Gainesville-Buckland Bypass Routes Studied

By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 26, 2006

A new study has outlined three possible routes for a Gainesville-Buckland bypass designed to reduce traffic on Route 29 and soothe some of the region's most road-weary commuters with a high-speed shortcut to Interstate 66.

Whichever course the road eventually takes, though, it's likely to carve a costly and contentious path through the western edge of Prince William County.

Each bypass proposal would create a 3.5- to 4.5-mile, four-lane limited-access highway linking Route 29 in the New Baltimore area of Fauquier County to I-66 near Thoroughfare Gap in Prince William. Preliminary estimates put the project's cost at $275 million to $300 million, including widening I-66 east of the bypass to accommodate the added traffic.

Proponents say a bypass would provide a cheaper alternative to widening Route 29 and would reduce traffic through the Buckland Historic District. With the roadway already jammed with 46,000 vehicles daily and thousands more houses planned for Fauquier County, they say a shortcut is the best option for congestion relief because so many drivers along Route 29 are only passing through en route to I-66.

"This bypass makes a lot of sense," said Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville), whose district would include the Prince William portion. "We're at a crossroads where we can make some decisions that make life a lot better for a lot of people."

The $100,000 study, which is available on Fauquier County's Web site, was prepared by Rinker Design Associates PC of Manassas and paid for with state transportation funds earmarked by Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-District 13). It considers three options for the bypass, each intersecting with I-66 in the Thoroughfare Gap area. The first would link to Route 29 at Route 215 (Vint Hill Road), the second at Route 676 (Riley Road) and the third in New Baltimore at Route 29 and Beverlys Mill Road.

None of the options is palatable to Doug Smith, who lives off Route 29 and Vint Hill Road in Fauquier. The first would put the road through his 40-acre farm, the second through his sister's and the third through his grandfather's. According to the study, right-of-way payments to landowners in the path of the bypass routes would run from $15.75 million to $21.5 million. In addition, six to 14 properties would have to be taken outright.

"I've lived here all my life," said Smith, who resides on a parcel he inherited from his grandfather. "Do I want to sell? Do I want to move? No. It's my family home. I can't replace where we live now for what I would get for that property."

Smith said that he understands the need for transportation improvements in the area but that widening Route 29 to six lanes would be far easier and less expensive than seizing private land.

Covington and other bypass supporters say Route 29 would need eight lanes and elaborate interchanges all the way through Gainesville to achieve the degree of traffic relief that a simple shortcut to I-66 would bring. Such improvements to Route 29 could easily cost twice as much as a bypass, Covington said, and part of the costs could be recovered by making it a toll road.

Another concern about the bypass is that it might spur sprawl. Covington and David W. Blake, president of the Buckland Preservation Society, said the bypass would be viable only if it's a limited- or no-access road, uncluttered by stoplights and development.

"It won't help the regional transportation problem unless it's a no-access road," said Blake, who owns the 550-acre Buckland Farm and has pushed hard to reroute commuter traffic from the area's 18th-century homes and historic buildings. "Once everyone understands the facts, I think we'll be able to save money and preserve all of Buckland."

Prince William and Fauquier supervisors plan a joint public meeting in January to discuss bypass options and solicit public input, Covington said. Additional feasibility and impact studies are likely before any decision on the bypass proposal is made.

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