Prince William’s reexamination of the Bi-County Parkway comes at important moment

December 15, 2013

Prince William County’s Dec. 3 decision to reexamine its position on the Bi-County Parkway comes at an important moment in the long, contentious debate over whether the road should be built, opponents say.

The parkway, a controversial 10-mile road that would connect Interstate 66 in Prince William and Route 50 in Loudoun County, faces several hurdles in the coming months, said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which opposes the project.

Federal transportation authorities are examining the parkway proposal, but the final outcome probably rests with the administration of Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe (D), Schwartz said. McAuliffe said during his campaign that he would study the issue, and it’s unclear whether his administration would push the Bi-County Parkway when his term begins Jan. 11.

Schwartz said he hopes that state and federal transportation officials consider the board’s recent decision. “The new governor will hopefully ask for a major reevaluation,” Schwartz said. “The views of local elected officials . . . can carry weight.”

In a 7 to 1 vote, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors agreed to conduct a $100,000 study of the project to determine whether it should remain part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, it’s long-term planning document. Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville), a supporter of the parkway, was the only vote against the move.

It’s unclear whether the board’s study will have any effect on the process. Supervisor Peter K. Candland (R-Gainesville) said supervisors should hold a simple up or down vote on the parkway itself.

The Bi-County Parkway has been the subject of much heated discussion over the past year. Supporters say the road is necessary to bolster economic development and connect two of the fastest-growing counties in the country. Opponents — particularly those who live in the path of the proposed route — say that the road would affect their property and way of life, as well as the county’s federally protected Rural Crescent and the historic Civil War grounds near Manassas National Battlefield Park.

Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, which supports the road, told supervisors before the vote that nothing has changed despite the ongoing debate. Northern Virginia is growing, and new transportation infrastructure is needed for traffic and job growth, he said.

“As John Adams said, facts are stubborn things,” Chase told the board. “There are certainly a lot of wishes, inclinations, surrounding these issues. . . . The need for the Bi-County Parkway is well documented.”

Candland, a vocal road opponent, said supervisors chose the easy way out by appearing to take action without actually staking out their position. Because the vote was technically on a study to determine whether the parkway should be removed from the county’s Comprehensive Plan, Candland said the action meant little.

“Certain individuals don’t want to take a straight up-or-down vote on the Bi-County Parkway,” Candland said. “Enough is enough. We’ve talked about this issue ad nauseam.”

Candland said time is of the essence because the Virginia Department of Transportation is moving forward on an agreement with federal transportation authorities, upon whose approval the project is contingent. Once that agreement is signed, supervisors may no longer have a voice on the issue, Candland said.

Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) said supervisors might have more time than they think as McAuliffe considers his position on the subject.

County staff members plan to study the parkway and other area roads in a comprehensive traffic, road and land-use analysis. That study would then go to the Prince William County Planning Commission, and supervisors would have a final vote on the Bi-County Parkway and other area improvements, a process expected to take about a year.

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