MWAA Gets Its Kicks on Route 606

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Orange dots show termini of upgrades to Rt. 606. Source:    2010 Loudoun Countywide Transportation Plan.        (Click for larger image.)

by James A. Bacon

Construction of the “Dulles Loop,” 18 miles of high-capacity roadway around Washington Dulles International Airport, will take a big step forward with the recently announced $106 million widening of Rt. 606 along the airport’s western edge.

Financing will come from multiple sources, including $40.5 million from the Virginia Department of Transportation, $41.2 million from Loudoun County and $24.4 million from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), which governs the airport. MWAA’s contribution includes the contribution of 56 acres of land valued at $12 million.

There is near-universal agreement that the upgrade is needed. In 2011, roughly 21,500 vehicles daily traveled on the two-lane road, which has a design capacity of 6,700 daily. Traffic is projected to grow to 32,250 daily by 2036.

“This partnership will make Route 606 safer and ensure that motorists and commuters reach their destinations more quickly,” said Governor Bob McDonnell earlier this week in a ceremony highlighting the funding partnership. “Once complete, it will mean easier, less congested commutes for Virginians on a vital transportation link.”

“Route 606, which is a bottleneck now, is a vital link that connects the Dulles South communities with the northern part of the county,” said Loudoun County Chairman Scott York. “Improvement of this road from two lanes to four lanes will be a tremendous relief to both commuters and business that depend on this route on a daily bases.”

The four-laning of Rt. 606 is uncontroversial, even among groups often skeptical of big-ticket road projects. “We have supported expansion of Rt. 606 to four lanes,” says Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. ” There is a two-lane stretch and strong existing traffic demand within Loudoun.  This would serve to better connect southern Loudoun to the Silver Line and jobs on the north side of the airport. ”

But Loudoun and MWAA have ambitious future plans for the roadway, and that’s where things get tricky.

The first ticklish point is the MWAA’s funding source. The airport authority is contributing land valued at $12 million — land donated to Dulles by the federal government. The balance of MWAA’s share is cash — cash thrown off by the Dulles Toll Road. The $12 million is a tiny sum compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars siphoned from the toll road to build the Silver Line metro extension, but it does potential set a potential precedent for tapping the toll road as a piggy bank for other projects.

MWAA spokesman Chris Paolino says the Rt. 606 funding commitment from the Dulles Toll Road goes back to the mid-2000s when MWAA took over the toll road along with responsibility for managing construction of the Silver Line.

MWAA justifies using toll road funds to improve Rt. 606 because it falls within the “Dulles corridor,” broadly speaking. MWAA’s 2013 budget (page 202) specifies the following expenditures among its “Dulles Corridor Improvements”:

  • Rt. 606 widening, Phase 1 (study), $550,000.
  • Rt. 606 widening, Phase 1 (design), $4 million
  • Rt. 606 widening, Phase 1 (construction), $20 million

In corridor-related projects, the annual report also alludes to planned improvements to Hunter Mill Road ($4.6 million), Fairfax County Parkway ($4.6 million), Reston Parkway ($4.3 million), Centreville Road interchange improvements ($5 million).

The second prickly point is future plans beyond the four-laning. Loudoun’s Countywide Transportation Plan for 2030 shows Rt. 606  as a six- to eight-lane freeway. (See map above.) The route is critical for developing the much-touted air-cargo business at Dulles. State plans call for integrating Rt. 606 into a multimodal North South Corridor providing a freeway transportation connection between Dulles, Interstate 66 and Interstate 95. Funding sources for the corridor, which could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars have not been delineated.

There are practical objections to tapping Dulles Toll Road revenues to fund upgrades beyond four lanes — citizens are already threatening a commuter’s revolt over the toll increases required to fund the Silver Line. On the other hand, MWAA has identified Rt. 606 as part of the Dulles Corridor served by the toll road. Anything is possible.

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11 responses to “MWAA Gets Its Kicks on Route 606

  1. I am sure this is a stupid question and I am sure I will be told so, but ….

    Why not make Rt 606 a toll road long enough to pay for its expansion?

