Low Truck Volume on Rt. 234? Really?

by James A. Bacon

Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton returned yesterday to his old stomping grounds in Prince William County to make the case to the Board of Supervisors, a body he once chaired, to back the Bi-County Parkway. The board took no action but, Connaughton certainly got a first-hand taste of the controversy the project has engendered.

The Bi-County Parkway is the key missing link in a proposed North-South Corridor that would connect Washington Dulles International Airport to Interstate 95 to the south, providing a free-flowing route for truck traffic and supporting the airport’s bid to become an air-cargo transportation hub. Opponents fear that the parkway would open up Prince William’s so-called “rural crescent” for development and disrupt commuting patterns along U.S. 29 and Rt. 234.

Connaughton argued that the parkway is needed to accommodate future transportation growth in the region, which is expected to see dramatic population growth by 2040, according to Washington Post coverage of the event. “How are we going to move these people back and forth?” he asked. He downplayed fears that Rt. 234 would be widened and that truck traffic would increasingly use the route to reach Dulles. Reports Jeremy Borden:

“We have no intention to widen [Route] 234,” Connaughton said. He also said that the thousands of residents who live along and near Route 234 – and fear living along a new “Outer Beltway” – will not experience huge truck traffic volumes.

Air freight going to the airport is “very low volume, but very high value,” Connaughton said.

Bacon’s bottom line: What’s this? Air freight will be low volume? I would refer readers to the 2005 Dulles Access Study, which projected traffic in and around Dulles to the year 2030. Specifically, I refer readers to page 20, where they will find the following table (my highlights):


Truck traffic to and from the airport will increase 131% to 34,000 trips by 2030. Is an extra 19,300 truck trips daily “low volume?”

Assuming those traffic volumes materialize — and there is ample reason to believe they will not — where will those trucks be heading? Some will hop straight onto the highway to far-away destinations. Others will head to nearby distribution centers where the cargo will be warehoused. Other trucks will pick up the cargo at those distribution centers, and the plan is for them to use the North-South Corridor to reach markets to the north, south and west. Some will divert west along Interstate 66 at Manassas, but others will continue south along Rt. 234 to I-95.

There is only one way that the truck traffic does not materialize, and that’s if the Dulles air-cargo business never takes off. But if the air-cargo business never takes off, guess what else happens? Loudoun and Prince William Counties won’t see the surge in logistics-related economic development that would create the demand for the workers who, with their families, account for the population growth that Connaughton says will require a north-south highway.

As argued repeatedly on this blog, population growth is shifting back toward the urban core to in-fill and re-development projects in Washington, D.C., Arlington County, Tysons, and along the planned Silver Line Metro route. If economic growth and population growth in the wide-open expanses of eastern Loudoun/western Prince William does occur, it will be driven by growth at Dulles. It all hinges on Dulles. If Dulles’ plans don’t pan out, you can kiss much of the projected job and population growth forecasts good-bye.

Connaughton can’t have it both ways. He can’t argue that there will be population growth without the truck traffic. They’re a package deal.

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16 responses to “Low Truck Volume on Rt. 234? Really?

  1. Roads are hard – as Connaughton admitted but VDOT has a bad habit of not being able to be honest and always returns to the PR well hoping to paper over
    stuff that the public is going to find out anyhow.

    it’s like they can’t help themselves in doing this.

    the better place for an air cargo business is Richmond not NoVa.

    or at least – VDOT should be willing to commission a study (not with Chimura) to deal with the air cargo issue – separately from trying to mix and match it with the “inevitable” march west for development.

    I seriously question if VDOT is the right organization to be deciding where development is going in the first place because there is an obvious chicken-egg conflict of interest in their involvement.

    transportation infrastructure pre-ordains WHERE development allocates geographically, whether it’s road or rail. we know that even though we have trouble treating it as a given sometimes.

