We have already shown how Fairfax currently contains some capacity for infrastructure, most notably heavy rail and the possibility of shipping ports in our previous discussions Part 1. We have also discussed the variance in design and feasibility for industrial uses in a region which has been less than friendly to manufacturing partnerships in the past within Part 2.
To help constitute these capacities the region must be open to the concept of private cooperatives in expanding these job creating opportunities in order to focus the infrastructure and remove the impact to residential districts. No one is proposing sending freight mega ships up the Chesapeake. However by coordinating efforts with existing shipping regions such as Newport News and Norfolk, which will require funding assistance by Fairfax, the state, and of course the county itself, can ensure a connected network to the heavy rail system that already exists.
Utilizing the region around Mason Neck allows for a short circulator route for freight rail which will now be able to offload cargo to a region which could spur new investment in manufacturing. The region will boast close connection to the 4th largest consumer base in the country and a reduction in cost to the factory through the shipping points of Southern Virginia and a reduction in cost to freight from the factory to distribution and consumer points within Fairfax, Prince William, DC, and Maryland.
The initial cost of the new rail parallel system could be provided as a private partnership with Norfolk Southern off of the existing system. The new system would constitute 20 to 30 rail miles which would need to be anchored by a manufacturer who is looking for direct access to freight rail and is willing to carry the cost of the new depot. Additional depots could be provided by further interested parties at which time an appropriate partnership is found. The largest deterrent to industrial investors has been the jurisdiction itself which has made it clear in policy that Fairfax is not interested in spurring new factories. The cost of the new 20 to 30 miles split between Fairfax and Norfolk Southern would carry a nominal cost of 10 to 20 million dollars (Based on an average rate of $1.2 – 1.5 million a mile).
The hidden benefit of an improved rail system for Fairfax is a significant reduction capability in freight trucking along the Route 1, I-95, I-66, and other road systems. This is important for controlling maintenance costs on roads through the county as 1 18-Wheeler load on pavement is equivalent to the damage created from 9600 vehicle trips on the same road. Reducing the number of freight trucks, or atleast the distance the trucks must travel, has immediate and measurable impacts to improving the system maintenance costs which reaches well into the billions for Virginia as a whole.
Freight Rail is also far less susceptible to rising oil prices, as a typical freight run can move an average of 1 ton of goods 436 miles on a single gallon of gas, a system which is 2-fold more efficient than truck freight for long hauls. This reduction in transport has significant impacts on goods pricing, and improvement on the system will help keep these prices lower for the consumer.
Fairfax is renowned around the country, and even globally, as a high tech hub for biotechnology, IT, engineering, and commerce. The county continuously provides not just top 100 high schools annually but top 5 with Thomas Jefferson. The area also is a congruence point for the several highly rated Universities including Virginia Tech, UVA, William and Mary, GMU, etc. many of these graduates find themselves joining firms which have a set federal concept due to the ease and geography of this client.
While this has proven to be a model which has created the 4th most robust economy in the country it wastes this vital component and limits the possibilities that exist. As Seattle and Portland have shown, when garnered by a management structure that is open to new avenues of commerce this efficient employment base can create new ideas and concepts. To relegated the region as capable of only providing consulting and service industry products limits the potential available from this educated worker base.
Lastly, and to many the most impenetrable obstacle to a 21st century industrial model is our preconceived opinions and antagonism of new manufacturing. The biggest step of many jurisdictions is the first step of simply saying “we are open to business”. While Fairfax has shown they believe the county should be more than a suburban sprawl, it has yet to recognize that mixed use commercial and residential sprawl can still be another form of sprawl.
To truly be mixed use means a healthy industrial backbone, segregated from residents, but networked along a freight infrastructure. We as residents and politicians need to recognize that by diversifying and utilizing our capabilities to include not just consulting but creating we can assure an economy which can better defend itself from a restricted federal budget and future recessions. Through opening our minds to a new concept of industry which has its place in the new Green reality, we as a region can begin to stand on our own as an independent but connected economy.