Category: Loudoun & Prince William

PW Digital Gateway Environmental Coalition Opposition Letter

We, the undersigned thirty (30) organizations, write to you today regarding Comprehensive Plan Amendment #CPA2021-00004, the PW Digital Gateway. On behalf of our millions of members and supporters in Prince William County, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and nationwide, we urge you to vote “No” on this proposal.

ACTION ALERT: Demand climate action from your local elected officials

ACTION ALERT: Demand climate action from your local elected officials

Transportation is the #1 source of our regional greenhouse gas emissions, and we have just 8 years to slash those emissions. Yet, our local and state elected officials who sit on the regional Transportation Planning Board (TPB), are not taking the urgent – and feasible – steps necessary to reduce emissions from our region’s transportation system. They need to hear from you! 

RELEASE: Bridge Boondoggle: Smart-growth groups respond to Loudoun’s push for upper Potomac River bridges

Coalition for Smarter Growth, Piedmont Environmental Council, Montgomery Countryside Alliance

Press Statement
For Immediate Release
October 10, 2018

Contact:
Stewart Schwartz, CSG, (703) 599-6437
Gem Bingol, PEC, (703) 431-6941
Caroline Taylor, MCA, (301) 461-9831

Recently, the Loudoun County Board voted to support and push for a new and controversial upper Potomac bridge, based on a county-funded study.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth and allies responded, citing years of studies that demonstrate the bridge is not needed, would waste tax dollars, and would destroy neighborhoods and the environment.

“An upper Potomac Bridge and associated outer beltway would be a boondoggle, wasting billions of dollars, diverting funding from true transportation needs, fueling more sprawl and traffic, and greatly harming neighborhoods and environmental resources,” says Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “A bridge didn’t make sense in 1988, 2001, 2004, 2015, or 2017 — when it’s been studied before — and it doesn’t make sense now.”

CSG, the Piedmont Environmental Council, and the Montgomery Countryside Alliance were critical of Loudoun County for not including three previous studies in their analysis: the 2001 “Wolf” study, the 2003-2004 Council of Governments/Virginia Department of Transportation origin and destination study, and the 2015 Virginia Department of Transportation origins and destination study.

“The Loudoun County study ignores the clear findings of VDOT’s 2015 origins and destination study of Potomac River crossings, which do not support a new upriver crossing,” says Schwartz.

The 2015 VDOT study is definitive. It shows that that just 5 percent of Virginia trips crossing the American Legion Bridge today, and 4 percent in 2040, are the “U-shaped commutes” that might use an upriver bridge. All other trips — 95 percent — are either “L-shaped” (60 percent) and best served by the location of the American Legion Bridge and its alignment with the largest job centers in Fairfax and Montgomery Counties, or are trips that cross the American Legion and have destinations along and inside the Beltway (35 percent — these are not discussed in the briefing).

“The 2015 study concluded that the American Legion Bridge has the worst congestion and need for improvement among Potomac River road bridges, and we are pleased the governors of Virginia and Maryland are now focused on multimodal improvements at the American Legion Bridge,” says Schwartz.

The 2015 VDOT findings confirm the previous origin and destination study for the American Legion Bridge (2003/2004), which tracked both Virginia and Maryland commuters crossing that bridge and found a similarly low percentage of “U-shaped commuters.”

“Given the high potential cost of a new upriver bridge, including the 10 to 15 miles of highway that Maryland would need to build, scarce tax dollars are better used fixing existing congestion problems at the American Legion Bridge and the Rosslyn Metro Tunnel, and on local road improvements within Loudoun County,” says Schwartz.

“The Loudoun County study showed that any neighborhood chosen as the path for a new bridge would see negative impacts, including loss of homes and wetlands. It also ignored that the last time specific bridge crossings were proposed, in the 2001 study initiated by Congressman Frank Wolf, it prompted a massive outcry from neighborhoods on both sides of the river,” says Gem Bingol of the Piedmont Environmental Council. “The neighborhoods should not have the threat of this highway hanging over them when the road isn’t justified in the first place.”

In a Fairfax Times article dated May 29, 2001, “[Congressman] Wolf said communities in northern Fairfax and Loudoun counties and those in southern Montgomery County, Md., — particularly on the proposed bridge corridors — were simply too densely packed with homes.” Wolf also said, “Moving the route further west put the bridge into Maryland’s agricultural preserve and too far out to make a difference for commuters.”

