- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Two weeks ago, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority announced that it has approved designs for an underground Metro stop with terminal access at Washington Dulles International Airport. I applaud the Airports Authority’s commitment to providing first-class transportation options for a world-class airport.

Designing rail transportation is a 100-year decision, but those who oppose the decision to put the Metro station underground are being decidedly shortsighted. Opponents’ primary criticism is that putting the station above ground and farther from the terminal will be cheaper. Cheaper cannot be the only, or even the main, goal behind every transportation decision that we make. Cheaper will not net better results, and cheaper today does account for value lost over the next 100 years.

In airports from Minneapolis to Mexico City, cities realize that if you want people to actually use the transit system, you must make it convenient and inviting. Sending travelers the length of four football fields to brave the elements with luggage in tow is neither convenient nor inviting, but it is “cheaper.” Dulles is an architectural gem and the entrance for millions of visitors to our nation’s capital. We owe it to our airport patrons to make the most of the Metro expansion and bring the train right up to the terminal. To offer anything less than a world-class experience in our capital is a mistake, and one we will regret for decades.

We already have witnessed, what I believe to be, significant mistakes in the expansion of Metro. For example, the decision to elevate the Tysons Corner stop was “cheaper” than alternative designs that put the station underground or integrated it with the streetscape, but that simple accounting is flawed. It fails to account for the captured value of building a Metro stop that will encourage more economic development on the same site. Imagine how much more valuable the real estate would be on top of an underground Tysons Corner stop. Instead, we have built the “cheapest” option, an elevated stop, which destroys value of surrounding real estate and fails to leverage public investment. In cities across America, from Seattle to Syracuse, leaders are considering tearing down elevated highways and transit stops because they have significantly depressed real estate prices and impeded economic development on otherwise valuable land.

I know firsthand how hard it is to make decisions about major infrastructure projects. I had to make them when I was the governor of Maryland. There were diverging opinions on the plan to rebuild the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. The governor of Virginia and president of the United States at that time pushed for the cheaper option, which would have accommodated only cars and cost millions less. I pushed for the bridge to be “transit-ready,” preparing us for a day that a Metro expansion will be made over the bridge. The predictable path of development is a rail connection from Southern Maryland to Northern Virginia that doesn’t require a trip into the District. It would have been horribly wasteful to build a bridge that could not accommodate necessary, predictable rail expansion. I pushed for the bridge to have capacity for other modes of transportation, including bicycles and pedestrians, so when commuters are dealing with $4-, $5- or $9-a-gallon gas, getting over the bridge does not force them to use their cars.

We want to build a city that our children and grandchildren will enjoy living in, where they are able to navigate the city easily and not be stuck in stifling congestion. We want to leave them with transportation options so the city can withstand soaring gas prices. And the choices we make today will determine what that future looks like. The decision by the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority to build the best possible Metro station at Dulles is a step in the right direction.

Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, is a former governor of Maryland.