Sad Route 9 History

I am writing in general support of Meredith Bean McMath's letter ("VDOT to Blame in Hillsboro," Loudoun Extra, Aug. 29) regarding the history of Route 9 traffic problems. The residents of Hillsboro are not responsible for their traffic woes. My view on past events, however, differs a bit from hers in that I cannot lay the blame for inaction solely at the feet of VDOT.

I live east of Hillsboro, along Route 9, in the village of Paeonian Springs. In 1994-95, I worked closely with Hillsboro's then-Mayor Kenneth Rousseau in an attempt to get VDOT to take action.

VDOT was willing to proceed, but the opposition of Loudoun County residents to any alternative to Route 9 produced what today would be considered "strange bedfellows." Those protecting open spaces and those protecting property rights were on the same side of this issue. Today, those open spaces are largely gone, and many of those who protected their property rights have sold their properties to developers.

In 1993, the Paeonian Springs Council wrote to State Sen. Charles Waddell (D-33rd) expressing our concerns about traffic on Route 9 and suggesting some alternative alignments to alleviate traffic through our village and through Hillsboro. West Virginia already had plans to make Route 9 a four-lane road.

In fall 1994, VDOT proposed three alternatives for improving Route 9. Two of the alternatives involved cutting over to Route 7 and intersecting around Purcellville-Round Hill. The third was to widen the existing road. That was the most expensive proposition, as it would have required VDOT to purchase many houses, some of which were historic properties.

After VDOT requested public comment, a citizens group, the Route 9 Coalition, was formed. Initially, some residents of Hillsboro and Paeonian Springs joined the coalition, believing its stated mission that it was searching for a solution to a legitimate traffic problem in Loudoun.

However, it soon became clear that the leadership and the majority of the 200-member coalition were focused on protecting property rights and open spaces rather than on solving a traffic problem. Many of these members did not live along or use Route 9 and, thus, had no real interest in solving the problem.

In an attempt to counter the coalition's "do-nothing" stance, both the Town of Hillsboro and the Paeonian Springs Council formally endorsed one of VDOT's alternative alignments, then known as Alternative C. Both communities had been willing to work with the coalition to look for another solution, but neither community could support a do-nothing approach.

In addition, citizens in Paeonian Springs formed a group, Citizens for Alternative Route 9, and gathered more than 250 signatures on petitions requesting that VDOT continue working on a solution to the Route 9 traffic problem. The group presented this petition to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors on April 19, 1995. The petitions were also sent to VDOT through Sen. Waddell.

The efforts of Loudoun residents who were directly affected by Route 9 traffic were to no avail. We never heard any more about a Route 9 project.

It seems that, in this case, "smart growth" lost out to the combined efforts of "no growth" and "property rights." For the "no growth" group, the rewards were brief. On the other hand, the "property rights" group members have made out like bandits.

Today, there are expensive new houses on all of the alternative routes suggested in 1994, including the existing Route 9. To do anything today would cost much more than it would have in 1995. Furthermore, many more people would have their property rights affected by any VDOT action. I do not see that the politics of the situation have changed enough to provide any relief to Loudoun residents who actually live along or travel Route 9.

Exactly who within the coalition had the political clout to pressure VDOT into abruptly stopping the project in 1995? We will never know, but we do know that it was not the citizens of Hillsboro or Paeonian Springs.

Kathleen N. Dawson

Paeonian Springs

Disaster Ahead

Issues covered in Michael Laris's articles ("Developers in Loudoun Try Creative Bargaining," Sept. 1, and "In Loudoun, Builders Submit Spate of Plans," Sept. 2) on Loudoun County's race to permit thousands of new residences concern me deeply.

There's little doubt that Loudoun is embarking on a course just like the ones followed in northeastern New Jersey and northeastern metropolitan Atlanta, with disastrous results.

It's bad enough that the majority of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors is committed to overturning what had been a national model land-use plan that provided for reasonable growth.

But the board's high-handed tactics of shoving aside advice from their own professional planners, lining their pockets with developers' money and consigning the future of all residents of Northern Virginia to be one of congestion, air pollution, corruption and exorbitant taxes reminds me of the old days of Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed.

John Ross