The bridge and highway would impact significant natural and historic resources, including the Potomac Heritage Trail, the C&O Canal National Historic Park, Broad Run, Seneca Creek, the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve, and neighborhoods in eastern Loudoun and throughout Darnestown and North Potomac, Maryland,” said Caroline Taylor, executive director of the Montgomery Countryside Alliance. “As a result, and not surprisingly, Montgomery County and the State of Maryland remain adamantly opposed to the bridge and highway.”

In the 2017 Council of Governments study of long-range transportation plan priorities, Supervisor Ron Meyer of Loudoun County pitched the upper Potomac Bridge as a “game-changing” investment, but study results show it is not. It performed worst in meeting regional challenges, increased regional VMT and per capita VMT, ranked 6th in reducing vehicle hours of delay, and was among the scenarios that moved the needle very little on the remaining measures.

This almost precisely mirrors the findings in a recent Northern Virginia transaction plan analysis, which showed that the Northern Virginia network performed about the same with and without the bridge. In that case as well, other scenarios, such as compact land use, performed as well or better than the bridge. Additionally, the bridge would add traffic to area roads rather than reduce it, because it would induce demand for new trips rather than serving existing travel patterns.

“The bridge stands out from all the other scenarios for having the largest negative impact on air and water quality and open space,” says Bingol.

“This isn’t surprising. The bridge would directly impact the drinking water intakes for most of the region’s population; potentially impair the Piedmont groundwater aquifer, which serves as the sole source of drinking water in rural Montgomery County; create development pressure in the nationally recognized Agricultural Reserve; and increase vehicle miles traveled,” says Taylor.

“We urge Loudoun County to drop their push for an upper Potomac River bridge,” says Schwartz. “It won’t help traffic. It will, in fact, make traffic worse, while harming neighborhoods, drinking water, the Agriculture Reserve and environmental resources. And it will waste tax dollars.”

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About the Coalition for Smarter Growth
The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington DC region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Its mission is to promote walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies and investments needed to make those communities flourish. Learn more at smartergrowth.net.

Dulles International Airport Challenges

A demand for change at Dulles Airport.

Washington Dulles International Airport, located in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties in Virginia, was once surrounded by farmland. An image of the Dulles Airport decorates the seal for the Town of Herndon. Yet Dulles airport is fighting an image problem. Virginia political and business leaders are trying to reverse passenger declines at Dulles Airport, as more passengers travel through Reagan National Airport.

#In 2005, 27 million passengers flew through Dulles; in 2014, the number was 21.6 million. In comparison, 17.8 million passengers flew through Reagan National Airport in 2005. By 2014, that number of Reagan passengers had become 20.8 million. Three times in 15 years, Congress has lifted the 1,250-mile perimeter and added new flight slots at National.

#Some travelers have said Dulles Airport is difficult to navigate through. It has also been getting a bad reputation for luggage issues. Dulles had 1,086 total claims, out of which 331 were approved or settled for a total of $67,952.16 between 2010 and 2014. A USA Today investigation found the TSA is taking a hit for damaged bags, paying out $3-million in claims for lost, broken or stolen items.

#TSA PAID OUT 7.6 claims per million passengers at Washington Dulles International, about two and a half times the number of losses paid at nearby Reagan National and nearly four times more than the airport ranked with fewest complaints among the 30 busiest Airports in America, Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

#In the meantime, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) is trying to increase revenue while more passengers are using Reagan National. Dulles is expensive for airlines. Most large airlines fly a “hub-and-spoke” network where they fly almost entirely to and from their hubs. Without a United hub, there are no flights to smaller eastern cities from Dulles, since United depends on connecting passengers to fill them.

#United CEO Jeff Smisek said United is reluctant to expand at Dulles because it is more expensive than other airports. Airports have to be self-sufficient and pay for their facilities and operations through revenue they earn inside the airport (like restaurants, concessions) and fees airlines pay. When an airport wants to build new facilities, it must take on debt that raises the costs for the airlines.