    While I normally hate toll roads it seems that putting tolls on the road that is being expanded is better than increasing the tolls on some other road to pay for the expansion.

  2. re: tolls.. probably the fact that it connects to surface streets makes it not a good candidate unless they just make it a limited access “connector” between the Greenway and US 50.

    yup.. there are subdivisions and other surface streets that connect.

    but this road looks to be about 6 miles long and that seems like a LOT of moola to widen it.

    see – this illustrates how a “local” county road becomes the responsibility of VDOT – of taxpayers.

    If this road were purely the responsibility of the counties – would they see it with the same priorities?

    and why does the state see this as something of a state-level importance?

    this is an example of a secondary/local road that is transitioning to a higher functional classification – a “connector” …but still not really a state-level road unless VDOT see’s it as having a larger significance than regional.

    Functional System Services Provided

    Arterial Provides the highest level of service at the greatest speed for the longest uninterrupted distance, with some degree of access control.

    Collector Provides a less highly developed level of service at a lower speed for shorter distances by collecting traffic from local roads and connecting them with arterials.

    Local Consists of all roads not defined as arterials or collectors; primarily provides access to land with little or no through movement.

  3. That’s a secondary road and I suspect it’s not new, that it’s been around awhile and it’s original purpose had nothing to do with Dulles which probably was built long after the road was.

    so what has changed with respect to the original intended purpose of the road and whose interests are affected by that change?

    Is changing the purpose of the road – something to benefit the county, Dulles or the State of Virginia – who?

    Bonus Question: who builds new secondary roads in Va and why?

    are secondary roads in Va primarily all artifacts of the Byrd era or have
    individual counties and/or VDOT built new ones since the Byrd era?

    Bonus question to DJ: why was the secondary road that your driveway connects to – originally built? Who built it, when and why? Was it built to
    serve residential or commercial interests?

  4. Why are citizens who pay tolls in Fairfax County to drive east and west in Fairfax County also forced at the very same toll booths to pay a much higher toll for a different road used by someone else who wants to go north and south in Loudoun County?

    The Answer is because the MWAA does not want to pay for its share of the new north south road in Loudoun that is being built to serve its planned East Coast air cargo hub. So MWAA is forcing Fairfax County commuters to pay for the road the airport thinks it needs in Loudoun.

    The following excerpt comes from a Dec. 20, 2012 article in Transportation Nation titled “Northern Virginia Road Expansion: Betting on Dulles Airport As Freight Hub (Part 2)”

    “To elected officials and Virginia transportation planners, Dulles Airport is a well of untapped economic growth. However, maximizing its potential (requires) major improvements (including) completion of a “north-south: corridor…

    On Dec.12 (WWAA) unveiled its intentions to pursue development of airport properties, including 400 acres on Dulles” western side and sixteen acres around the future Rt. 601 stop of the Silver Line. The goal is to enhance the airports industrial capacity as a freight hub.

    “We are the only airport on the east coast with that kind of land available to us for development purposes. Cargo is down at Dulles right now, but it is down bccause of the economic uncertainty in Europe,” said Loudoun Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn). “The problem we have today is there is no easy access from the airport. The only access we have today in Rt. 28 and Rt. 28 is very limited.”

    At their monthly board meeting (in Dec., 2012) MWAA official emphasized the importance of both expanding the Dulles Loop – Routes 606, 28, and 50 – and eventually connecting it to the north-south corridor …

    MWAA CEO Jack Potter indicated that (MWAA) would take a cautious approach to development. “We do not want to make an investment 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.”

    This article highlights an several facts.

    MWAA is paying ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for the Dulles Loop Road (RT 606 as vastly enlarged). Its the reverse, MWAA is getting a huge windfall for free. Why? It’s claimed $12 million land contribution is bogus. That land is worth next to nothing without the new Dulles Loop Road improvements. The Loop road is Dulles airport’s curb cut. It’s west side gets a huge increase in land values if the new road is built.

    So who is going to pay out the nose for Dulles Airport’s huge windfall of land speculation profits? Who are the suckers? Toll road commuters in Fairfax trying to get to work to earn a living for their families.

