VDOT's Outdated Solutions

Contrary to Andrew F. Pitas's frequent assertions that Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York (I-At Large) and Catoctin Supervisor Sarah R. "Sally" Kurtz (D) have ignored Loudoun County's transportation needs ["Going Nowhere on Roads," Loudoun Extra, Oct. 28], I have watched these two supervisors, plus Blue Ridge Supervisor Jim G. Burton (I), work hard to force the Virginia Department of Transportation to implement road solutions that actually solve problems and serve residents' needs.

The glacial pace of transportation improvements is exacerbated by the ponderous and inefficient bureaucracy of VDOT. Its initial plans often fail to address local needs, and its lumbering protocols ensure that its flat-footed designs are obsolete by the time money turns up to build them.

By then, VDOT is keen to follow that little arrow to the last box on the flow chart. It is structurally unable to adapt to changed circumstances: It bulldozes on, undeterred by the fact that the landscape has changed, time has passed and needs are different.

Questioning whether a project is a wise use of our resources that will truly serve transportation needs is something that we expect our elected officials to do and that we as citizens get to do, too. Yes, taking that critical look can delay a project. But we pay a heavy price when the quick solution turns out to be the wrong solution.

Here's one example:

During the 1999-2003 Board of Supervisors term, VDOT unveiled a massive plan for re-engineering Route 15 from the bypass to Whites Ferry Road. Even without increasing the number of travel lanes, it nearly tripled the road width, paving over historic Big Spring and adding miles of 15-foot-wide concrete medians and paved shoulders.

As VDOT engineers subsequently acknowledged, this expensive and destructive plan -- supposedly justified as a "safety improvement" -- was based on a 60-mph design speed, even though the posted speed limit of the road is 45 mph. County staff (back when the board respected the knowledge and expertise of its professional staff) warned that the increased width and sightlines resulting from VDOT's plan would encourage speeding and actually increase accidents.

Prompted by residents, Kurtz, supported by York, Burton and the other supervisors, asked VDOT to give three examples from elsewhere in the state where a similar design did in fact reduce accidents. VDOT never responded. It just went ahead and built it. Now -- surprise -- there are proportionally more accidents on this "Phase 1 Safety Improvement" than on the rest of the road.

Here's another example:

VDOT is about to construct several "spot improvements" at three intersections farther north on Route 15. These plans also are based on data that are seven to 10 years old. The plans do not make any provision for the access needs of residents on and off of the highway, much less the residents of the 900 more housing units that have been approved to be built in the area.

These VDOT "improvements" aid the flow of through traffic at the expense of access for local residents. We will get to sit in VDOT-constructed turn lanes and at the end of our driveways and roads feeding onto Route 15, watching as commuters speed by.

These plans will also further destroy scenic and historic attributes of this Virginia byway, which is in the center of the state-designated Catoctin Rural Historic District and the state's first designated heritage area. This is not a tree-hugger issue but an economic and quality-of-life one. Byway status is proved nationwide to provide substantial economic benefit to local businesses, and a modern, context-sensitive road design would especially help the increasing number of small agri-tourism businesses in our area.

Do we need road improvements? Absolutely. But 1950s-style solutions cannot address 21st-century needs. York, Kurtz and Burton understand this and have devoted themselves to achieving intelligent transportation solutions that truly serve the interests of Loudoun citizens.

Martha Polkey