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Should Virginia Sell Air Rights Over the Dulles Toll Road?

The Commonwealth could lease air space over Rosslyn and East Falls Church Metro stations to generate funds for transportation improvements. Should Fairfax follow suit?

Construction at Wiehle Station  Credit: Patch File Photo
Construction at Wiehle Station Credit: Patch File Photo

By William Callahan

Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) is once again calling for the state and county governments to look into how selling air rights above the Dulles Toll Road could fight rising toll prices from Phase 2 of Metro's Silver Line.

Gov. Bob McDonnell announced last week that Virginia officials were looking into potential developments over I-66 in Rosslyn and East Falls Church in conjunction with Arlington County and Herrity says it’s proof that air rights could be a viable revenue stream.

“Dulles toll road users are on the hook for over $2 billion to pay for metro to Dulles,” Herrity said. “Proceeds from air rights could go a long way to reduce the projected burden on toll road users and protect the health of this critical economic corridor.

Phase 1 of the Silver Line, which will run from Tysons Corner to Reston's Wiehle Avenue, is slated to open this winter. Phase 2, which recived no federal funding, is estimated to open in 2018. It will run from Wiehle to Dulles International Airport and into Ashburn.

In Arlington, developers would pay to lease the air space above the Metro stations – the air rights – in order to construct their buildings, and the money would go toward improving transportation.

“By leasing airspace above certain transportation facilities owned by the Commonwealth, we can better utilize our existing infrastructure to generate additional revenues to fund future transportation improvements, while at the same time attracting new jobs and economic development,” McDonnell said in his announcement. “Additionally, by co-locating these potential developments around existing Metro stations and other major transportation facilities, we can reduce congestion and create more livable communities.” 

VDOT has issued a request for information (RFI) to the private sector to gather input on how best to proceed and how feasible the plan is.

Officials have located possible development sites for both Rosslyn and East Falls Church, where mixed-use developments could hold office space, residential and retail units and more.

According to the governor’s office, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation generated $40 million in FY 2011 through leases, with long-term lease income projected at $868 million. 

"The partners responsible for this RFI obviously see the value in air rights with their statement today, and see their feasibility in Northern Virginia," Herrity said. "We should be exploring similar options along the Dulles Toll Road corridor.”

Tell Us: Do you think leasing air space over the Dulles Toll Road would work? Let us know in the comments.

Myron Rosmarin July 08, 2013 at 10:56 AM
Assuming that the development of the air rights met obvious quality standards, enhanced the community and continued to keep Reston a desirable place for companies to locate their businesses, it's hard to see why we wouldn't be in favor of this.
Dave Webster July 08, 2013 at 04:33 PM
Me Myron. As I explained in the comment section of one of my blogs, the Federal government owns the land underlying the Dulles Access Road and the Metro tracks and therefore owns the air rights. Presently, MWAA leases both the Dulles Airport and the Access Road under a long term lease with the Federal government and therefore is the only entity with the right to develop air rights directly above the Metro tracks. http://herndon.patch.com/groups/dave-websters-blog/p/bp--commercial-development-at-dulles-airport-may-impe1048f8627c Encouraging MWAA to develop its air rights does very little good for Fairfax County taxpayers when those same businesses would be located on Fairfax County land and not Federal land were it not for MWAA's air rights development.
Dave Webster July 08, 2013 at 04:33 PM
One further note, MWAA is prohibited from using any money from its commercial development of Dulles Airport or use of its air rights to defray costs for Phase II construction.
Myron Rosmarin July 08, 2013 at 05:01 PM
Well ok then. Thanks for sharing your blog post on Herndon Patch, Dave. This is more complicated than I understood. It sounded like a good idea but I can see how it creates an unfair competitive landscape too. I think I better watch from the sidelines for a while. ;-)
Rob Whitfield July 08, 2013 at 05:26 PM
USDOT, Virginia and MWAA should have explored other rail financing options in the last seven years but did not. Instead, due to gross negligence, a breach of public trust and misconduct by certain officials, we are still faced with $17 tolls on the Dulles Toll Road in coming years and potentially $17 billion in total tolls over the next 50 years. Inside the Beltway members who control the MWAA Board want people living and working in the Dulles Corridor to pay through the nose for Dulles Rail instead of those who will benefit from its operation. They and property owners in other juridictions want the Dulles Corridor to be at a competitive disadvantage. Our local Virginia elected officials, the MWAA board, the WMATA, Board, Fairfax and Loudoun officials have repeatedly failed our communities. Now they will expect people living and working outside the Capital Beltway to pay most of the $26 billion for the Metro Momentum plan. Suckers!!
Tammi Petrine July 09, 2013 at 02:33 PM
Mr. Webster is correct re: MWAA's current control of the DTR, unfortunately. What I find amazing is the idea that the "lease" for the DTR can not somehow be refined to allow proceeds from the sale of Air Rights to be excluded from MWAA's grasp. Perhaps our new (and hopefully better) DOT secretary can assist with our Senator' and Rep's help to make this happen. Further, I am utterly amazed that the person most attuned to the plight of the DTR user (and the economic health of the corridor!!!) is NOT our local supervisor, who put into motion the horrendous, flawed financing plan for phase 2 of the Silver Line, but instead a supervisor from the other end of the county!!! Now that the public anger at the exorbitant tolls has subsided for awhile, all effort by Plum and Hudgins to get those tolls lowered has also disappeared from the headlines. Now we are onto a giant publicity campaign to further pour additional public monies into "re-creating" Metro. Really??? How about paying for the Silver Line first??? Plum will no doubt retort that he has helped pass the VA. State Transportation Bill which will give $300 M. to the effort. These funds will no doubt go into buying down tolls for awhile vs. paying down capital expenses which have to be bonded. The toll burden is now and will always be unfair and unwise. Soon it will be untenable, and Reston will no longer be the attractive place to live, work and play that it once was.

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