To elected officials, real estate developers, and state transportation planners, Dulles Airport is an untapped well of economic growth. The airport's biggest problem is the roads surrounding it, according to supporters of a plan to build a new north-south corridor west of the airport.
The Virginia Department of Transportation began discussing plans for that corridor in public on Tuesday; earlier this month, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority unveiled its intentions to pursue development of airport properties, including 400 acres on Dulles' western side and 16 acres around the future Route 606 stop of the Silver Line.
MWAA officials emphasized the importance of both expanding the Dulles Loop — Routes 606, 28, and 50 — and eventually connecting it to the north-south corridor during their monthly meeting Dec. 12. Studies to expand all three roadways are underway, and MWAA CEO Jack Potter said the agency would take a cautious approach to development.
Study of airport development underway
“We do not want to make an investment either at Rt. 606 or in the western lands to put a lot of infrastructure in there. We are not going to build something and hope that somebody comes,” he said during a presentation to the MWAA board.
Elected officials in Loudoun County who support the "north-south corridor" concept see Dulles as a key to future economic growth and the roads it will require as relief for traffic-weary commuters.
"Dulles has 400 unused acres and we are the only airport on the east coast with that kind of land available to us for development purposes," saidRalph Buona, the Loudoun County board member who represents the Ashburn district. "The problem we have today is there is no easy access to the airport. The only access we have today is Rt. 28, and [it] is very limited.
Loudoun lawmakers see benefits
Loudoun County Board member Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) believes Dulles airport could be doing a lot more for the local economy if there was more freight capacity.
"Anybody who lives in Loudoun County knows that more road capacity is necessary," said Letourneau. "To those who question that, I would simply say we haven't expanded I-66 and yet Fairfax County has grown tremendously. Loudoun County has grown tremendously. Keeping roads small doesn't prevent growth from happening."
Environmentalists cite concerns over new highway
This vision of growth has opponents; environmentalists don't like the potential side effects of the plan.
"I think the people who move west of Dulles Airport aren't looking for another interstate highway with trucks on it to serve their neighborhood," says Chris Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council, which opposes the north-south corridor proposal.
"There are only so many pounds of freight that you can move on an airplane in an economical way. I think it is less than one-tenth of one percent of freight in Virginia comes by air," Miller adds. "It is going to be an important economic activity but it is not the major way to move freight in the United States."
But Potter, the airports authority's chief, calls Dulles is a crown jewel with 3,000 developable acres in the area. He is talking with the U.S. Department of Transportation about using its land to generate non-aviation revenues, he says.
This is the second half of a two-part series exploring VDOT's idea for a north-south corridor from Loudoun to Prince William counties. The first part addressed the plans for the new highway, which is still in its early planning stages.