dulles_neighborhoodHow is it that Northern Virginia, with some of the worst traffic headaches in the country, has embarked upon an economic development plan to bring thousands more trucks into the region?by Reed Fawell III

In October 2005, the Washington Airports Task Force (WATF) got a wake-up call. Its transportation consultant reported that traffic heading east and west past Washington Dulles International Airport had begun to strangle both the airport and its neighborhood. Travel around the airport was already impaired, and gridlock soon would be overwhelming. Jobs, prosperity, education, leisure, shopping and normal daily activities were all at risk. Stated the report: “If prompt remedial action is not taken, gridlock will lead to economic decline in 10 to 15 years.”

Despite the dire warning, airport officials have embarked upon plans to triple the airport’s daily passenger traffic, triple daily truck volume and vastly expand the number of employees commuting into the airport. New strategic and development plans outline an intention to build what amounts to an entire new city in and around the airport property. “We are sitting on the crown jewel at Dulles,” Jack Potter, CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) said December. “The combination of convenient global and regional access plus a healthy business environment make Dulles the land of opportunity.”

Airport officials, along with their allies in Loudoun County and Virginia state government, see Dulles as the nucleus for a massive logistical complex growing out of the airport’s air cargo business, as well as massive commercial development with no direct aviation tie-in. MWAA plans six million square feet of development in just the first phase of development on airport property, encompassing 430 acres among the 3,000 acres available — equivalent to two downtown Restons. Much of that anticipated development will feed off proximity to Dulles’ passenger service and development advantages such as the lower cost to develop and hold land exempt from various state and local taxes and land-use regulations.

Essential to the success of Dulles’ massive commercial venture is improved road access for thousands of new workers and visitors, not to mention the long- and short-haul tractor-trailer cargo trucks that will load and unload at a vastly expanded air cargo facility. The truck traffic will drive up the proposed North-South Corridor from I-95, I-66, U.S. 29 and I-8I. A critical link in that “corridor of statewide significance” is the proposed Bi-County Parkway through the Manassas Battlefield Park that has roiled so much controversy in Prince William County. The North South Corridor also is deemed critical to handle all the new auto commuters that a development boom would create.

In addition to the six million square feet of building on Dulles property, Loudoun County plans call for massive development on privately held land nearby. As reported by the Loudoun Times, Robyn Bailey, manager of business infrastructure with Loudoun County’s Department of Economic Development, said in April that land along the Rt. 606 corridor on Dulles’ western edge has the potential for 14 million square feet of high-end industrial space, while land north of the airport served by METRO and the Dulles Greenway has building potential for 23.5 million square feet of commercial and office space. Land slated for commercial and industrial development on nearby Routes 7, 28, 25 and 50 could accommodate another 38 million square feet.

Enjoying a unique central location for long- and short-haul trucks, Dulles airport officials aspire to be the major growth gateway for international air cargo into the eastern United States. Fifty-six percent of the nation’s population resides within 1,000 miles of the airport, a catchment area extending from Jacksonville, Fla., to southeastern Canada, to Chicago, Ill., Nashville, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala. Boosters envision Dulles as the entrepot between international airlines and the trucks delivering cargo across most of the eastern United States. That’s the plan. And that’s why Dulles Airport and its friends all want this North South Corridor built.

Remarkably, this flood of traffic is being proposed for Northern Virginia despite the fact that Dulles, from an air cargo perspective, is located at the end of a cul de sac. There will be no way for trucks to exit the Dulles neighborhood except by the way they came — heading south down the North South Corridor before jumping on to Interstate 66, Interstate 95 or U.S. 29 on the way to destinations north or west — or venturing onto congested local roads.

What happens if the main routes are gridlocked, like I-66 at Manassas, one of the most congested intersections in all of Virginia? What happens if truckers or airport workers decide to go directly north to Point of Rocks and cross the river to Maryland, or head west on Route 50 to Winchester and I-81, or go east on the Dulles Toll Road into D.C. or Maryland? Will they swell the traffic load on Northern Virginia’s already overloaded roads?

How did airport officials go from a 2005 expert’s warning of an impending traffic disaster around Dulles to instituting plans that would only accelerate the automotive Armageddon? How do airport authorities propose to make all of this work? How do they expect to get away with it? How will their schemes affect the citizens of Virginia?

