The controversial designation of a 45-mile north-south stretch from I-95 in Dumfries to Route 7 in Ashburn as a “Corridor of Statewide Significance” is slated to start with a ten-mile road called the Bi-County Parkway. Just south of the end of the proposed parkway, on Route 234 in the Manassas area, is the 134-acre Prince William County campus of George Mason University.
Now, George Mason President Angel Cabrera is wading into the controversy in favor of the road. In an opinion piece published Monday in Capital Business, Cabrera writes that the road will be good for the university and good for the large nearby Innovation Technology Park. You can read his full piece here. (Also weighing in over the weekend, against the road, was Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli.) (And before that, the chief historian emeritus of the National Park Service, Edwin Bearss, wrote in favor of the parkway.)
(UPDATE, Tuesday, 12:40 p.m.: The Coalition for Smarter Growth, which has been deeply involved in this issue, has just issued a response to Cabrera’s letter, which you can read here.)
I asked Cabrera why he wanted to jump into the middle of this very hot issue. The proposed parkway has been criticized for running alongside the historic Manassas battlefield, for displacing residents and possibly being a boon to developers, and for running north-south when much suburban traffic runs east-west. He said he had studied the case deeply, and said it would be in everybody’s interest “to understand how it affects the public university,” that being the largest university in Virginia.
Though Route 234 leading to the Prince William campus is fine, “it doesn’t connect with the places it should connect,” Cabrera said. Route 234 now stops at I-66 and doesn’t go north to Loudoun County, “where many of our faculty and students live. Right now we have a very nice commute going southeast (to Prince William), but we don’t have that going north. If you live in Loudoun County, you have to go for a hike, for an event [at the Hylton Performing Arts Center] or to study at Mason.”
He acknowledged that there are residents “whose lives are affected by this, and I don’t want to minimize that.” But “I just want to highlight some of the advantages. From the standpoint of the university, it’s clear.” He said, “If you are interested in less traffic and a more sustainable lifestyle, having good business and living opportunities, that’s a good thing.” Instead of long commutes “to Arlington and Alexandria and D.C., here’s a place that is creating high quality jobs, high paying jobs, that is out here. If we just faciliate access to that campus for that region, that should be a plus and not overburden the current situation.”
Cabrera added, “I’m very respectful of everybody’s opinion, but hopefully people will hear this one too…As an additional and important data point, I know it’s not the only one, but it’s an important one for people to consider.” His article is here.