Reaching Region's Airports by Car Takes Longer Today Than It Did Eight Years Ago, Study Finds

Jun 11, 2012

Getting to any one of the Washington region's three major airports by car took longer in 2011 than it did in 2003 for travelers in many parts of the region, according to the results of a study recently released by the Transportation Planning Board. From most of the residential or commercial centers that the TPB studied, one-way travel times to the airport by highway during the evening rush hour went up, in one case nearly doubling.

The 2011 Ground Access Travel Time (GATT) Study was completed as part of the TPB's Continuous Airport Systems Planning Program, or CASP, which brings together all of the agencies and organizations that oversee the planning, development, and operations of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI).

The GATT study looked at travel times from more than 15 residential or commercial centers in the greater Washington-Baltimore region to each of the three commercial service airports. In most cases, highway travel times during peak weekday evening periods went up. From Greenbelt, Maryland, travel time to BWI increased from 26.6 minutes to 31.2 minutes. From Tysons Corner, travel time to National increased from 24.8 minutes to 44.3 minutes.

The observed increases over the eight-year period are the result of increasing congestion on the region's network of highways, and projections of future travel patterns in the Washington region show highway congestion continuing to increase. Overall, the number of lane-miles of congested highway during the morning rush hour is expected to increase by 38% between 2010 and 2040, with increases of more than 100% expected in outer suburban areas.

Adding to the congestion challenge and highlighting the need for appropriate planning are forecasts of soaring passenger and air cargo demand at the region's three airports through 2040. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), local air passenger originations are expected to increase by 40% at National compared to 2010 levels, by 120% at BWI, and by 220% at Dulles. Air cargo traffic at BWI and Dulles are expected to increase by 82% by 2030.

Since it began in 1978, the CASP Program has identified numerous roadway and transit improvements to ease congestion or provide alternatives in places where the greatest delay in accessing the three airports is occurring. Those projects have been added to the region's constrained long-range transportation plan, or CLRP, and many have either been completed or are currently under construction.

Some of the most recent improvements include a new ramp from the outer loop of the Capital Beltway (I-495) to westbound VA 267 -- the Dulles Airport Access Road -- which relieved a bottleneck at the interchange and has made it easier to get to Dulles. The replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge between Alexandria, Virginia, and Prince George's County, Maryland, improved access to National, Dulles, and BWI airports by relieving a major bottleneck on the southern side of the Capital Beltway.

In Maryland, the Intercounty Connector (ICC/MD200) between I-270 and I-95, which was opened in late 2011, has provided an alternative to the Capital Beltway that TPB analysis shows shortens the trip between Rockville, Maryland, and BWI by 13 minutes during mid-day periods -- a 23% reduction -- and by 35 minutes during the evening peak travel period -- a 41% reduction.

Finally, new high-occupancy/toll (HOT) lanes on I-495 and I-95 in Virginia, which are under construction, will provide travelers with a more reliable, congestion-free alternative for reaching National and Dulles Airports, while planned spot improvements on westbound I-66 inside the Beltway will improve access to Dulles. The Silver Line Metrorail extension to Dulles will finally provide a rail transit option to the one airport in the region currently without it.

Access to the region's airports for both passengers and air cargo is critical to the region's economy, as the airports are responsible for an annual regional economic impact of more than $30 billion and 250,000 jobs. As it has for the last 30 years, the TPB's CASP program helps ensure that the three commercial service airports in the Washington-Baltimore region are planned and operated in a way that maximizes their benefit to the people who live and do business here.

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