Upcoming articles to be posted here on Bacon’s Rebellion will try to sort these questions out.

Reed Fawell III was formerly president of a Washington, D.C., law firm and head of its commerical real department practice. He has developed commercial real estate in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.

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11 responses to “Dulles’ Grand Plan”

  1. larryg Avatar

    Stepping back a tad from the Dulles issue to the reality of trucks.

    there is virtually no business in NoVa or anywhere else in Va that is not supplied via a truck and more often than not a tractor trailer.

    We see these trucks on the road with us but we are blind to when they are backed up to a 7-11 or a McDonalds or a Subway, Walmart, etc.

    Everytime you walk into a retail store and pick up something and take it to the register to pay for it – that item was very likely brought to that store in a tractor trailer.

    with Dulles, they are not talking about bringing NEW/ADDITIONAL things to the stores but EXISTING things – but just in a different way! Instead of a truck from Brooklyn a truck from Dulles – carrying the same stuff but only on the final leg of the trip.

    In other words goods from Dulles may offset those goods coming down I-95 from New Jersey.

    here’s what you can’t change.

    the fact that as more and more people move into the NoVa – each new person has to have food, clothes, tampons, and Prell shampoo to name a couple.

    where is this stuff going to come from and how is it going to get to the store that the new resident of NoVa shops at to get their “stuff”?

    we don’t run a bunch of trucks into NoVa just to be running a bunch of trucks.

    they are carrying “stuff” for people – new people who have moved here for a job.

    right? where have I gone wrong on this?

  2. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    I see Reed’s point of truck and traffic overload given the relatively few options for bypassing congest roads.

    A few questions, which I am sure the author will address in future files.

    The pitch as made in 2005 by the MWAA when the economy was very different. The burbs were still exploding and business cargo shipments were still robust. What’s the situation now?

    There’s an idea that Dulles could be a potential air cargo port for 1000 or whatever milers. Okay, fine. But what about BWI, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Atlanta, and so on? Atlanta isa traffic mess, but all of these airports offer a much broader range of highway access than Dulles does. BWI has the advantage that trucks can head to Northeastern or Midwestern markets by completely bypassing the DC traffic jam.

    There has been a resurgence in exporting American-made goods at ship ports like Baltimore. This is part of the surprising comeback of U.S. manufacturing . How does this factor?

    Overall, good piece and potential series.

  3. larryg Avatar

    re: ” There’s an idea that Dulles could be a potential air cargo port”

    what products would be coming in via Dulles that are not already coming in through other paths?

    Most things are not going to come in via air cargo anyhow if they can get to markets in Nova via over-the-road transport – cheaper.

    For example you’re not going to deliver refrigerators or stoves to Home Depot via air cargo. Ditto dog food to WalMart or aspirin/mouthwash for Walgreens.

    you WILL receive 2-day air packages, high dollar fish for restaurants, fresh flowers, etc.

    but my point is that you already get these things from other airports then put on trucks to bring them to NoVa destinations.

    The only thing Dulles does is to steal some of that existing commerce from other airports but no matter which airport receives the goods – they still have to be put on a truck and delivered.

    How does that translate into more overall truck traffic? it seems that, for instance, air cargo to BWI is going to end up as truck traffic in NoVa, no more or less than if the air cargo went to Dulles and ended up on delivery trucks also. not more – just different.

  4. As I’ve posted before, the “increase-airfreight” effort is simply a front by land speculators to have VDOT fund a bigger road (the Outer Beltway) that will enable them to develop their lands. What good is land speculation without VDOT manipulation? None of the airlines or airfreight companies are heavily involved.

  5. larryg Avatar

    I was reading this at the Dulles Air Cargo page:

    “Distribution Central Washington Dulles International Airport offers airlines, airfreight forwarders and shippers unique and profitable advantages as an international and domestic cargo gateway. Dulles’s air and road feeder network, central mid-Atlantic location, low costs and modern infrastructure together make it one of the most efficient and economical cargo gateways in the US. If you’re moving cargo in the US, you can’t afford not to be at Dulles. As a High-Efficiency Distribution Center, Washington Dulles offers a superior gateway to virtually all major east coast cities.Washington Dulles is one of the nation’s most vibrant and growing markets.Overnight delivery to 49% of the entire U.S. market-Boston to Atlanta-via the I-95 corridor.”


    so… hmmm… is there a problem that needs to be solved?

    but I still urge folks to do a little test next time they buy something – ANYTHING.

    take a look at what you buy – and convince yourself it did not get delivered by truck on the final path to the store.

