One of the most popular ways for Reston residents to get to Washington D.C. is by driving to Dulles International Airport first.
By driving away from Washington about 5 miles to the airport, turning around and driving back along the 14 mile stretch of the Dulles Airport access road to its intersection with the Capitol Beltway, Reston commuters avoid traffic snarls along Rt. 7, especially at the mammoth Tyson's Corner Shopping Center.
Since the federally-owned access road was built in 1961, Fairfax County has been trying to have it opened to local traffic. The road now is reserved only for those using the airport; it has no entrance or exit ramps on the lane leading to Washington.
The access road's owner, the Federal Aviation Administration, still opposes local traffic using the road, but it is looking favorably on a new study to examine the feasibility of building a toll road parallel to the Dulles Access Road. The toll road could be used by anyone.
The Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation has begun a study of a parallel road that, if built, would be the first toll road in Northern Virginia.
"This is the initial step toward getting parallel lanes built," said Fairfax County Deputy Executive samuel Finz. "It would probably be at least five years before you see any construction, assuming that all the studies go favorably."
Local use of the Dulles route would serve two purposes, according to Fairfax County officials. It would relieve traffic congestion on local roads caused by growing numbers of commuters who live in the rapidly developing northern and western portions of the county. It also would provide access to almost 2,000 acres planned for commercial and industrial growth south of Dulles Airport.
"If the county is serious about attracting commercial growth, then it is going to have to provide good locations to put it," said Finz. "Right now there is no adequate transportation access to the Dulles area."
Construction of a toll road is contingent on the completion of the controversial Interstate 66 highway, because the road would feed into I-66 to carry traffic directly in and out of the District.
"We're closer than we've ever been to getting I-66 built, so between that and Fairfax County's requests for parallel lanes, it seemed like a good time to again study the possibility of building a toll road," said Richard Lockwood, a VDHT planning engineer. "There are several (law) suits going on against I-66, and the final disposition hasn't been given, but we're proceeding with our studies on the assumption that the highway will be built."
The toll road and the uncompleted portion of I-66 would meet just north of Falls Church and east of Arlington County. I-66 ends at the Capitol Beltway in Fairfax County.
The new feasibility study, to be completed at the end of this year, will estimate the cost of construction and the toll charges necessary to help build and maintain the proposed road. It will also look at engineering details and methods of financing the road, Lockwood said.
A previous feasibility study on building parallel lanes, done in 1974, found that a toll road would be a suitable solution for traffic congestion along the Dulles access road corridor. The new study will update the 1974 information, since costs have escalated rapidly with inflation.
Lockwood said he could not estimate the cost of building the toll road. The original Dulles Access Road cost $14 million to build 17 years ago.
He said tolls would be needed to finance construction of parallel lanes to the Dulles access road. Since the state "does not have available capital to dedicate to that project alone."