#In January of 2015 Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe unveiled new, large versions of the “Welcome to Virginia” signs at Dulles Airport. In April, a seminar was held at the Sterling AOL Campus, titled Dulles Matters. The event was sponsored by the Committee for Dulles. Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said although Dulles is a key regional asset, the public must be sure leaders are making the smartest choices when it comes to spending taxpayer money.

#A study commissioned by the MWAA showed Dulles generated more than $1.2 billion a year in tax revenue and nearly $10 billion in labor income. More than 19,000 people work at Dulles, but nearly 250,000 jobs are tied to the airport. MWAA operates National and Dulles. “We need to rally and put Dulles and this region onto a positive growth path,” said Keith Meurlin, president of the Washington Airports Task Force and former Washington Dulles International Airport manager.

#Phase 2 of Metro’s new Silver Line will include a station at Dulles, and construction may be complete by 2020. The MWAA may amend its ground transportation policy to allow Uber, Lyft and similar services access to airport property at National and Dulles. The Maryland Aviation Administration, which oversees BWI, studied practices at other airports to develop a “comprehensive review” of its ground transportation service, and plans to update regulations in coming months, officials said.

#Traditional cabs pay a $3-per-fare fee to operate at National, unless it’s a prearranged trip, and they must wait in line to be dispatched. Uber and Lyft drivers can pull up to the curb to collect passengers. “They are popular with a certain segment of the population,” said John Massoud, vice president of M&R Taxi Company, Inc., trading as Arlington Blue Top Cab, which has provided taxi service to Northern Virginia since 1984. A locally owned family business, M&R Taxi Company, Inc. has potential taxi drivers go through a detailed screening process including a drug test, training and an exam. “Only then we do allow someone to drive a Washington Flyer taxi,” said Massoud. Although taxi companies have few worries for the Metro Silver Line, they have expressed specific concerns regarding rider services such as Uber.

#DULLES AIRPORT has been reviewing three potential sites for hotel development including a 2.6-acre site used as employee parking at the east end of the terminal. The other two sites include: a 5.6-acre site behind a daily garage facing the main terminal, near the future Metro station; and a 13.7-acre lakefront site near the existing Dulles Airport Marriott hotel, which has a lease to operate at Dulles through 2027. On-airport hotels have been popular for travelers who have early flights.

Read original article here.

 

Update on The Bi-County Parkway: A Chance to “Take a Second Look”

During his campaign, Governor McAuliffe said he would take a hard-look at the controversial $440 million Bi-County Parkway, reevaluating this project and others proposed by VDOT. In his campaign platform, under the section titled “Pick the right projects; build the best ones,” he stated:

Prince William’s reexamination of the Bi-County Parkway comes at important moment

Prince William County’s Dec. 3 decision to reexamine its position on the Bi-County Parkway comes at an important moment in the long, contentious debate over whether the road should be built, opponents say.

The parkway, a controversial 10-mile road that would connect Interstate 66 in Prince William and Route 50 in Loudoun County, faces several hurdles in the coming months, said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which opposes the project.

Federal transportation authorities are examining the parkway proposal, but the final outcome probably rests with the administration of Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe (D), Schwartz said. McAuliffe said during his campaign that he would study the issue, and it’s unclear whether his administration would push the Bi-County Parkway when his term begins Jan. 11.

Schwartz said he hopes that state and federal transportation officials consider the board’s recent decision. “The new governor will hopefully ask for a major reevaluation,” Schwartz said. “The views of local elected officials . . . can carry weight.”

In a 7 to 1 vote, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors agreed to conduct a $100,000 study of the project to determine whether it should remain part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, it’s long-term planning document. Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville), a supporter of the parkway, was the only vote against the move.

It’s unclear whether the board’s study will have any effect on the process. Supervisor Peter K. Candland (R-Gainesville) said supervisors should hold a simple up or down vote on the parkway itself.

The Bi-County Parkway has been the subject of much heated discussion over the past year. Supporters say the road is necessary to bolster economic development and connect two of the fastest-growing counties in the country. Opponents — particularly those who live in the path of the proposed route — say that the road would affect their property and way of life, as well as the county’s federally protected Rural Crescent and the historic Civil War grounds near Manassas National Battlefield Park.

Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, which supports the road, told supervisors before the vote that nothing has changed despite the ongoing debate. Northern Virginia is growing, and new transportation infrastructure is needed for traffic and job growth, he said.

