outlook |  Who the Road Pays For: The Story Behind the Dulles Toll Road Name

outlook | Who the Road Pays For: The Story Behind the Dulles Toll Road Name


A recent Subway History on the Dulles Toll Road featured an image of a chart released by the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority summarizing the new toll rates. The table refers to the “Dulles Toll Road (also known as the Omer L. Hirst-Adelard L. Brault Freeway)”. This raises some questions: who were Hirst and Brault? Why is the road named after them? And who, except perhaps members of the Hirst and Brault families and a few MWAA employees, knows that this is the other name of the road? I’ve lived in the neighborhood for a long time but I’ve never seen a sign mentioning Hirst or Brault.

On January 29, 1983, a group of Virginia politicians picked up fancy shovels and started digging.

“We in Fairfax County may not be brilliant, but we are persistent,” said one, John F. “Jack” Herrity, chairman of the county board of supervisors.

It was the groundbreaking ceremony for what became the Dulles Toll Road, a $57 million stretch of freeway that has been talked about for more than a decade.

Dulles International Airport became operational in 1962. In the years that followed, Virginians looked enviously at the Dulles Access Road. The access road was for the exclusive use of airport users. Even so, other motorists would occasionally squeeze through it, turn at Dulles and then exit through the return loop. You could get a ticket for that.

Why name an airport “Dulles”?

When the Capital Beltway was completed in 1964, there was not much development between I-495 and Dulles. But there was something that development requires: land, and lots of land. A road could open up this area to construction, offices, housing, retail. Two northern Virginia lawmakers led the charge to get the road built.

Omer L. Hirst grew up in Annandale on a chicken farm. He graduated in 1930 from Lee-Jackson High in Alexandria, then went to Washington & Lee University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa.

Hirst said he didn’t want to work for his father’s real estate company, but had to do it out of necessity. He was attracted by the oratory of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the President’s New Deal proposals. In 1953 Hirst, a Democrat, was elected to represent the Fairfax-Falls Church in the Virginia House of Delegates. He later served in the State Senate.

In 1955, Hirst was the first representative from Virginia to oppose the “massive resistance” movement against desegregation championed by Senator Harry Byrd (D).

Adelard Lionel “Abe” Brault was another anti-Byrd Liberal politician. Born in Connecticut and raised in the district – a graduate of Gonzaga and Catholic University – Brault was first elected to the Virginia Senate in 1966, representing Fairfax. Although the fiery Democrat claimed he was never fully accepted in Richmond, he went on to serve as Majority Leader.

Brault considered his greatest political achievement to have been enacting a law in 1968 that mandated a program for hearing-impaired school children. It was expanded in 1972 to provide special education for all handicapped Virginians between the ages of 2 and 21.

Hirst died in 2003 at age 89, Brault in 2007 at age 97. As for their road, it had officially opened on October 1, 1984. Virginia Governor Charles Robb deposited the first toll in a toll booth: 25 cents.

As hoped, the development originated along the spine of the toll road. George Mason University Stephen Fuller called it “the most important commercial thoroughfare in the whole region”.

In 1991, the state Senator Charles Waddell (D-Loudoun) told the Washington Post, “It’s obviously a real achievement.” This was the year Waddell sponsored legislation to name the Dulles Toll Road the Omer L. Hirst-Adelard L. Brault Expressway. Said Waddell: “I just thought a tribute should be paid to them while they were alive.”

In April, the bill was signed by Governor L. Douglas Wilder (D).

People weren’t sure if the long name would catch on. Waddell was not concerned. “It remains to be seen, but the tribute will be paid,” he said.

Answer The man has driven this route several times. If there’s a sign for the Omer L. Hirst-Adelard L. Brault highway, he didn’t notice it. But the next time he attends, he vows to salute these two legislators.

Speaking of paying tribute, now would be a wonderful time to pay tribute to the important work being done by our three Helping Hand charity partners: bread for the city, place of friendship and Miriam’s kitchen. Your donation of any amount will help them continue their vital work to fight homelessness and hunger in Washington.

To donate, visit posthelpinghand.com and click where it says “Donate”.

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