Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Construction Improves Washington Airports

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Construction Improves Washington Airports

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON (NYT) -- The nation's capital is served by two major airports, one charmingly antique but inadequate, the other just inadequate. But both are in the midst of major improvement projects, at a combined cost of $2 billion.

National Airport, the charming one, just across the Potomac River from the monuments of the District of Columbia, will not get any bigger but it will be better organized. Dulles International, 26 miles into the Virginia suburbs, has doubled the size of its main terminal and will get a new midfield terminal big enough for a dozen Boeing 747's.

Lately road traffic through both airports is even worse than usual. "Right now, `congestion' is a kind way to describe it," said Tara Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. But by late next spring, when the bulk of the work will be done at the main terminals at both airports, passing through will be a less pressured experience. National Airport squeezes 45,000 people a day through its confines, less than 1,000 acres, hemmed in by the George Washington Parkway and the river, and has nowhere to grow. When finished, the new airport will have the same number of gates, 44, as the old one did when work began in 1987, but it will be easier to get around. The longest walk to a boarding gate will be 780 feet. Hardly anybody changes planes at National, so the terminal will be arranged in a long stretch with short piers for the gates, making the walk shorter for most passengers. And when construction is over, National will be rid of the "interim terminal," a converted hangar at the north end, not accessible to the main terminal for pedestrians, to which nearly half the airport's traffic was moved for the duration of the work. The airport's center will have moved to the north of the old terminal, to a gleaming $400 million glass-and-steel palace of a new terminal, with 35 gates, designed by Cesar Pelli & Associates. Like the 1941 original, the new terminal faces the city it serves, but this one is more dramatic, with a window 58 feet high and a third of a mile long, looking across the runway and the river to Washington. That glass wall will be visible from most of the terminal, so the new layout will confront passengers with fewer blind turns and sinuous corridors, and less need to consult confusing signs. By law, flights from National are short- and medium-haul, serving cities in the United States and Canada within 1,250 miles -- Dallas is about the farthest destination. Eleven airlines carry 15.5 million people through every year, making it approximately the 25th-busiest airport in the nation. And because nearly all of those people are arriving or leaving, rather than changing planes, traffic on the land side of the terminal is heavy. Many of the improvements are intended to reduce that congestion. …

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