Once Rural Virginia Communities
Pulled into Northern Megalopolis
By Eric Lipton
The boom during the 1990s in Northern Virginia's outer suburbs has helped fill in gaps that once left the Richmond and Charlottesville areas more isolated from the Northeast, said Julia H. Martin, director of demographic research at University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.
"The BosNyWash corridor is extending down," Martin said. "And it is not only in population, it is a matter of changing attitudes and lifestyles, as there is increased communication and connection in the corridor."
A new study by Martin which provides official population estimates for the state found that Loudoun County has grown at a faster pace than any other Virginia jurisdiction since 1990, jumping by 55.3 percent, or 47,671 people, to reach a 1997 population of 133,800.
Stafford is the second fastest-growing county, adding 44.2 percent to its population since 1990, to reach 88,300 residents. Fairfax County, the state's most populous jurisdiction, also is still expanding, reaching 918,900 residents last year, but the pace of growth has slowed since the 1980s, as much of the open land has already been developed.
The latest estimates, based on census data, school enrollments and records of housing stock, tax returns, births and deaths, reflect a changing growth pattern in Virginia, which has 6.7 million residents.
In the 1980s, the population boom was largely along the so-called Golden Crescent a curve-shaped area stretching from Hampton Roads to Northern Virginia. But military downsizing has since slowed growth in Hampton Roads or led to declines in cities such as Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmith and Newport News, Martin said.
Instead, Virginia's growth pattern today looks more like an upside-down "T" that follows the two major interstates: I-95 from Northern Virginia to the Richmond area, and I-64 from the Charlottesville area, past Richmond to the western portion of Hampton Roads, Martin said.
As these communities in what Martin calls the Double Corridor welcome the rush of new residents, the state's southern flavor born in more rural times is gradually being overtaken by the faster-paced, more cosmopolitan lifestyle of the Northeast, Martin said.
"A lot of people's image of Virginia is of a very rural state, but only 22 percent of the population lives outside of a metropolitan area today," Martin said. "And that number continues to decline."
Stafford County Supervisor Ferris Belman Sr. (I) says you don't have to look far to see the change.
"A dozen years ago, I could go in my pickup truck onto the road and I did not even have to look; there was very little traffic," he said. "I can't do that today."
The growth in the northern half of Virginia has put intense stress on local governments, which must keep up with the demand by new residents for schools, libraries, recreation centers and fire and police protection.
The pressure shows up across Northern Virginia, from Prince William County, which has grown by 17 percent to 252,300 residents since 1990, to Spotsylvania, which now has 77,700 residents, up 35.4 percent.
In Loudoun, the tax rate has gone from 99 cents per $100 of assessed value in 1995 to $1.06 this fiscal year, and officials say it may go as high as $1.11 next year to pay for new schools and services.
Supervisors this year have asked the General Assembly for money to help governments in high-growth areas build new schools. The board also recently voted to limit new housing in the Dulles South area. Even so, the boom continues.
Belman said that Stafford residents are increasingly calling for the county board to put a stop to the population boom. But now that it is underway, there is not much local officials can do except try to accommodate it, he said.
"Whether we like it or not, we are now tied into part of Northern Virginia," Belman said. "It has changed the way of life for a lot of us."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company