Raleigh-Durham International Airport is a pretty convenient place to get to. Living in Cary, I've never felt the need to allocate more than 20 minutes to drive over there and get parked. If it's rush hour, I just alter my route slightly. No problem.
But then, I'm not a frequent flyer, and I can't ever recall having to leave a car at the airport during a trip. If that were my pattern, I'd be looking for options to drive-and-park. I'd be looking for a no-hassle bus, or a train. No such luck.
The lack of a connection to the airport is often cited as a drawback to the plans for commuter rail service in the Triangle. No question that putting in such a link would be an engineering challenge, what with having to go over or under I-40 and other roadways. The airport authority, heavily invested in parking facilities and counting on parking revenue, has not exactly been a cheerleader for rail. But even if it just amounted to a light-duty shuttle, a rail link would be attractive to a certain segment of air travelers: convention goers, university students, people here for sporting events. Whether you were off on a business trip or a vacation, you could just finesse the whole issue of driving to the airport and parking once you got there. Anyway, that's how it works in the Big City.
I've ridden the train between O'Hare and downtown Chicago, and that's the only way I'd want to make that trip. The D.C. Metro makes it a snap to get into town from Reagan National, no matter how bad the traffic on the 14th Street Bridge.
Speaking of Washington, when Dulles Airport opened in the early 1960s, it was regarded as ludicrously remote. Sited on the flatlands of what used to be the farming community of Chantilly, about 25 miles west of the city, the airport had plenty of room for long runways and future expansion. I grew up in that part of the world, and it was thrilling to drive out there along the practically deserted access road, through the pastures and woodlands, and come over a little rise to see the stunningly modernist terminal against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge. In those days, with no security worries, you could stroll the terminal at will, mingle with the folks arriving from overseas, mount the observation deck and watch the big jetliners maneuver through their landing patterns. The Concorde was always a big draw for plane-spotters.
I took a number of memorable flights in and out of Dulles myself. But we're getting off-topic. What puts Dulles in the news these days is that finally and logically, it will be connected to the Washington Metro system.
A story in The Washington Post last month (by former N&O staffer Amy Gardner) had the details. The link, branching off from the Metro's line that now runs through Falls Church to Vienna, will cost $5.2 billion. Most of the route will follow the highway corridor to Dulles. But it also will serve Tyson's Corner, an office and shopping complex that makes Crabtree Valley Mall look like a Quik Stop. Talk about engineering.
I know that highway corridor well, and not just from the old days. My mother was living in Reston, a planned community that emerged in the same time frame as the airport and just a few miles east, when she died 10 years ago, and my sister Cathy still lives there. The rail line will serve not only Dulles, but thousands of commuters from Reston, Herndon and vicinity who now jam what's known as the Dulles Toll Road to reach Falls Church, Arlington and Washington. (If your destination is the airport, you drive for free on the interior, original lanes.) Estimates are that as many as 60,000 people a day will ride the new rails.
Virginia's governor, Tim Kaine, had this to say at a recent ceremony at the U.S. DOT, as reported in Gardner's article: "We in Virginia are fortunate to have Dulles ... to connect us to the world. But Dulles can only work and the region can only work if there are transportation options that enable it to be all that it can be. Those options have to include a vigorous road network, but also a very vigorous public transportation network." When will a North Carolina governor voice similar sentiments about RDU?