobile lounges with a subway and moving sidewalks connecting the terminal to the concourses.

"We have to keep pace with the service demands of the region," said David T. Ralston, chairman of the MWAA board, which oversees Dulles and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the two airports in Northern Virginia that serve the metro Washington area along with Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The board has directed its growth toward Dulles instead of Reagan Airport, which has federally imposed flight limits.

That along with the booming economy in Northern Virginia has resulted in massive growth at Dulles. In 1999, passenger traffic jumped 26 percent to nearly 20 million passengers, a swifter growth rate than any major airport in the world.

The airport will pay for the bulk of the construction by issuing bonds.

But Dulles passengers will bear some of the costs as well. The airport plans to raise $666 million by increasing its Passenger Facility Charge from $3 to $4.50. That cost will be passed on through ticket prices.

The airport also hopes to receive about $300 million in federal grants.

Mr. Ralston said the first big difference travelers will notice is the new parking garages. Contracts already have been awarded for two garages that will provide nearly 8,700 spaces. Those garages will be completed in the next 18 to 24 months, Mr. Ralston said.

Yesterday, the board approved construction of another lot that will provide 6,100 spaces.

Dulles' mobile lounges cumbersome buses that move people from the terminal to the concourses had become outdated, said MWAA President James A. Wilding.

The airport pioneered the idea of separating the gates from the terminal, a design that has been duplicated at numerous airports. But other airports have had better success moving people with short rail systems, Mr. Wilding said.

Other improvements scheduled for Dulles over the next six years include a renovation of the main terminal, a new air-traffic-control tower, road improvements and an improved baggage system.

The massive construction project prompted some discussion about who would be given contracts. Two board members representing the District of Columbia, Jeffrey Earl Thompson and Mamadi Diane, said they want the board to reach out to D.C. contractors and encourage them to bid.

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