    The smart growth folks want rail to drive that direction. The other side wants roads to do it.

    but there’s one thing on the anti-sprawl, infill camp that also bothers me.

    and that is – you cannot have all these people living in close proximity to each other without food and other ‘stuff’ and that’s going to be delivered by trucks.

    there is no way around that. the more people you have, the more trucks are going to be needed.

    if the population is going to double, tell me why you’d not believe the trucks won’t double?

    • “transportation infrastructure pre-ordains WHERE development allocates geographically, whether it’s road or rail. we know that even though we have trouble treating it as a given sometimes.”

      That’s because it is anything BUT a given. Virginia is covered with tens of thousands of houses that were put on once inexpensive (read: nearly inaccessible) land and developed into subdivisions and residential areas, connected to an existing two lane feeder highway by an even narrower two lane blacktop road. The feeder highways have to be widened to 4, then 8 lanes with turn lanes as people on once quiet roads see their front yards eaten away. The two lane blacktop leading back to several new subdivisions has to be widened with turn lanes at each subdivision, and now there’s a half mile back up of cars in the morning because they can’t turn onto the highway, so now the highway has a string of stoplights for the commuters in the subdivisions to get out. Now the county has to build a new elementary and middle school with their own connecting road out to the subdivision road, and THAT intersection needs a stoplight for the safety of the buses to turn down to the school. The back road from the subdivisions now has to be gouged out to 3 and 4 lanes with turn lanes. Virginia County Boards are infamous for zoning and building thousands of homes without transportation coordination or consideration, resulting in a very predictable and inevitable lag in road and school support.

      • follow I-95 out of town – any town.. and see where the development went.

        it follows the bigger roads much more than the smaller ones – and much further… 50 miles south of DC – Stafford and Spotsy are now 10 times bigger than they were when I-95 was first finished.

    • “the better place for an air cargo business is Richmond not NoVa.”

      That would seem to be really true and a brilliant choice. RIC sits way east out of town, right on the north-south I-295 bypass, easy for trucks to head either way, and on I-64 east to Tidewater without having to affect Richmond. Heck even, heading west from RIC for Tennessee or to I-81 they could bypass downtown Richmond using I-295 all the way around to the west end to I-64 west.

      The only sticky point is that northbound traffic then has to deal with getting around DC somehow.

      Political and kickback pressure in Virginia will assure that the Dulles location would be the preferred choice, however, even though truck traffic can readily get out of dodge much easier at RIC with minimum affect on existing traffic and commuters.

      • I don’t think the trucks go north of DC since BWI has air cargo.

        NOVA wants the location but Va should be looking at air cargo the way it looks at ports.. strategically.

        NOVA is such a CF transportation-wise and BWI already has significant presence.. it’s hard to imagine what Dulles would be going after anyhow.

  2. Trucks will increase with population, Larry. But that’s not the issue here. The issue is the number of trucks — tractor-trailers, mostly — goingin and out of Dulles airport.

  3. re: dulles airport trucks – … compared to the increased truck traffic NOT from Dulles?

    what would those numbers look like?

    I mean.. this is sort of like asking home many more Home Depot or WalMart trucks will we see if population increases – VS how many air cargo trucks.

    are we talking ten to one, one hundred to one, one to one?

    I strongly suspect that air cargo trucks from Dulles are going to be a gnat on a dogs butt compared to WalMart/HomeDepot/McDonalds/etc…

    see the problem is people think trucks are bad… any/all trucks are bad –

    AND they think they’re are going somewhere else and just moving through their area.

    they totally do not understand that most of that truck traffic is SERVICING THEIR OWN AREA.

    and for some reason, VDOT can’t do anything other than NOT deal with the TRUTH on this.

    you cannot doubled population without an concomitant increase in trucks no matter what Dulles does.

    and I strongly suspect that even a major dulles cargo function would be adding less than 5% to the total truck traffic in NoVa.

  4. If the airfreight companies want to increase their business, let them pay 75% of the costs for the road just like the commercial landowners on Route 28 in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. Get the land speculators off welfare.