    The only difference air cargo might make – is a shorter truck trip – instead of a longer haul from a more distant airport – a shorter haul from a closer airport.

    other than that – it’s going to be a truck, often an 18-wheeler that backs up to the store and unloads the stuff that you will buy whether it’s a 7-11 hot dog or a vacuum cleaner from WalMart.

    The “anti-truck” on-our-roads fervor is sorta like expecting to be able to fill up your car at the gas station but you don’t want a truck to deliver it.

    and here’s another irony – the “smarter” the growth – the more trucks because the denser the settlement pattern – the more people there are who want their “stuff”.

    1. A major issue facing Tysons as a urban center is handling all of the many more trucks that will make deliveries and pickups. Each rezoning plan has been required to address this in the form of effective loading docks that don’t cause traffic backups on nearby roads. With the increased number of apartments, we will see a constant stream of moving vans of all sizes.

  6. larryg Avatar

    Yes. The thing about “people” is whether they live in a 5 acre sprawl subdivision or 100 to the acre in a smart growth development – they need/buy food, clothes, furniture, etc… whatever it takes to equip their home and feed/clothe their families.

    I’d wonder what the correlation is for trucks to 1000 people but I’d bet if you double the population, you’ll double the truck traffic.

    it’s not the other way around – trucks don’t generate people or rooftops – they serve the needs of people/rooftops; the more people, the more trucks.

    or take a restaurant that serves fresh fish in Tysons corner. Perhaps they get it flown in to BWI or perhaps to Dulles. But at each airport, the fish go onto a truck to go the last distance to the restaurant.

  7. billsblots Avatar

    The difference is that instead of the truck traffic delivering goods to local consumers/residents as larryg correctly states, you would now see a substantial increase in the number of trucks, 3 times, 5 times, pick a number, that will be on the way to deliver tampons and dog food and Home Theater Equipment to brick and mortar shops in Richmond, Atlanta, Bristol and Nashville, Pittsburgh and Camden. If you think there is heavy traffic on Sully Road, Sterling and Route 50 now, just supplying local demands, imagine what it will be like as the starting point to supply Best Buys, 7-11s, and Walmarts for trucks desperately creeping their way out to the interstate traffic jam, or taking back routes for 100 miles trying to avoid I-66, and I-95 to Fredericksburg. Truck traffic exists now, thankfully, but will increase many many fold if Dulles substantially increases its use as the Atlantic Coast’s distribution center.

    And obtw, is the push for this because Dulles still hasn’t caught on as the preferred passenger hub for the DC area?

  8. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Bingo! Plus its going two ways.

    Trucks with stuff from as far away Birmingham, Alabama, and everywhere in between,would be driving through northern Virginia to arrive at Dulles for flights to Europe. Then those very same trucks soon thereafter would head out again through North Virginian with new goods recently flow into Dulles from Europe and now headed on these trucks for Chicago and everywhere in between. Plus these same turn-around truck trips would be going east, west, north, and south within a 1000 mile radius.

    Thus the Dulles international east coast cargo hub would turbo charge truck traffic through the truck routes of choice in Northern Virginia, including most likely roads that had rarely seen trucks before, given congestion

  9. newmann Avatar

    The American love affair with truck transport for long hauls isn’t nearly as efficient as rail transport. And we all know how that came about….

    Things won’t change until the cost of fueling all those trucks becomes prohibitive. And it is only a matter of when, not if. Until then, we’re stuck with the tyranny of 18 wheelers crowding roads. Spend time traveling down 95 or any other major hwy and then imagine if most of those behemoths weren’t there……

  10. larryg Avatar

    what would be illuminating would be to get some data.

    My impression is that many companies like WalMart operate their trucks from regional distribution centers. Those centers are re-supplied by rail and the trucks are short-haul.

    If you think about where you live – and where you shop – most of the well-known national brands are re-supplied from regional distribution centers – not long haul trucks.

    so even if you got rid of all the long-haul trucks, you might still have a crap-load of short-haul regional trucks to re-supply your favorite national chain store – to include folks like the Fast Food stores.

    Wal-Mart, for instance has 158 distribution centers nation-wide and each one serves 90-100 stores in a 200 mile radius.


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