Virginia transportation officials yesterday proposed three possible routes for a new highway that would link the outer suburbs of Northern Virginia, the first step in building a north-south connector through some of the nation's fastest-growing counties.
The tri-county parkway would connect the booming Dulles corridor with residential communities in Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William counties. Two of the proposed alignments would link Route 50 in Loudoun and Interstate 66 in Prince William, swinging to the west of Manassas National Battlefield Park, and a third would curve east of the park and extend south to Manassas.
State officials and other road supporters said the parkway would provide a much-needed route between the Dulles area and the suburbs that surround it. They also said it would provide a way around the park, relieving traffic on the regularly clogged two-lane roads that cut through it.
"The problem is connectivity between Manassas and the Dulles area and easing congestion" within it, said Ken Wilkinson, tri-county parkway project manager for the Virginia Department of Transportation. He said fixing trouble spots and relying on existing roads wouldn't solve the problem.
Crowded Route 28 serves as the main commuter route between the western suburbs and the Dulles corridor. Motorists seeking alternatives also jam a series of decades-old, two-lane country roads, where they compete for space with convoys of construction equipment used to build the thousands of new homes in the area.
Transportation officials said costs range from $177 million for the cheapest alternative to $548 million for the most expensive one. Regardless, the state says it doesn't have money to build any of the options. If money appeared today, officials said, construction could start in 2012.
State officials said private companies have made inquiries about building the road and tolling drivers, but it is too soon to gauge whether such ideas would be viable.
They also said it is too soon to tell exactly how the road would take shape: how many lanes it would have, whether it would have dedicated exits or intersections and other details. They added 13 to 22 homes would have to be removed to build the road, depending on its route.
The parkway is included in plans for all three counties, though local officials would have to approve specifics.
Opponents of the project said it wouldn't alleviate traffic in the area because it would open a new path for developers to add thousands of homes. They also said the road could become part of an outer beltway around the entire region, which is opposed by many environmentalists and advocates of controlled growth.
Stewart Schwartz, executive director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said that new interchanges on Route 28 would alleviate congestion in the region and that fixing I-66 would be a better use of funds.
"Let's help commuters today and fix I-66 and fix interchanges on Route 28 so people can get to work, instead of making more land for development," he said.
There is also a debate about the effectiveness of the alignments. Some highway planners said the eastern route, which comes closest to Dulles International Airport and stretches to Manassas, would be the best transportation fix. They said the other two options are little more than the combination of existing and planned roads.
Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, said those options would amount to "merging two corridors into one and pretending they've solved the problem."
But the eastern route is also the costliest by far and cuts through parts of Bull Run Regional Park. "There's a whole lot of concern with the parks we go through and resources associated with Bull Run," Wilkinson said.
Public hearings will be held on the project between 5 and 8 p.m. May 9 at Stonewall Jackson High School, 8820 Rixlew Lane in Manassas; May 10 at Bull Run Elementary School, 15301 Lee Highway in Centreville, and May 11 at Arcola Elementary School, 24328 Goshen Road in Aldie.