D.C.’s Silver-Line Slog

24_4-eeCity Journal Autumn 2014
trip through Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport offers a glimpse of what people in the past thought transportation would look like in the future. Opened in 1962, the airport boasts a quintessentially “mod” look, thanks to a stunning, Eero Saarinen–designed main terminal meant to evoke flight. But Dulles evokes the early 1960s in another way: its lack of a rail connection to the city it serves recalls a time when the automobile was king. Indeed, Dulles, the city’s primary international airport, is situated nearly 30 miles of congested highway away from the District of Columbia’s downtown core and linked to the city by only infrequent public buses. Chronic heavy traffic makes the ride painfully slow.
But change is coming. This past summer saw the opening of the first segment of a new Washington subway (dubbed Metro) rail line that eventually will connect Dulles to D.C.’s central business district. The new line’s first phase cost $2.9 billion to construct, and the most optimistic estimates put the final price tag for the project—decades in the making—as high as $5.6 billion. That’s nearly $1,000 for every man, woman, and child in the Washington metro area. The sluggishness of the process and its eye-popping cost raise troubling questions about America’s ability to construct vital infrastructure.

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