- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Transportation Department yesterday agreed to provide $200 million to help fund a fourth runway at Washington Dulles International Airport, a project intended to spur the rapid growth of the nation’s 20th-busiest airport.

The federal grant comes as airport officials are investing about $4 billion on projects to help Dulles Airport accommodate more passengers and planes.

Dulles rose from Northern Virginia pastures in 1962. A record 27 million passengers passed through the airport in 2005, and that could increase to 30 million by 2010, airport officials predict.

“This airport is growing too fast to tinker around the edges. If Dulles is to continue to thrive, we must make sure it can handle more aircraft,” Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said yesterday outside the airport’s main terminal.

Nearly 500 planes a day take off from Dulles. Adding a fourth runway — a 9,500-foot stretch of concrete that will sit two miles from the main terminal — will allow the airport to handle 50 percent more planes in inclement weather and prevent delays, Mr. Mineta said.

Dulles operates two of its three runways now when bad weather strikes.

The federal grant will fund half the cost of the estimated $400 million runway. The runway will be completed in two years, but the airport will get the Transportation Department’s $200 million contribution over 11 years. Airport officials requested $207 million for the runway last year.

“The grant is recognition by the federal government that this is an important project,” said James E. Bennett, president and chief executive of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Dulles and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports.

Construction of the fourth runway is one element of a vast — and costly — plan to improve the airport.

“We’ve had to rebuild [Dulles] to make sure the facility meets the air-transportation needs of the future,” Mr. Bennett said.

In September, airport officials completed construction of a 325-foot air-traffic control tower, which cost $63 million.

The airport also has built two garages that provide 8,500 parking spaces and an $81 million passageway from the main terminal to a satellite concourse.

The key project is a $1.2 billion underground train that will encircle the airport when it is finished in 2009.

Airport officials are planning a fifth runway, though construction hasn’t been scheduled.

The federal government’s $200 million contribution to Dulles comes from the Airport Improvement Program, which amounts to $3.55 billion in fiscal 2006. The program is funded through a 10 percent tax on plane tickets, fuel taxes and other excise taxes.

Airport Improvement Program money typically funds work to ease congestion at airports, said Catherine M. Lang, deputy associate administrator for airports at the Federal Aviation Administration.

Excluding yesterday’s grant, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has received $285 million from the Airport Improvement Program since 1992 for projects at Dulles and Reagan airports, airport officials said.

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