Who Will Pay For a New “Free”way to Dulles?
According to the September 3, 2012 Washington Post, the fix is in for building the Outer Beltway/Western Transportation Corridor/Bi-County Parkway (now North-South Corridor) in western Prince William/Loudoun counties. It would connect Interstate 66 to the west side of Dulles airport, extending Route 234 north through areas planned for low density development.
Advocates for the road argue it will generate jobs, and enable Dulles to become a hub for freight traffic. How could anyone oppose such an investment in the future?
Right now the sustainable “smart growth” leaders are questioning the rationale for the project – but advocates for low taxes may catch on soon that the cost-benefit ratio for a public investment is badly skewed.
The road project is primarily designed to subsidize developers who seek to convert the Rural Area of Prince William and the Transition Area of Loudoun into the equivalent of Centreville. The public justification is that the road will increase commercial activity at Dulles. Either way, the taxpayers will get the costs, and someone else will get the benefits. That sound like good public policy to you, or like a bailout-in-advance for a few private businesses?
The question of “where should we develop new housing” engages some people in Northern Virginia, but pro-development forces have won most fights – look at the sprawl approved in the last 50 years.
However, there’s a potent pair of questions that may engage the low-tax, small-government, support-private-property-rights community, which has significant influence at the moment: “should taxpayers finance speculative development? If so, shouldn’t taxpayers get the profits?”
New infrastructure such as roads will inevitably generate some new jobs – but at what financial cost? If the new road is such a great bargain, why should taxpayers fund it? Shouldn’t developers fund new infrastructure required for their new subdivisions, and shouldn’t MWAA pay for the costs of spurring more business activity at the airport?
The Piedmont Environmental Council and others argue that the hypothesized business benefits for building a road to Dulles are just a smokescreen – the driving force behind the new road is to crack open current zoning to allow new development in Loudoun/Prince William.
You don’t need to be a traffic engineer to understand that commuters need better connections towards the east, and a north-south road solves none of today’s get-to-work challenges. However, a new road would allow traffic engineers to claim new development would not create congestion in new neighborhoods, since residents could drive south on the new Bi-County Parkway to I-66 or north to Route 50… and adding to congestion on those roads is outside the scope of the Traffic Impact Analysis for each subdivision.
MWAA ignores all the land use issues and impacts to Manassas Battlefield, and focuses on just the benefits for the airport. Provided someone else funds the new road, Dulles will grow.
Cost-benefit and least-cost analysis is not a strength at MWAA, despite the experience of overseeing the nearly $6 billion subsidy to extend the Silver Line of Metrorail to Dulles. To stimulate UPS, FedEx, and other freight businesses to use Dulles, MWAA proposes a web of massive new road construction, including a highway parallel to Route 15 in Loudoun and extensive construction in the Rural Area of Prince William:
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) compares the state’s investment in upgrading road and freight rail access to seaports at Norfolk/Portsmouth, and asks for an equivalent share of the transportation funding pie:
Current long-range plans envision statewide rail and road corridors terminating at Hampton Roads and extending westward into other states. A similar level of connectivity is required for Washington Dulles… today the airport only faces east and is largely blind to the south, the west and the north – areas of importance for the rest of the Commonwealth, as well as the airport’s evolution as an economic engine.
So if the freight opportunity is so great, shouldn’t MWAA finance the road network? That authority already runs the Dulles Access Road, and milks commuters to fund the Silver Line construction. Shouldn’t the Outer Beltway/Western Transportation Corridor/Bi-County Parkway/North-South Corridor be funded by tolls, at no cost to the taxpayer, so all those freight trucks can cough up the cash to build the new infrastructure?