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.

Tax Policy

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.

Transportation Planning

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.

Road Network

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!

No Toll Increase December 12, 2012 at 03:38 PM
"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." The Obama administration is as pro-rail as any in history, so why have they not funded the project? The answer is that the Dulles Rail Project fails to meet federal and state standards for population density, ridership, and traffic reduction. The federal government is broke, and it won't get better soon. Dulles Rail is being pushed on us by the corrupt and wasteful MWAA board and certain politicians who want to brag about bringing rail to Dulles, then retire before the house of cards collapses. Wasteful spending by MWAA has forced airlines and passengers away from Dulles to BWI and Reagan. It's time to take our Toll Road away from MWAA and scrap the sham funding agreement that won't work, and only makes traffic worse. Then If MWAA still wants the rail to their airport, they should toll the Airport Access Road. More about these solutions at www.notollincrease.org
Leslie Ackerman December 12, 2012 at 03:46 PM
All's well with celebrating from afar. Those who have to live in Loudoun County have to endure the disdain of Richmond and the incompetence of our delegates in building good and important roads BEFORE businesses and dwellings. It is simply outrageous. Has anyone witnessed the amount of accidents occurring in our neighborhoods because of this crowded situation? Wait to see your insurance rates go up significantly. The small people always end up paying.
joe brewer December 15, 2012 at 07:15 PM
The feds have said a big No to money for the Silver Line. Bad Bob sitting in the governors mansion said no to the 300 million and got away with just a 150 million of which this is nothing but a bald-faced payment to the MWAA. It does not help lower construction costs, it does not build any of the 3 garages, it does not obtain any rail cars. It was a payment to keep the toll rate down and what happened? UP, up and up go the rates. There is no money coming from the feds or the states so Loudoun get ready to bite the big one cause we get to pay for the whole shebang. How happy is Raging wire now that they are not part of the tax district which was not amended.
Bob Bruhns December 15, 2012 at 09:17 PM
The $150 million from Virginia is being used by MWAA to hide the big toll increases until AFTER the approvals and AFTER the ground is broken. Then... SURPRISE!!! People need to read the news a little, although the news IS often a bit selective in its reporting.


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