- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority on Wednesday approved plans for an underground Metrorail station at Washington Dulles International Airport that is $300 million more expensive than a rejected above-ground option.

“It is indeed more expensive, but we felt in the long run we were making a decision for the next 50 to 75 years,” said Mame Reiley, an airports authority board member.

“We had to pick the user-friendly station that would encourage more people to travel on the Metro and perhaps even increase our ridership in terms of choosing our airport over Baltimore’s as an international airport,” she said.

Frank M. Conner III, chairman of the board’s Strategic Development Committee, voted against the underground station option.

“It’s a very tough decision, but you’re going to win either way because you’re getting rail to Dulles,” he said.

The airports authority, which oversees Washington Dulles International and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports, is in charge of the project and makes the final decisions. Wednesday’s vote was 9-4.

Within hours of the vote, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton sent a letter to airports authority Chairman Charles D. Snelling expressing his disappointment with the board’s decision.

He said the decision raises concerns about the airport's authority’s commitment “to ensure cost sensitive leadership.”

“The tunnel alignment, by all accounts, is a more expensive alignment than the aerial option through the airport, and will place a heavy financial burden on local funding partners and Dulles Toll Road users,” Mr. Connaughton said.

Construction of the station is part of the second phase of the 23-mile-long Metrorail project, which extends service from Reston to Dulles and eastern Loudoun County. The second phase is projected to cost about $3.5 billion.

The first phase, from the Orange line’s East Falls Church station in Arlington, is expected to cost $2.7 billion and is scheduled for completion in 2013.

The airports authority, Fairfax and Loudoun counties are sharing 25 percent of the cost. Roughly 50 percent will be paid from revenue from the Dulles Toll Road and the remaining amount will come from the federal government and the state of Virginia.

Jeff McKay, a Fairfax County supervisor and alternate Metro board member, said finding the money “still remains a pretty big challenge.”

Mr. McKay supported the proposed underground station because it was about 500 feet closer to the airport terminal than the above-ground station. He called the decision Wednesday “the wisest and … absolutely the right thing to do.”

Ms. Reiley said the agency will hire an independent engineering firm to determine where costs can be cut. The airports authority has already identified engineering changes in the second phase of the project that could potentially save $330 million from cost projections made in 2005.