For Dulles, the Silver Line extension comes as the airport begins a makeover

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Over the years, as Dulles International Airport grew, expanded its terminal, added a runway, and built a new control tower, a strip of grass in the middle of Dulles Toll Road that was reserved for a line of way of iron remained practically intact.

As the airport celebrates its 60th anniversary this month and prepares for its most ambitious renovation in more than a decade, the final piece of that original vision fell into place in time for the Thanksgiving trip.

The new airport subway station is the busiest of six that opened a week ago, according to the transit agency, fueled by a rush of travelers at the start of the busy holiday season. After several tumultuous years of planning and construction, the transfer of the project to Metro allows airport officials to focus on the next phase of Dulles’ future – a phase supported by the railroad and plans for a new hall while overcoming the pandemic.

Officials from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which oversaw construction of the Silver Line and operates Dulles and Reagan National Airports, said in a statement they were “pleased with the speed with which customers have embraced the new Silver Line and have incorporated the train into their holiday airport travel plans.”

Dulles Station saw about 7,700 passenger trips in its first six days of operation, about one-third of the 23,300 trips at the new stations. Metro generally reports ridership based on where passengers enter the system, but it monitors entries and exits along new stations to better understand travel patterns.

By comparison, Metro’s National Airport station had 20,372 entries over the same period. The number of trips that ended at the airport was just over 19,900, compared to about 8,400 in Dulles over those six days.

After 60 years, Dulles Airport is about to get a makeover

“We were pleased to open the Silver Line for our customers ahead of the start of the Thanksgiving holiday travel period, and early ridership figures show that the Silver Line, and Dulles in particular, will be key ways for residents and visitors to travel to Northern Virginia and to and from our National Capital Region,” Metro Chief Executive Randy Clarke said in a statement Tuesday.

The opening of the rail line makes the three major airports in the Washington area accessible by rail.

The Dulles subway station is the latest good news for an airport looking for a revival as international travel rebounds more slowly from the pandemic. Recovery has been faster for domestic and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall airports, which are more reliant on domestic travel.

Earlier this year, Dulles officials announced plans for a new 14-door, 400,000 square foot lobby. In July, the airport received $49.6 million from the Infrastructure Act to cover part of the project’s estimated $500-800 million cost. Airport officials said earlier this month they intended to seek an additional $180 million.

Dulles Hall gets a boost from Biden’s Infrastructure Act

The proposed concourse would be built over an existing AeroTrain stop and eliminate the need for passengers to walk long distances or take a shuttle to their doors. The last major expansion at Dulles was a $3.4 billion project package completed in 2011 that expanded the main terminal and added the automated AeroTrain system, a fourth runway, a new control tower, and other features.

Airport authority officials are also considering the possible replacement of Concourse C/D, built in 1985 as a temporary structure serving United Airlines. As part of this process, the airport is seeking public input as it updates the Dulles Master Plan, a document that guides the airport’s growth for a future that could include the launch of air taxis, the return of supersonic travel and other innovations. .

Dulles celebrated its 60th birthday on November 17 – two days after the launch of the Silver Line service – marking the occasion with freebies and promotions, including the sale of coffee mugs for 34 cents to match the price on the day of the opening of the airport. The anniversary also coincided with the start of Dulles service in Cape Town, South Africa.

But it was the inauguration of the Silver Line extension that caught the most attention.

Four years behind schedule on the $3 billion rail project, subway officials pledged on Halloween to open the line in time for the Thanksgiving travel period, giving air passengers another option to get to Dulles . Travelers using the rail link this week said the train beat the price of an expensive carpool trip.

Dennis Wiggins whisked Metro Monday from his home in Bethesda to a meeting at Tysons and then to the airport for a flight to Detroit. He said despite the delays and cost overruns that plagued the project, the rail extension was worth the investment.

“It’s fantastic,” said the 69-year-old venture capitalist. “Fifty years from now, no one will even remember all of this.”

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Corina McCullough, 25, said she was glad the service in Dulles was launched in time for her trip back to Tampa for Thanksgiving. She said the trip from Dupont Circle took about an hour, but was worth the cost savings compared to other modes of transportation.

“I moved here because of public transportation,” McCullough said. “And when I heard it would be open in time for my flight today, I thought ‘Awesome!'”

Josh Fitt, 26, was eager to beat the holiday travel crush, making his trip to Dulles earlier in the week. He used to take the subway to the Wiehle-Reston East station, then take the Silver Line Express bus to Dulles. He said he appreciated the direct rail link to the airport, adding that “after 60 years, it was about time”.

For years, Dulles was derided, in large part, because of his remoteness from the district. The airport, about 25 miles west of Washington, is about a 40-minute drive from the nation’s capital when traffic is cooperating, and more when it’s not.

“When it opened, people laughed [Dulles] like a white elephant,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said. “They said ‘Why are you spending all this money?'”

But, he said, planners knew the airport would spur growth in the area. Six decades later, he said: “We have become there.”

The subway’s passenger journey rivals the world’s longest train journeys between a major airport and the city center. The trip from Metro Center in downtown Washington to Dulles takes 53 minutes, slightly less than the approximately one-hour trip from Narita International Airport to downtown Tokyo, while more than 45 minutes is required for travel between O’Hare International and downtown Chicago. Denver Airport is approximately 37 minutes by train from downtown.

Dulles boosters say the subway provides a stronger connection between the airport and the rest of the capital region.

“It’s another downtown connection,” said Keith W. Meurlin, chairman of the Washington Airports Task Force, a nonprofit group of business and community leaders that advocates for Dulles and National. “It will make it easier for people across the region. And for foreign visitors, it’s a service they expect.

As a Boy Scout growing up in the area, Meurlin, a former Dulles Airport manager, remembers planting trees at the new airport. He said it was only fitting that the Silver Line would open up as Dulles considers his future again. The subway system didn’t exist when Dulles opened in 1962, but planners laid out a future rail line, unaware that it would take nearly six decades to make it a reality.

“Think of the visionaries who set aside land to make this happen,” said John E. “Jack” Potter, chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. “These people over 60 years ago set this land aside, and without them it would have been a nightmare to try to accomplish.

With approximately 12,000 acres of land — more than a quarter the size of the district — Dulles, one of the five largest airports in the nation, is the only major airport on the East Coast with room to expand. In addition to sketching plans for a new concourse, airport officials recently approved plans to build the largest US-based solar farm at an airport.

Dulles solar farm would be the largest in the country at an airport

Buddy Rizer, executive director of economic development for Loudoun County, said the launch of Silver Line service, coupled with the growth of Dulles, will be a game-changer for the region. The Silver Line, he said, will set the stage for Dulles’ next phase.

The Silver Line extension also added two more subway stations to Loudoun, allowing for denser suburban development that previously occurred closer to Washington. While Dulles proved to be the most popular of the six new stations, the second busiest was Ashburn – the new Silver Line terminus – which reported nearly 6,500 entries in its first six days.

But at the heart of the expansion is Dulles, who Phyllis J. Randall, chairwoman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, has propelled the county into one of the wealthiest and fastest-growing places in the world. country over the decades.

“They built an airport in a field with cows, and 60 years later look what it did,” she said. “We are very proud and protective of the airport.”

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