Impact of Dulles is Widespread
Airport’s impacts extend well beyond the local economy.
Last week, I wrote about the importance of Washington Dulles International Airport to the economy of Loudoun County, the region and the state. In the 50 years since it opened, the airport has made an impact on much more than just the economy.
In 1960, just two years before Dulles Airport opened, Loudoun’s population was 24,549. It had hovered around 20,000 since the first U.S. Census in 1790. By 1970, the population was 37,150, a 51% increase. Every decade since, the county population has increased by at least 50%, much more in some decades. The population is now estimated to be more than 328,000.
Of course, some – maybe most – of that population growth would have occurred if the airport had been located in Burke instead of where it is now, on a site that was then known as Chantilly. But it is safe to say that Loudoun’s growth would have been very different without the airport and the businesses surrounding it, and it is likely that the growth would have been much more heavily skewed toward residential development.
Dulles Airport officially straddles the border between Fairfax and Loudoun, but the terminal itself is in Loudoun. This is one reason the question of instituting a countywide meals tax rears its head every few years.
Considering the number of restaurants in the terminal – and the number of meals purchased there – a local tax on those meals would be one of those rare sources of revenue that would help shift the tax burden from people who live here to those who are just passing through.
Over the years, county supervisors have never been able to agree on the merits of such a tax, and the meals tax has always failed when the issue has been put to a voter referendum.
Land Use Policy
In developing land use policies, supervisors have been repeatedly been reminded over the years that the airport is the economic engine of the county, and that residential development should not be allowed so close to the airport as to restrict activity there.
For the most part, Loudoun has been diligent in drawing up planning and zoning documents so to protect its most valuable asset.
The board’s deliberations over the extension of Metrorail to the airport and beyond provoked a good deal of controversy earlier this year, as some found many reasons to oppose the project, from cost to the potential for crime.
But the importance of linking Dulles Airport by rail to the rest of the metro region – including a link to Ashburn – was sometimes lost amid the outcry. Because of the board’s decision to approve the project, people will be someday be able to step on a Metro train in Ashburn and get almost anywhere in the world.
During the controversy leading up to the board’s decision to approve the Metrorail extension, legitimate concerns were raised about the project’s costs and financing. But, as a world class international airport serving the nation’s capital, the absence of a direct link to the region’s rail system was glaring.
I’m encouraged to see that some Loudoun legislators are trying to get the state to contribute more to the project.
The federal government also needs to contribute its fair share, so that commuters using the Dulles Toll Road aren’t driven away by exorbitantly high tolls. This isn’t just any airport serving any city. The rail system feeding into a world class, international airport serving the nation’s capital should have an appropriate level of support from the federal government.
The impacts of Dulles Airport on major arteries in the region are obvious, most notably the Dulles Toll Road, Dulles Greenway and Route 28. But by occupying such a large land mass in eastern Loudoun and western Fairfax, the airport also presents an obstacle to east-west commuting.
The number of DC-area workers who have to drive around the airport when commuting eastward from Loudoun County and points west has been growing steadily. A rail alternative will help divert some of these commuters from the region’s clogged road network.
I know very little about architecture but, as they say, I know what I like. And to my untrained eyes, the Dulles terminal, designed by Eero Saarinen, looks even more stunning today – at full size – than the smaller version did when it was dedicated 50 years ago.
It is an iconic image, and a classy first glimpse many visitors get of Washington – and Loudoun County.
Happy 50th birthday!