    That’s why MWAA will jack up the tolls in Fairfax County some 22% starting in January. This highway robbery has only just begun. The project will cost billions before its over, just like the billions spend on cost overruns of the Silver Line that will not be able pay for itself either.

    Yes, Route 606 needs widening for local commuters because Dulles airport’s size is a huge impediment to local traffic. But know who is paying it, and who is not paying for it and forcing others to pay, so as to gouge out of those Fairfax commuters a huge benefit for the airport.

    • In February 2013, the McLean Citizens Association’s Transportation Committee met with Leo Schefer, president of the Washington Airports Taskforce. The WAT is a 501(c)(3) organization designed to promote the expansion and enhancement of aviation in the Washington area. The group focuses on Dulles and Reagan National Airports. It’s membership is heavily concentrated among real estate developers and related service providers.

      Mr. Schefer, a knowledgeable and interesting person, wanted to challenge the Committee on its opposition to taxpayer funding of the Outer Beltway and support for the Reston Citizens Association’s conditioning of support for MWAA’s receipt of additional authority to engage in non-aviation-related real estate development on MWAA’s sharing of the profits from which, to reduce Dulles Toll Road tolls.

      Mr. Schefer explained Dulles is a very high cost airport. Those costs make airport fees to airlines relatively high. Moreover, much of the public views Reagan National as more attractive. Business volumes at Dulles are down, while rising at Reagan. Mr. Schefer also bemoaned the fact many airports receive state or local taxpayer subsidies, while MWAA’s airports don’t. He did acknowledge Uncle Sam built both airports.

      Rather than work to reduce costs and increase volumes by attracting low-price airlines to Dulles, MWAA and the WAT want to find other sources of subsidy, using taxpayer funds to attract airfreight and to build roads necessary for development of non-aviation buildings on Airport property. Schefer argued that taxpayer subsidies are justified because everyone in the Metro area will benefit from development at Dulles. He could not provide any support for that conclusion, however.

      Given all the lobbying done by the WAT, I wonder how it can be an 501(c)(3) organization. Also, it’s seems very problematic that the best way to address high costs and low demand is too reach into taxpayers’ wallets.

    • Also, when MWAA wanted to build an underground station and Fairfax County objected to the added cost, MWAA approached county officials and offered to absorb Fairfax County’s share. The County asked about the share paid by DTR drivers and was told “no, the drivers have to pay.” Source: Tony Griffin, former county executive.

      MWAA needs to get its act together; cut costs and bring in low-price carriers instead of looking for more subsidies.

      • I think Reagan is pretty much maxed and NoVa is destined to grow and that leaves Dulles as the go-to airport for the future of the region.

        In terms of MWAA – I wonder if it is a standard type airport authority that we’d find similar versions of at other major US airports?

        In terms of it’s authority and power to pursue a wide range of initiatives, for instance using a toll road as a funding source, it appears to both have the legal authority as well as leadership willing to engage in a wide variety of ancillary activities to benefit Dulles.

        I have no clue what it takes to get low cost carriers but I know Richmond went for many years before it was able to attract a limited number. Also, since MWAA operates both airports, I would presume they would try to attract to Dulles any that would be interested in Reagan so if carriers will go through MWAA to serve Reagan why is keeping them from Dulles? It must be more than just MWAA not trying…..

        But Dulles is the airport that is going to handle all the growth in the area and the people that operate it – MWAA – are going to exercise any/all options they have to further boost Dulles including any/all land-use and infrastructure activities in that region that they are able to participate in which apparently is a lot.

        Bonus Question: if there IS going to be a LOT of development in the Dulles region – would you prefer that it be: 1. residential or 2. commercial?

        of course commercial will need workers and workers will need rooftops.

        but the option not really on the table is for Dulles to not expand and grow. It’s preordained.

  5. I wonder if the real purpose of expanding that road is something else besides what is being asserted?

    You don’t normally need a 6-lane road to move regional traffic … that
    does not exist right now.

    this looks like a “feeder” to the Greenway… no?

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