Virginia's latest plan to build a western bypass outside the Capital Beltway should be scrapped and replaced with a parkway, according to promoters of Dulles International Airport.
The recommendation by Dulles business interests is a shift in strategy by a key group backing the bypass. They are determined to see a new highway built near the airport, but now say they realize they must make concessions to the environmental and historic preservation groups that oppose the bypass.
Nevertheless, the Virginia proposal to build the $1.7 billion western bypass along one of three routes between Interstate 95 in Virginia and Interstate 70 in Maryland still faces strong opposition, including from some of the groups being courted by the Dulles leaders.
Maryland officials, who want to build a $1.7 billion eastern bypass with Virginia's support, call the western bypass a "developer's road" and do not want it to cut through western Montgomery County's agricultural preserve.
A decision by both states' governors is expected next year on the $2.6 million bypass study. The bypass proposals have led to a wide regional debate about transportation and land use, with most of the opposition centered on the western route.
The Dulles advocates, including Leo J. Schefer, president of the Washington Airports Task Force, and Carrington Williams, a member of the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority, said they still support a route west of the airport and east of Route 15 in Loudoun County that crosses the Potomac River into Maryland.
But out of consideration for their critics, they now say the highway should have only a few interchanges to discourage development and should resemble a parkway, with green space, marked historical sites and parkland. Above all, they say, the region's leaders must chart a course for planned growth in the region before the road is built.
"There has to be a me'nage `a trois, if you will, between growth, the environment and historic preservation," said Schefer, whose task force promotes the airport. Dulles wants access from the west because in 20 years, fewer than half of its passengers will travel to the airport from the east.
To attempt to find a consensus, the Dulles interests brought together about 30 business, environmental and political leaders from Maryland and Virginia a year ago.
That group, which included supporters and opponents of the western bypass, recently approved a resolution stating that if a highway is necessary, the road must protect green space, historic and cultural areas and residents from unwanted growth.
For that reason, the group said, it opposes the three proposed routes for the western bypass and rejects "a conventionally designed highway such as the Beltway."
"In order to merit wide support, an expressway must be seen to be not only benign but also beneficial in its effects on citizens' homes and daily lives," such as a parkway would be, the resolution said.
Although the resolution takes no direct position on the western bypass, each side is using it to claim a victory of sorts.
Dulles interests characterized the resolution as a significant breakthrough because it shows that people from Virginia and Maryland can work together to find a middle ground on the region's most divisive transportation and growth issue.
Members of the group from Montgomery, however, said the resolution proves only that representatives from both states agree about how to approach plans for new highways and mass transit.
"If they want an access road to Dulles Airport, it should be a parkway," said Barnesville Mayor Elizabeth Tolbert. "But there's no way any of us would support that road coming through Montgomery County."