The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority plan to extend Metrorail 11.6 miles to Dulles International Airport has enjoyed support from the Congressional leaders in both parties, the Governor of Virginia and the local business community. With all this political muscle, however, the plan is now on life support after the Federal Transit Administration found the project is unfit for federal funding. A quick look at some facts contained in the projects own projections reveals why:

  • By the project’s completion in 2025, traffic volumes on the ten highway links in the corridor would be reduced by only 1.5 percent compared to levels that would occur without the extension.
  • The negligible gain in traffic relief would be erased by 2027, given projected traffic growth rates.
  • Net energy savings by 2025 (measured in energy saved per BTU, as car usage declines and transit usage rises) would be 0.5 percent for the full Dulles project, and the Wiehle Avenue link (Phase I) would actually increase energy usage.

Estimated to cost $3.4 billion three years ago, it is now projected to cost $5.1 billion but would likely clock in at somewhere between $7.5 billion to $10 billion if ultimately built. That means taxpayers would probably pay close to $10 billion dollars to reduce traffic congestion by 1.5% for a whole two years.

This project is first and foremost about using public money to enrich private merchants and landowners in Tysons Corner. If the Tysons merchants want to pay for the bulk of the rail extension so that it can serve the Tysons shopping area that’s totally fine. Several private equity investors, including the Carlyle Group, are reviewing proposals to partner with local government for a rail line to Dulles International Airport. Hopefully Congress and the Administration will resist the urge to subsidize this boondoggle with federal funds.