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Allen Pushes I-95 Bypass In N. Virginia

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 18 1997; Page B01
The Washington Post

Virginia Gov. George Allen is pushing for quick approval of a $1 billion highway route linking Interstate 95 in Stafford County to the Dulles International Airport area, even though Maryland officials say they won't let the project lead to an outer beltway around Washington.

At Allen's urging, Virginia transportation panels in the next two months will vote on adding a 50-mile-long corridor for a western bypass to the state's highway plan.

It's a critical step that would allow environmental studies and land purchases to go forward for the first new freeway proposed in the area in a generation. Allen wants the state's Commonwealth Transportation Board to approve the project before he leaves office in January.

After years of discussion, state and local officials in Virginia have for the first time agreed on most of a route for the four-lane highway, which would run from I-95 south of Quantico Marine Base to Route 7 near Leesburg, stopping just short of the Potomac River. That would give motorists a 45-minute channel through Fauquier, Prince William and Loudoun counties beyond the Capital Beltway.

"We think the road is needed," said Allen, who hopes that the state could finance the project without federal aid, possibly through tolls. " . . . And we need to start planning for it now."

The new highway also is being pushed by developers and supporters of Dulles, who see it as a vital passage for workers and cargo between the I-95 corridor and the rapidly growing area around the airport.

"The Dulles Airport area is one of the most important [business] gateways to Virginia," said Allen, who added that the highway would "make it so people have another way into Dulles, as well as clear some of that congestion from I-95 and the Beltway."

But critics -- who include Maryland and federal officials, environmentalists and Civil War battlefield preservationists -- have dubbed the highway the "road to nowhere," because it would end just south of the Maryland line.

For years, Maryland officials have blocked the idea of a complete western bypass around the Washington area because they do not want to build a Potomac crossing that would open up rural parts of Montgomery County to unrestrained development.

"Our position has been, and remains, that we oppose any crossing into Maryland except at Point of Rocks, which is U.S. [Route] 15," said Chuck Brown, spokesman for Maryland Secretary of Transportation David L. Winstead.

"From Maryland's perspective, Virginia can continue its process," Brown said, echoing a position taken by Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D). "We just reaffirm our opposition."

Meanwhile, several federal agencies that will have a say on whether Virginia can build the highway say that the state's plan is flawed and is being rushed toward approval.

National Park Service officials say the route passes too close to Manassas National Battlefield Park. Environmental Protection Agency officials are worried about the pollution a new highway would generate, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- which, along with the Federal Highway Administration, would have to approve the roadway's design -- is concerned that Virginia is moving too fast on the plan.

And while most local officials have expressed support for the project, many residents in rural communities in Stafford and Prince William counties are divided over how the highway might affect the wooded hills and cropland in their area 35 miles south and west of Washington.

A Manassas group, Citizens Against Roads for Developers, said the highway would relieve less than 5 percent of the congestion on I-95 and Interstate 66 by 2020. The group cited a state report that said only 47,000 cars and trucks would use the highway each day -- less than many local thoroughfares carry -- because not many people want to travel between Stafford and Loudoun.

"Their own numbers do not justify a corridor," said Chris Miller, executive director of the Piedmont Environmental Council, a Fauquier County conservation group. Miller called the road a giant taxpayer real estate subsidy for "10 to 15 powerful development people."

Supporters of the road say that such criticism does not take into account the need to plan for future traffic corridors now. They note that the date of construction -- or how the highway would be financed -- may not be determined for years.

They point to a state analysis that projected the Dulles area's population will grow by 50 percent by 2020, causing 120,000 daily vehicle trips into the area. More than half will come from directions other than the Dulles Toll Road to the east, the report said.

"This region is going to double in size in the next 25 years," said Bob Chase, executive director of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, one of the business groups supporting the highway. "The issue here is reserving a traffic corridor. The question of when it's built is a different question."

As drafted, the route likely would hug the southern edge of Quantico Marine Base, although Stafford officials have not settled where it would intersect with I-95. The highway then would curve through a sliver of Fauquier farmland and run more than 20 miles north through Prince William within 700 feet of Manassas National Battlefield Park, near I-66.

Following the path of high-voltage power lines, the route then would cross open agricultural pastures and join Route 7 one mile east of Leesburg.

Supervisors from Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun, Stafford and Fauquier endorsed most of the route late last year. In April, a seven-member state advisory panel that includes chairmen of those counties' boards and a member of the Washington Airports Task Force, a Dulles booster group, will decide whether to recommend the route to the Commonwealth Transportation Board. The board is expected to vote on a final route in May, state transportation officials say.

Staff writer Ann O'Hanlon contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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