Loudoun County has a choice. It can remain a fairly typical suburban economy or it can become the Washington area’s powerhouse, developing an export-based economy that would be 10 or more times greater than its current economic output, says a George Mason University economist.
The deciding factor, according to Stephen S. Fuller, Director of GMU’s Center for Regional Analysis, is whether the county goes ahead with construction of the Metrorail Silver Line from Reston’s Wiehle Avenue past Dulles International Airport and into Loudoun County.
“The opportunity cost of not extending Metrorail into Loudon County can be measured in billions of dollars not earned, a perpetually weaker economic base, lower salaries and higher tax burdens for Loudoun County residents,” Fuller cautions in a report prepared for release this week.
The county board has recently wavered over its continuing support of the project, driven partly by protests from citizen groups who say the cost of the project far exceeds its economic benefits and commuters who fear that high tolls on the Dulles Access Road will be the most lasting legacy of the project.
Wrong on both counts, says Fuller, who cautions that Loudoun County is “at an economic cross roads.” He says it faces a future built on either “(1) high value added, high growth professional and business services and management occupations that are attracted to high quality, high-density, mixed-use, multi-modal employment centers and require regional connectivity or (2) an economy that is dominated by residential-serving commercial business activities and airport-oriented and transportation-related services.”
Although most of the funding for the $2.7 billion project is coming from bonds issued by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), backers are also counting on funds from Fairfax and Loudoun Counties as well as Virginia.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnellâ€™s administration and Republican legislators have backed away from earlier commitments to provide an additional $300 million to help hold down tolls for commuters on the Dulles Toll Road, and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has asked for more time to consider whether to go through with paying their share, about $260 million
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors last month reaffirmed its commitment, agreeing to contribute up to $498 million.