Virginia postpones action on North-South highway through Loudoun, Prince William

A state map of the planned 45-mile highway from Route 7 in Ashburn, past the west side of Dulles Airport, down to Dumfries and I-95 in Prince William County. (Virginia Department of Transportation – Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment) A state map of the planned 45-mile highway from Route 7 in Ashburn, past the west side of Dulles Airport, down to Dumfries and I-95 in Prince William County. (Virginia Department of Transportation – Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment)

The next step in the long process of planning and building a 45-mile highway from I-95 in Dumfries to Route 7 in Ashburn is a master plan approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board. After Rep. Frank Wolf (R) expressed concerns about the project’s transparency and viability for cargo, the board on Wednesday voted to defer the plan until June 19, and The Post’s Jeremy Borden has a full story here.

At the meeting, seven Loudoun and Prince William county residents spoke up against the road, which would widen the existing Prince William Parkway up to the Manassas battlefield, then build a new road from I-66 north to Ashburn. Delegates Tim Hugo (R) and Bob Marshall (R) also spoke against it, as did Trip Pollard from the Southern Environmental Law Center. But then members of the Committee for Dulles, the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, the Loudoun and Prince William chambers of commerce, a staffer for the Loudoun Board of Supervisors and the Washington Airports Task Force all spoke in favor of the project.

I asked Bob Chase for his thoughts on the road, which he agrees should be called the Bi-County Parkway, since it only goes through two counties, and follows an alignment originally called the Bi-County Parkway. Chase is the executive director of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, which was founded in 1987 by a coalition of developers and builders who felt that environmental groups were stifling growth with anti-road campaigns. Chase is deeply knowledgable about the region’s transportation problems and the various proposals to address them, whether rail or road. Here, he addresses concerns about lack of public input, roads near the battlefield, the possibility of a toll road and the need for improved cargo access to Dulles:

Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, shown here at a Washington Post forum on traffic issues, supports the proposed 45-mile highway through Loudoun and Prince William counties is a good thing. (Jeffrey McMillan - For The Washington Post) Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance,  supports the proposed 45-mile highway through Loudoun and Prince William counties. (Jeffrey McMillan – For The Washington Post)

Chase wrote: “No one disputes the importance of ongoing public input. In fact there have been a number of public hearings since 2001 and there will be many more as this process moves forward. The next is June 3rd and a separate meeting is being scheduled with Pageland Lane property owners in June. There also will be hearings when various projects get to the design stage and thereafter.

“The rural crescent should not be opened for more development – In fact with limited access Bi-County Parkway and by limiting access to other parts of the Route 234 corridor the result will be less sprawling and more concentrated development. Certainly that is the case with the Bi-County Parkway. Also land use decisions are made by local governments which have designated these areas for large lots and limited development. The Bi-County Parkway doesn’t change that, in fact it reinforces that policy.

“Route 29 will be NOT be closed before the Manassas Battlefield Bypass is built. At the May 15th Commonwealth Transportation Board meeting, Secretary Connaughton made very clear that Route 29 will NOT be closed before bypass is open.

“Route 234 will be closed to THROUGH traffic only after the Bi-County Parkway is open, and allowing local residents north of Route 234 to continue to use the road is certainly something that should be considered.

“As for Pageland Lane, again a follow-up meeting is being scheduled with Pageland residents and the Commonwealth continues to express its commitment to work with property owners to ensure access and mitigate impacts.

“Toll Road – There is no commitment to build Bi-County as a toll road. Secretary Connaughton has stated that no commitment has been made to building the Bi-County Parkway as a toll facility and any such consideration would be subject to public hearings/input and considerable debate. Frankly, I do not see the Bi-County Parkway as public-private partnership( P3) toll road project candidate.

“Dulles Cargo – While future Dulles cargo operations do not hinge totally on a Route 234 corridor upgrade and the Bi-County Parkway, the importance and benefits of improved north-south access to future Dulles passenger and freight growth as well as future Prince William County job growth is quite clear.

“All future decisions will be subject to detailed study and public input. The decision currently before the CTB is to simply accept/acknowledge the completion of a study presenting a vision of what the corridor “might” look like in 40 years. This is by no means a final, detailed, engineered and designed plan not subject to amendment, but simply a broad-brush starting point. The fact is that studies in this corridor are far from complete. The extent to which this initial study is followed in the future depends upon multiple factors and studies over multiple decades.

“Impacts to personal property need to be minimized and mitigated. At the same time Loudoun and Prince William counties are home to 800,000 people and will soon well exceed 1 million. The Commonwealth cannot ignore that reality. It is also important to note that before Fairfax County Parkway was built, Fairfax was essentially a bedroom community with most residents working elsewhere. Today most Fairfax residents work in Fairfax County…unlike Arlington and Alexandria, the majority of whose residents work elsewhere. The North-South corridor provides a similar resource to attract more jobs/create more job opportunities within Prince William and Loudoun Counties meaning fewer Prince William residents commuting on I-66 and I-95 and fewer Loudoun residents on Route 7 and in the Dulles Corridor commuting to jobs elsewhere. One of the best ways to relieve east west congestion is to move more jobs closer to where most people live and create more north-south commutes.

“Multiple options were examined in great detail during the 2001-2005 Tri-County Location and EIS Study. The current Bi-County Parkway was selected as the preferred local alternative after years of study and six public meetings. It has been endorsed by Loudoun and Prince William County and has appeared on their master plans for a number of years. This has not been a secretive process.

“The case and need for the North-South Corridor in general have been documented for decades. Details as to specific right-of-way, design, mitigation, adjacent parcels except will be worked out in the months/years ahead. Again, in a process that requires public outreach and input.”

 

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.

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Tom Jackman · May 20, 2013