Arriving at Washington Dulles International Airport early Saturday morning was nothing like any of the dozens, maybe hundreds of times I’ve landed at IAD over the past 30 years and change: I walked to a Metro stop at the airport and took the train home, no bus connection needed.
Tuesday’s opening of the second phase of Metro’s Silver Line has been justified grounds for local celebration after years of local angst over schedule slips and cost overruns (even if, by average U.S. transit-construction costs, it can look like we stole the line).
But the debut of a one-seat rail link between our downtown and our international airport–a traveler-friendly feature in some U.S. cities and in many more outside the country–should be even more welcome for Washingtonians old enough to remember 20th-century transit options to Dulles.
When I first started making my acquaintance with IAD, Dulles advertised only one such route: the “Washington Flyer Coach” bus that ran every 30 minutes between the West Falls Church Metro station and the airport, at a cost of $9 one-way or $16 roundtrip that later became $10 one-way or $18 roundtrip. That was so bad that it made “can you give me a lift to Dulles?” a routine test of D.C.-area friendship. It was so inadequate that Metro adding the much cheaper 5A bus in December of 2000–which ran from L’Enfant Plaza and Rosslyn with an intermediate stop in Herndon but only did so once an hour–represented a serious improvement.
But it took having phase one of the Silver Line open in 2014, after local backers overcame such obstacles as the George W. Bush administration’s rail-skeptical Department of Transportation, to make “National or Dulles?” less of a dumb question. The Metro extension’s opening reduced my IAD transit timing from Arlington to an hour and change, factoring in a transfer at the Wiehle-Reston East station to a $5 airport-express bus or a free-with-transfer but much slower Fairfax Connector route.
Yet every time I had to sit around the bus level of that station’s garage and breathe its polluted air, I could only wish that the rest of the line would get past the concrete-drying stage.
Four years later than once estimated, that’s finally happened.
So after a short walk Saturday morning from the terminal to the station–maybe five minutes with stops to take photos–I had to celebrate by taking the Silver Line in the wrong direction to see all of it. I let a train to D.C. go by and instead boarded one to the Silver Line’s Ashburn terminus in Loudoun County.
That neighborhood of the county that in 2012 barely voted to stay in the Silver Line project is now the farthest place Metro reaches from the center of D.C. And as development around the station continues, it now has a chance to follow the path of other Metro neighborhoods and become a more pedestrian-friendly spot–or at least one where cost-conscious travelers don’t have to ask friends to give them a lift to Dulles.