Silver Line Puts DC Closer to “Seamless Mobility” Goal

The national capital region, which does not have a direct rail link to its largest international airport, is one step closer to that goal, thanks to the opening of the first phase of the Metro Silver Line last weekend. Trade groups say that once a connection is made, the benefits for the area's meetings industry could be significant.

The Silver Line, a new addition to the Washington, DC, Metrorail system that opened over the weekend, gets the region one step closer to business travelers’ dream—a direct connection from Dulles International Airport to the DC convention center or a downtown hotel via Metro.

Don’t expect the Silver Line to fulfill that dream for a few years, though.

While the District has long been able to facilitate trips from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center via Metro alone—a straight shot on the Yellow Line—trips downtown from the region’s two international airports have remained more complicated.

Granted, the Silver Line will eventually reach Dulles, but not until 2018. For now, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority offers a makeshift solution—a $5-per-way bus that gets travelers the last few miles between the Metro to the terminal.

(Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, which serves both metro areas, does have access to commuter rail and Amtrak, but not a Metro system. Also, Dulles receives the bulk of the international air traffic in the region.)

Almost there, but not quite.

Not So Seamless, Yet

Though the nation’s capital still has a little ways to go to reach “seamless mobility,” as the transportation industry calls it, DC is nonetheless closer than several other major cities. Convention hubs such as Las Vegas and Orlando don’t have end-to-end access, while Atlanta and Chicago do.

Cities that can make the connection stand to benefit significantly on the convention circuit, according to a November study [PDF] by the American Public Transportation Association and the U.S. Travel Association.

The study notes that hotels in so-called “rail cities” had 10.9 percent higher daily average room rates and revenue rates per room.

“This improved performance of rail cities over non-rail cities is apparent even when the non-rail cities have comparable—or stronger—supply of available hotel rooms and volume of air travelers, which provides a major competitive advantage for attracting and securing business travel, including meetings and conventions,” the study states.

Speaking to Roll Call, U.S. Travel Association Senior Director of Domestic Policy Erik Hansen noted that this is one area where the United States lags behind the rest of the world.

“When you land in places like Singapore or Dubai, you’re able to get downtown sometimes not even having to step outside. … That’s what global business travelers have come to expect,” he said.

big long-term Potential

It was a long slog for the Washington region to even get as far as it has with the Silver Line.

The line was in the planning stages for half a century, and this first phase is $150 million over budget, but advocates for its construction note that the financial benefits will be massive once realized—particularly in areas along the line, like the commuter-heavy Tysons Corner, which is expected to become much more walkable thanks to development spurred by the new transit option.

Despite being years from completion, the Silver Line drew the interest of hundreds of riders when it opened for business on Saturday, according to The Washington Post. And the region’s convention and visitors bureau, Destination DC, touts its long-term potential for the area’s events industry.

“The fact that the nation’s capital will have connectivity from Dulles into the city and, of course, to Reagan National Airport, if travelers are going from Washington to other places in the U.S., is a big deal for us,” Destination DC President and CEO Elliott Ferguson told Roll Call. “This puts us in the same position as other first-tier destinations.”

The Tysons Corner metro station, which opened Saturday along with part of the Silver Line. (via Metro's Facebook page)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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