New Highway Won't Turn Dulles Airport Into Major Cargo Player: Study

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Building a ten-mile parkway in Northern Virginia won't turn Dulles International Airport into the premier air cargo hub on the East Coast, according to a study by the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is attempting to convince the public that building the Bi-County Parkway will open Dulles Airport's western side to travelers and cargo carriers through better ground transportation, exploiting what VDOT says will be future expansion in the air cargo market. But the 15-page report by researcher David Versel says building a highway on the airport's western side would have minimal impact. 

"It would definitely be an important piece to support future expansion at Dulles. The problem is there hasn't been an expansion," Versel says. "In fact, there has been a decline in the amount of cargo moving in and out of Dulles over the past 12 years."

Versel estimates the highway would affect only 8 percent of the potential market demand for air cargo operations at the airport.

The problem is not the road. It's the air cargo, already dominated by other airports.

"In terms of East Coast airports, the two leading airports for cargo activity are JFK and Miami International Airport," Versel says. "The reason being, JFK has the most flights per day to the most destinations in Europe and Africa. And Miami has the most flights per day to the most destinations in Latin America."

Versel says air cargo has declined since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks because of new security measures. It's simply become easier to move things on the ground. He says if the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority develops the land it owns on Dulles' western side, a new road or roads might be necessary, but that might not be enough.

"The road in and of itself is not likely to have an enormous impact on cargo," says Versel, who's does not take a position on whether the Bi-County Parkway should be built. He says his study only analyzes the highway's potential affect on the cargo market.