  5. Did Mr. Connaughton actually say “Air freight going to the airport is “very low volume, but very high value”?

    If Mr Connaughton made such a statement to the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and other interested parties in attendance, then I wonder how Mr Connaughton has any creditability left on this issue.

    His own Virginia Transportation Board has spent more than five years working hard trying to figure out how to get a high volume truck route going north from I-95 and I-66 (incl. 1-81) directly to Dulles Airport.

    This fact is spread all over the public record. Mr. Connaughton purported statement is flatly not true. Indeed his agency deems such a high volume truck route essential, indeed the agency’s mandate, to jump start a premier air cargo depot/hub at Dulles that matches JFK, Philly, and Atlanta for dominance of the Eastern United States. That is the Va. Transportation Boards objective. And it is plainly the objective of Dulles Airport, according to the Airport’s authorities own public statements and corporate minutes.

    It’s the primary reason why this Bi-County Corridor was designated a project of Statewide Significance. Its also why Dulles Airport is working hard to attract world class Logistics operations to Dulles, including moving USP’s Philly air cargo airport operations to Dulles Airport. UPS is the worlds largest logistics company, Philly their second largest air cargo hub.

    Read carefully Linda Loyd’s article found at philly.com, describing in excellent detail the the scope and nature of UPS’s Philly air cargo operation.
    Imagine how that operation would use this North South road through the Virginia countryside in Loudoun and Prince William. Dulles Airport officials apparently are courting UPS to move out of Philly to Dulles due the Philly’s effort to relocate their facilities. Mr. Connaughton’s truck route from I-95 and I-66 to Dulles is likely critical for Dulles to have any chance at getting such a major Industrial Air Cargo hub. Hence the dramatics.

    Linda Loyd’s article found at philly.com:

    I have also noticed what appears to be a very thorough and very recent scrubbing of certain information formerly found on the website of the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Commonwealth Transportation Board. All references and maps to trucks, and cargo, and truck cargo studies into northern Virginia seem to have vanished. Perhaps this is what happens when Virginia officials say their grand plans for the Bi-county Corridor are on the “Back burner.” Perhaps this allows them to hide information the discloses their true intentions. This matter deserves a formal investigation. Where is Virginia’s Attorney General?

  6. I’m not sure that it’s particularly important to the larger discussion, but Connaughton’s comment on “volume” yesterday was not in the context of the number of vehicle trips that it required to serve air-freight cargo, but on the nature of the air-freight cargo itself. He was saying that airfreight cargo physical characteristics (he used two specific examples – flowers and computer chips) were much different than maritime, rail or truck characteristics. They tend to be small and lightweight (low volume). The relevance to the part of the public meeting where the phrase came up was that he was making the point that we are not talking about tractor-trailers draying 40 foot containers, like we would be around Hampton Roads. It may be that this kind of light industrial traffic is every bit as annoying to people near the road as would be large over-the-road semi traffic, but the distinction is valid.

    • Scout, I’ll be less kind here than elsewhere. Your assertion that “Connaughton’s comment on “volume” yesterday was not in the context of the number of vehicle trips that it required to serve air-freight cargo, but on the nature of the air-freight cargo itself” is pure, unadulterated bullshit. The comment was in response to a direct question regarding the volume (number of trucks not capacity of said trucks) projected to use the North-South Corridor if built. Connaughton’s assertion was that as airfreight is typically “high value, low value” its impact on the volume of truck traffic in the corridor would be minimal and thus overall there would be no great increase in truck traffic.

      That he stooped to that level of deception is telling as he left out all of the other components and factors (many noted in this thread) that would necessarily drive the volume of commercial truck traffic exponentially higher.

  7. Although it would make little difference in Northern Virginia’s situation, there would be big rigs involved – those upwards to 52 feet long trailers as I recall wherein the discussion was to the effect that this would give Dulles Airport an advantage over JFK which now apparently can’t handle the big rigs. In any case, air cargo hubs is all about trucks, big trucks and small trucks. You do long haul cargo as far west as Chicago, north into Canada, and south to Tampa in little trucks. That is plainly ridiculous. But you do generate a huge volume of local traffic to retail destination in small trucks out of the hub.

