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Officials seek solutions to Reagan National traffic jams

An airplane flies between the air traffic control tower and the Washington Monument at Washington's Ronald Reagan National Airport in 2015. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

ARLINGTON, Va. – There are traffic jams at Reagan National Airport that could require significant changes to fix, since a record number of passengers choose that airport instead of Dulles.

Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Chief Operating Officer Margaret McKeough cites the rapid growth in the number of passengers at National as a major reason for the traffic congestion, which was particularly noticeable during the peak holiday travel period.

“We’ve had an additional 2 million passengers use the airport over the prior year,” McKeough said in an interview. “We’re seeing the volume of car traffic, vehicle traffic in and out of the airport is really challenging our existing roadway system and we’re going to need to look at how to improve the roadways to address that issue.”

Engineers are looking at both short-term solutions and longer-term construction projects. On Wednesday, McKeough told the Airports Authority Board that traffic backups occur at peak times on the inbound and outbound sides.

Since the 800-acre airport is surrounded by the river and the developed Crystal City area, any construction work that involved widening the roads that loop around the airport from the George Washington Parkway and Route 1 would require demolishing airport buildings or other significant changes.

The airport could also aim to convince more passengers to take Metro.

“We do anticipate that we’ll be bringing forward some solutions in the near future,” she said.

A new way into the airport is also being considered.

An old entrance from the northbound GW Parkway was closed years ago to protect people walking and biking on the Mt. Vernon Trail.

“For now, we always recommend that our customers look at our website early and come to the airport a little bit earlier,” McKeough said.

Even as preliminary data indicates Reagan National and BWI Marshall hit passenger records last year, Dulles Airport, which the Airports Authority has been working to boost, is expected to post an overall decline in passengers for 2015 over the year before.

BWI is operated by a separate body from the Airports Authority that runs National, Dulles and the Dulles Toll Road.

Despite the traffic backups tied to the crowds at Reagan National and slightly added to by a few construction projects just outside the airport, McKeough is happy with the holiday season here overall.

“It’s helpful when the weather is on your side, and it surely was in this region this holiday season,” she said.

Of course that is set to change this weekend.

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