Fauquier County residents, officials and politicians agree that Warrenton has a traffic problem, but disagree on the Virginia Department of Transportation's proposed solution.
One proposed DOT remedy is to construct an eastern bypass around the town. Part of that bypass, connecting Rte. 29 with southbound Rtes. 15 and 29, was recently completed and opened.
However, a proposed spur connecting Rte. 29 and northbound Rte. 17 has ignited heated debate among a number of residents.
Some residents think a Rte. 17 spur will greatly reduce the often heavy truck traffic and congestion Warrenton experiences.
Others say they feel the spur would ruin their environment and life styles and threaten their health. They support doing nothing.
According to DOT officials, the proposed limited-access four-lane bypass would be 2.1 miles long. Starting where the completed part of the eastern bypass connects with Rte. 29 east of Warrenton, the proposed spur would go northwest, passing underneath Blackwell Road, then skirt the Ivy Hill subdivision and run northeast of Bradley Elementary School and the Highland School before joining Rte. 17 about three-tenths of a mile north of the corporate limits of Warrenton.
The estimated cost, according to DOT highway engineer Jack Stewart, would be $17.1 million in federal and state funds. DOT has already acquired about 50 percent of the right of way for the spur.
Warrenton's Mayor Bill Lineweaver and county administrator Steve Crosby, representing the board of supervisors, officially endorsed DOT's plan at a recent public hearing.
"The town of Warrenton hopes you will proceed as quickly as possible to complete the spur and not delay over the objections of a few environmentalists," said Lineweaver. Crosby recommended the spur be designed so it could be extended in the future to connect with westbound Rte. 211 on the southwest side of Warrenton.
The biggest opposition to the proposed spur came from a group of six Ivy Hill residents calling themselves the Citizens for Environmental Responsibility. Formed specifically to combat the DOT plan, the group presented state highway officials with a petition that they said contained signatures of 700 to 800 people opposed to the spur.
The group argued that the 1986 draft environmental assessment for the spur prepared by DOT was incomplete and inaccurate and a new, more thorough study should be completed.
"The DOT assessment cites destruction of wetlands and significant increase in air and noise pollution, yet concludes there would be no significant impact from the highway," said Ronald Luca, a member of the citizens group. "There are well over 1,000 schoolchildren and residents living and going to school nearby who would experience a measurable decline in their living standards if this spur is built."
"Despite the disclaimers, this road would represent a public health time bomb dropped in all of our backyards, just waiting to explode," said John Albertella, the chairman of the citizens group. "The citizens of Fauquier will not put up with shoddy plans or let roughshod planning ruin our lives."
Despite opposition to the plan, officials said they are confident the spur will be built.
"I've yet to see a public hearing where there was no opposition to the highway department's decision," said Don Askew, DOT assistant district engineer. "Our assessment is outdated only to the extent that it was submitted for federal approval in 1986. But highways are not built overnight." Asked if he thought the spur will be built, Askew said, "I would say yes."
After the review of the public hearing record and any possible amendments or recommendations to the proposal, DOT will submit a plan for the location of the spur to the Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board.
The Federal Highway Administration must also approve a final environmental assessment before surveying and final designs for the spur can begin. A public hearing will then be held to discuss proposed design features of the spur. The department's estimated date to begin construction is winter 1991.