    • Dulles stated plans for its cargo hub is for it to serve long haul cargo rigs going and coming from as far west as Chicago, north into Canada, and south to Florida. And suggestion by Mr. Connaughton’s that such cargo will be carried in something other than long haul tractor trailer rigs is not grounded in fact.

      • The State of Virginia needs to reply to these assertions.

        The citizens of Virginia are entitled to have republished everything that has recently been removed from the Virginia Department of Transportation and Commonwealth Transportation Board website. Deleted material needs to be identified as having been deleted earlier from the website along with the reasons why such deletions were made.

        Virginia citizens are entitled to know why this material was removed from the Website. They are also entitled to know why the assurances given by their Secretary of Transportation to them and to the Prince William Country Board of Supervisors are accurate, truthful and based on facts.

        The Transportation Secretary is not a politician running for office, or an elected official seeking to retain an elected office. He’s an unelected official of the the Commonwealth with fiduciary responsibilities. Any attempt to “bushwhack” his fellow citizens violates his fiduciary duties. Hence there is a need and obligation for a full explanation and a need to investigate this matter should a full explanation not be forthcoming.

  8. I still think it would be informative to show the truck traffic that will occur if not air cargo is done.

    and to compare that number to a prospective air cargo number.

    I’m not surprised that VDOT is moving the numbers around.

    they clearly think a western belt is needed and they’re looking for justification for it beside just “growth”.

    I don’t have a dog in this hunt but if you look at the cities north of NoVa – Baltimore, Philla, NYC, Boston, etc they all have outer belts.

    NoVa is a bottleneck to I-95.. east coast travellers are severely abused trying to get through NoVa … I’d go through, Baltimore, Phila and all the northeastern cities easier than trying to get through NoVa on I-95.

    it’s that bad.

  9. According to insidenova.com Mr. Connaughton”… assured supervisors there are no plans to include high-occupancy or toll lanes on Va. 234. “We have no intent, in fact it’s nowhere in our plan,” he said.

    Please go to the April 8, 2013 Final Report prepared for Commonwealth of Virginia office of Intermodal Planning and Investment (an agency of Va. Dept. Transportation) controlled by Mr. Connaughton. That document issued only a few months ago is found at:


    Carefully review this Virginia Transportation Report on the North-South Corridor. For example please note within its Execute Summary:

    1/ Goals & Objectives for North South Connector on table ES.1:

    Insure capacity and access to allow for projected growth at Dulles Airport; maximize number of modes used within single right of way (translated TRUCKS) and also provide transportation options to all communities in Corridor (translated HOV/HOT tolled lanes for TRUCKS)

    2/ North-South Corridor Issues and Needs on Table ES.2:

    Support regional economic growth by investing in multimodal access to Dulles Airport and surrounding area by providing multi-modal capacity for people & freight movement (translated TRUCKS) connecting Corridor to Airport.

    3/Development and Testing of Transportation Strategies:

    Build more roadway capacity & implement HOV and toll HOT lane options connected to key economic centers (translated TRUCKS to Dulles airport)

    This report tells us what is in store for Virginia’s North South Corridor. See Section 5 of Report for details. It is planned for a truck route. The truck route will be managed by tolls. The tolls will open fast lanes for trucks giving them fast access to Dulles Airport. The tolls will be raised just high enough to maximize revenues by driving most users off the fast lanes to insure truck traffic and high occupancy use for those who can afford the tolls. Everybody else will be stuck in gridlock. This keeps toll revenues high. The model for this scheme of traffic management and public revenue raising (think tax) is the Dulles Toll Road managed by the Airports Authority that manage Dulles Airport. They raised the model to high art on the backs of Virginia citizens trying to get to work to earn a living.

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