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A Sign Of The Times: New Signs for Congress’ Airport Parking Lots

May 17, 1994

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Maybe it’s a sign of the times, a reaction to a public dislike for congressional perks.

The sign appears at the entrance to a close-in parking lot at Washington National Airport. Another can be found near the terminal at Dulles International Airport. Each reads: ″Restricted Parking Authorized Users Only.″

That message tells luggage-toting travelers much less than the signs replaced last month. Those said ″Reserved Parking″ on the first line, and then listed the privileged few who could park in those free, reserved, convenient spaces: ″Supreme Court Justices, Members of Congress, Diplomatic Corps.″

″If you have a problem, cover it up,″ Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Monday, giving his version of why the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority changed the signs.

In an interview, he called the new signs and the whole idea of the parking perk ″an insult to the taxpayers of America.″

McCain has been trying for two years to end the parking privilege and, to the chagrin of some colleagues, he forced a Senate vote on the issue April 20. He lost, 53-44.

A Capitol Hill newspaper, Roll Call, first noticed the new signs for the 124 reserved spaces at Washington National Airport, out of 5,000 spots; and the 51 at Dulles International Airport, which has about 10,500 spaces.

The public pays for airport parking, with rates depending on closeness to the terminals. It costs paying customers $26 daily for hourly-rate spaces near the terminals that are similar to the congressional spaces.

Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the airports authority, said the signs were changed April 25, five days after McCain’s resolution to eliminate the free spaces failed.

″The signs were not changed because of any requests from Congress,″ she said, but rather to make them conform to those at other restricted lots.

The old signs were replaced at this time, she said, because the lot at Washington National is being moved 250 feet because of construction.

Hamilton said lawmakers were notified of the VIP lot’s move and the sign change on April 14, before the Senate vote.

A clearly steamed McCain expressed his view in a letter to airports authority Chairman Ron M. Linton.

″Perhaps the new signs indicate that the defenders of this policy are uncomfortable with the public knowing for whose benefit they are excluded from these lots,″ the Arizona Republican wrote.

″While I feel there is no credible reason to exclude the public from parking areas that are reserved for members free-of-charge, I can see no legitimate reason why supporters of special parking areas for VIPs would not want the public - the potential ‘violators’ mentioned in the new signs - to know for whom these lots are necessary.″

National and Dulles are publicly owned and were operated by the federal government until 1987, when the airports authority took over. The authority board has one presidential appointee and representatives from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

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