Beltway toll project to help area economy, study says

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Local,Transportation,William C. Flook

The creation of high-occupancy toll lanes along the Capital Beltway will pump $2.7 billion into the Washington area’s economy through 2013 and preserve thousands of jobs, according to a George Mason University study commissioned by the project’s contractor.

The report from GMU’s Center for Regional Analysis outlines a broad economic benefit from the $1.5 billion construction of two new toll lanes along each direction of Interstate 495 between Springfield and the Dulles Toll Road.

Much of the benefit will come through new retail spending as construction workers spend their paychecks locally, said Stephen Fuller, the center’s director.

The project also will “support” 11,800 jobs in the region, the study said. But Fuller cautioned that figure didn’t mean that many jobs would be created through the HOT lanes project.

“A lot of these jobs are already in the economy, and if there wasn’t new spending, they might be laid off,” he said.

The provenance of the study, however, could raise eyebrows. The HOT lanes contractor — Capital Beltway Express LLC, a partnership between Fluor Enterprises and Australia’s Transurban Group — asked the Center for Regional Analysis to carry out the assessment and paid for it, Fuller said.

He said the backers of the report didn’t influence its findings, which rely on public data and uses formulas provided by the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis for measuring economic benefit of infrastructure projects.

HOT lanes, one of a handful of what transportation officials have dubbed “mega-projects” in Northern Virginia, have received a round of negative attention for the immediate traffic snarls caused by their construction in Tysons Corner and for a number of surprise tree clearings that rankled local officials and communities.

The tension between project managers and local officials is persisting, though Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust, D-Dranesville District, said communication between the two groups has improved since the original controversy.

He did not quarrel with the findings of the GMU study but pointed to the unmeasured downside of the HOT lanes through the new traffic congestion and loss of trees.
 

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