Linking Dulles Airport to D.C.'s Metro?

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Najeeb Halaby wants to complete the original concept for Washington's Dulles International Airport, and he wants to make some money doing it. Mr. Halaby was federal aviation administrator during the Kennedy administration, when Dulles was built. At the time, he said, the plan called for a Disneyland-like monorail to run from Washington to the airport, which is located about 20 miles out of town in Virginia.

``But the airport cost about double what the Eisenhower administration had predicted,'' he said, ``so there was no money left for the monorail.''

Now 25 years later, Halaby is heading a private organization known as Dulles Access Rapid Transit (DART) that is studying the possibility of building a passenger line to connect Dulles with the new Washington Metro transit system that is being built to reach Vienna, Va., from Washington.

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DART's board of directors, which includes two former secretaries of transportation as well as Virginia real estate developers, has put up ``several hundred thousand dollars'' to study the possibility, Halaby says.

The group wants to build the line with private money, but the number of air travelers who would take the train to Dulles would be too few to justify it. The train would have to be used predominantly by people either commuting into the city or traveling to commercial areas growing up along the line.

For private enterprise to build and operate such a line at a profit, he said, a company would have to get money from more sources than just fares. The FAA would have to donate the right of way that lies between the lanes on the Dulles Access Road and allow for real estate development at Dulles. Fairfax County would have to grant zoning changes and development rights at station sites along the route, he said.

The rail line could be used to coordinate some of the rapid development going on in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, he said.

``I keep thinking of this as an opportunity for corridor development in an enlightened way,'' Halaby says. ``The train becomes the spinal column for development. This would make transportation the forerunner for development rather than the afterthought it usually is now.''

The DART group is considering a wide range of technology for the train, which Halaby estimated could cost anywhere between $125 million and $250 million.

``We're trying to provide a public service that will attract people off tires and onto rails,'' he said. ``We have to provide more than just the certainty of rail travel. It has to attract riders, and how it looks, how fast it goes, and how modern one feels when riding it are all factors in how many people will take it.''

The FAA may be reluctant to get involved in a rail project to Dulles, Halaby acknowledges, but he has one staunch ally in Ralph L. Stanley, head of the federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA).

Mr. Stanley says he sees private mass-transit development as one of the key ways to provide service without huge federal subsidies. Congress already has authorized far more rail transit systems than UMTA can possibly afford to build, he says, and some cities are going to be rudely awakened when their projects are cancelled.

``The Dulles project is viable,'' Stanley says. ``What is very interesting to me is the way it is being approached. They're figuring funding and ridership patronage before they start building so they can diminish or eliminate federal assistance. You can see the contrast of that to the Washington Metro system that will have a $500 million-a-year deficit when it is completed.''

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