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Airports Authority backs underground station at Dulles

Wednesday - 4/6/2011, 3:32pm  ET

In this graphic rendering, green marks the station option selected for Dulles International Airport. (Courtesy MWAA)
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WASHINGTON - The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has voted 9-4 to build an underground Metro station at Dulles International Airport.

The authority's board of directors considered two options for the station that will be part of Metro's extension to the airport: an underground station beneath the parking bowl and a less expensive above-ground station located farther from the terminal.

The underground station will be roughly 600 feet closer to the main terminal than the aerial station. It will cost about $300 million more to build and will take six months longer.

"In my mind this came down to a decision for a station that was more user-friendly and was more in keeping with the nature of our airport at Dulles," says Virginia board member Mame Reiley. "Eleven-hundred feet is a long way to go. When people are traveling, they have luggage, they have children in some cases. It is a long haul."

The decision to go with the underground option prompted cost concerns from Virginia officials. In a letter to the airports authority after the vote was taken, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton said he was "disappointed" with the decision and the move raises questions about the authority's commitment "to ensure cost sensitive leadership."

Virginia has agreed to pay 25 percent of the Dulles rail project, but Connaughton's letter says state officials view the authority's move as an improvement to the airport rather than the rail project.

"Therefore, it is not considered a financial commitment to the rail project, local partners, the Dulles Toll Road or the Commonwealth," Connaughton writes.

The decision to build a more expensive station at the airport also may have those who use the Dulles Toll Road wondering if they'll get stuck with the bill. Part of the revenue from the toll road is going to finance the project.

"I'll be honest with you, I hope that's not the case," Reiley says. "We have a strong board with strong federal ties. Now that we have made this decision, we can concentrate on getting additional federal funds. I'm hoping to take the burden off of the toll road users."

During the meeting Wednesday, it was suggested that the additional cost of the underground station could lead to an eventual 50-cent increase on the toll road.

Numerous times during discussions, Reiley promised to "leave no stone unturned" in looking for cost savings elsewhere in the project.

WTOP's Adam Tuss contributed to this report. Follow Adam and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)