The Angry Cargo of False Premises

David Alpert (of Greater Greater Washington) responded this week to a previous article in the Washington Post which asserted that a Bi-County Parkway connecting Ashburn to Manassas will mitigate the “decline” of Dulles Airport by asserting that no one has any responsibility to reverse this ostensible “decline”, which is supposedly caused by Dulles not being convenient to anyone.

I will admit that, living in south Arlington, Dulles is certainly not convenient to me, or even to most of my friends. (I could practically walk to Reagan in less than 20 minutes, the cost savings of which usually recoup the ticket premium outright.) IAD is very convenient, tho, to the many technology workers along the Toll Road between itself and Tysons Corner, as well as most of the residents of Manassas and north Fairfax County (assuming they drive and can afford overnight parking, anyway). And the completion of the Silver Line will not only make Dulles more convenient for me, but also for most of the people for whom this airport is already convenient.

On their face, Alpert’s arguments are not without merit: obviously a convenient airport is more useful than an inconvenient one. Montreal’s Mirabel was all but stillborn after the 1976 Olympics created insufficient demand to necessitate another airport an hour away from the city center. And international flights returned to Haneda recently, given its growth and popularity as Tokyo’s older but at least marginally convenient (or at least better-connected) airport relative to Narita, which is over an hour away on the wrong side of town. (And until the Silver Line is complete, even Narita might be more convenient to the heart of town, at least as much as BWI.)

Haneda, however, has four simultaneously useful runways; Reagan has just one. Building a second, or even expanding the first, is not likely to pass muster with the FAA, environmental regulators, or the National Park Service; their land uses and the Potomac constrain its site in a way Tokyo Bay does not constrain Haneda.

And all of this is dancing around a bigger issue: Alpert, VDOT and the Post are all arguing from false premises. Dulles air traffic, while stagnant, is not declining year-on-year or in a statistically significant way. And while air cargo tonnage there has definitely seen a notable drop, the Bi-County Parkway is not going to solve this issue because it will not service Dulles Airport.

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Even the most (shall we say) optimistic estimates for this project have the road eventually connect to 267 somewhere near Ashburn and nowhere near the Dulles Cargo terminal, requiring a circuitous spiraling route to approach either. Air cargo traffic is by its nature time-sensitive, and for truck traffic, 28 is still the best option. Regardless of any claims about whether a new segment of outer Beltway is needed, the meme that the Bi-County Parkway would have anything to do with “air freight” at all is fundamentally dishonest – as absurd as the idea that the Oceana Sprawlway “relieves” nonexistent “traffic” between two sparsely developed points. In either case these are strange roads, routed expensively through sensitive, inconvenient land that developers would desperately like to see houses on.

(However, if we’re talking fundamental dishonesty, if we were to accept the premise that this road is about developing Dulles, which I can’t: I don’t see how someone could oppose that on the premise that Dulles shouldn’t be developed while also supporting a major transit project on the premise that it develops Dulles. Unless one accepts the even more absurd premise that the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project either shouldn’t be or somehow isn’t about providing Metrorail to IAD or its Corridor at all.)

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~ by J.D. Hammond on July 22, 2013.

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