Q&A on Virginia’s parkway proposal for outer suburbs


Opponents of the bi-county parkway have a well-organized campaign to block the project. They were set up to greet people entering the hall for the Monday meeting in Manassas. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

We counted five Post staffers in the audience of about 650 at the Monday night meeting in Manassas on Virginia’s proposed bi-county parkway, so you’ll be reading a lot more about the plan. This posting addresses some of the basic Q&A at the session.

The questions were submitted by the public and answered by the Virginia Department of Transportation. I’ve condensed the VDOT responses, while trying to keep the main points.

Why are transportation improvements being considered in this area?

Prince William and Loudoun counties are growing fast. The bi-county parkway is among the projects intended to address that growth. In addition to the growth, the plan addresses the state’s inability to widen Sudley Road (Route 234) or Lee Highway (Route 29) within the Manassas National Battlefield Park, within the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

The four-lane parkway would move Route 234 about 2.5 miles west so that it connects with the Prince William Parkway, to the south of Interstate 66, and extends north to Route 50.

VDOT says this would reduce congestion on Routes 234, 29 and 15 in Prince William County, as well as on Gum Spring Road and Sanders Lane. The relocation also would eliminate today’s traffic bottleneck at Routes 29 and 234 inside the battlefield park.

Aren’t the traffic problems really east-west, rather than north-south?

Traffic problems exist in both directions. The Northern Virginia transportation network needs to link homes, businesses, commercial centers, educational institutions and recreational areas in every direction.

Virginia’s six-year transportation plan, subject of a public hearing in Northern Virginia last week, has more than $1.2 billion allocated for east-west improvements, including the addition of bus shoulders to I-66 inside the Capital Beltway, the widening of Routes 7 and 50, improvements to the I-66 interchanges with Routes 28 and 29, and the widening of I-66 between Routes 234 and 15. There’s also the Dulles Metrorail project (Silver Line), which will extend west into Loudoun County in its second phase.

When would construction begin?

It wouldn’t start before the state does an environmental impact statement, and the Federal Highway Administration gives a go-ahead. Then the project would need funding for construction, and that would be part of a future six-year plan. (The six-year plan is updated every year. At the moment, the project has $12 million for design, not enough to actually complete the design of a project this big, Charles Kilpatrick, VDOT’s chief deputy commissioner, told the audience during Monday’s meeting.

Would Route 29 and Route 234 through battlefield park close with construction of the parkway?

Route 29 would remain open till the Manassas Bypass (a route north around the battlefield) opened. There’s no funding for this project, first proposed in 1988.

If Route 234 were relocated to the west as part of the parkway project, the current roadway through the battlefield would remain open only for the property owners within the park.

Would the parkway be tolled?

No. Kilpatrick said that wouldn’t make sense on a four-lane road. There would need to be one regular lane and one tolled lane in each direction, which he said isn’t manageable in the width available for the project.

How would the parkway affect Prince William County’s Rural Crescent?

VDOT said the parkway would not change local land use restrictions. The road would be a limited-access highway. The access points in the Rural Crescent would be at I-66, Route 29 and the existing portion of Route 234 west of the battlefield.

Would access to Pageland Lane be affected?

VDOT said it is committed to preserve access to Routes 234 and 29 from Pageland Lane, where many of the concerned people who attended the meeting live.

What the residents say

At Monday night’s meeting, many people who live in this area endorsed the idea that they needed relief from traffic congestion but said the problem was east-west, rather than north south. They want relief on I-66, and many want Routes 29 and 234 to remain open through the battlefield.

Far from easing their traffic problems, they say, VDOT’s plan would put increased pressure on I-66, forcing the highway to carry a greater share of the region’s commuter traffic.

Rather than providing commuter relief, they say, the new highway will aid truck traffic moving between Dulles International Airport and I-95. They fear that residents along the corridor would find themselves living next to a new version of I-81, the major north-south Interstate for trucks in western Virginia.

Will they, in fact, live to see such a thing? I think the opponents point out quite correctly that while there’s little money in the current six-year plan for the parkway project, the state can find money if it really wants to advance the plan quickly.

But transportation politics can be tricky. Virginia will have a new state administration next year, plus, this project has opponents in the General Assembly and Congress who could influence its prospects. In the near future, travelers are more likely to see improvements on I-66 — a highway where the problems are painfully obvious — than they are to be driving on a road that’s nothing more than a fuzzy line on a map today.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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Mark Berman · June 4, 2013