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Will The Bi-County Parkway Turn Dulles Into A Cargo Hub?

The new highway would only affect a modest increase in freight traffic to Dulles, according to a study.
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The new highway would only affect a modest increase in freight traffic to Dulles, according to a study.

Virginia transportation officials say building the Bi-County Parkway will help turn Dulles Airport into a major air cargo hub, but a new study says a new highway may not make much difference.

The study (pdf) by David Versel, a researcher at the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis, says that building a highway on the western side of Dulles Airport will not turn it into a leading air freight hub as the Virginia Department of Transportation hopes.

"It would definitely be an important piece to support future expansion at Dulles. The problem is there hasn't been an expansion," Versel says. "In fact, there has been a decline in the amount of cargo moving in and out of Dulles over the past 12 years."

One reason why VDOT says the Bi-County Parkway is necessary is to improve access to Dulles from the west, for travelers and cargo haulers. Versel's study estimates the highway would affect only 8 percent of the potential market demand for air cargo operations at the airport. The problem is not the road. It's the air cargo, already dominated by other airports.

"In terms of East Coast airports, the two leading airports for cargo activity are JFK and Miami International Airport," Versel says. "The reason being, JFK has the most flights per day to the most destinations in Europe and Africa. And Miami has the most flights per day to the most destinations in Latin America."

Versel says air cargo has declined since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks because of new security measures. It's simply become easier to move things on the ground. He says if the Metropolian Washington Airports Authority develops the land it owns on Dulles' western side, a new road or roads might be necessary, but that might not be enough.

"The road in and of itself is not likely to have an enormous impact on cargo," Versel says.

Versel's study does not take a position on whether the Bi-County Parkway should be built. It only analyzes the highway's potential affect on the cargo market.

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