“As John Adams said, facts are stubborn things,” Chase told the board. “There are certainly a lot of wishes, inclinations, surrounding these issues. . . . The need for the Bi-County Parkway is well documented.”

Candland, a vocal road opponent, said supervisors chose the easy way out by appearing to take action without actually staking out their position. Because the vote was technically on a study to determine whether the parkway should be removed from the county’s Comprehensive Plan, Candland said the action meant little.

“Certain individuals don’t want to take a straight up-or-down vote on the Bi-County Parkway,” Candland said. “Enough is enough. We’ve talked about this issue ad nauseam.”

Candland said time is of the essence because the Virginia Department of Transportation is moving forward on an agreement with federal transportation authorities, upon whose approval the project is contingent. Once that agreement is signed, supervisors may no longer have a voice on the issue, Candland said.

Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) said supervisors might have more time than they think as McAuliffe considers his position on the subject.

County staff members plan to study the parkway and other area roads in a comprehensive traffic, road and land-use analysis. That study would then go to the Prince William County Planning Commission, and supervisors would have a final vote on the Bi-County Parkway and other area improvements, a process expected to take about a year.

 Read the original article on Washington Post >>

Joint Environmental Groups’ Letter to Terry McAuliffe against Bi-County Parkway

Dear Governor-Elect McAuliffe: Congratulations on your victory and thank you for your support for so many of our conservation and smart growth priorities. With regard to transportation, we are particularly pleased with your support for building sustainable communities, seeking the least intrusive solutions, adapting infrastructure to serve community needs, and commitment to “pulling the plug” on transportation projects that fail to meet these standards. In keeping with those priorities…

Will Terry McCauliffe Sign Off on a Notorious Sprawl Project in NoVa?

With Terry McAuliffe about to move in to the Virginia governor’s mansion, it’s unclear what will become of one of the state’s most contested transportation proposals — the Bi-County Parkway, a $440 million highway in the outer D.C. suburbs.

Though it seems likely the current administration of Republican Governor Bob McDonnell will make a forceful push to get approvals sealed before the end of the year, the timeline is tight. Then there’s the big question of how McAuliffe, a Democrat, will manage the controversial proposal.

As planned, the four-lane divided highway would run 10.4 miles north-south between Route 50 and Route 66, two notoriously clogged commuter roads into D.C.

Critics of the Bi-County Parkway — who have been varied and outspoken — warn that the new highway would do little to ease congestion, and would in fact create even more traffic in this mixed region of farmland, cul-de-sacs, and Civil War landmarks. Smart growth advocates see the developers salivating over the project and predict that the road will simply perpetuate the trend of isolating housing from jobs.

“From what we see, all it’s going to encourage is more residential development in an area that lacks sufficient infrastructure,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “It’s putting more cars on top of the funnel.”

The proposal is at a critical juncture now, with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) aiming to submit a final environmental impact statement to the feds by the end of the year — before McDonnell leaves.

McDonnell has aggressively pushed the Bi-County Parkway, even going so far as to hire a public relations firm to pitch the project.

“He has fast-tracked the planning and approvals and all that,” said James Bacon of Bacon’s Rebellion, a Virginia public policy blog. “He clearly made it a priority.”

And though several aspects of the project are still tied up in negotiation — particularly due to the government shutdown — many believe McDonnell will make an all-out effort to get Federal Highway Administration sign-off before 2014.

“The McDonnell Administration is flooring the gas pedal… hoping to get final approval before their time runs out,” wrote Morgan Butler, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, in an email. “The administration has downplayed (or ignored outright) major community and environmental impacts and given short shrift to alternatives, as they try to get their pet projects to a point of no return before they leave office.”

A study published by SELC and other smart growth and environmental groups this summer, “Rethinking the Bi-County Parkway,” argues that the project won’t help the region’s biggest transportation problem — east-west travel — and will undermine preservation goals for Manassas National Battlefield Park. Instead of the highway, the report recommends transit improvements like extensions for Metro and VRE and an express bus on Route 50. VDOT has not formally analyzed any of those other options.

Critics of the Bi-County Parkway have also worried the project will help resurrect old plans for other roads, like a 45-mile “north-south corridor of significance,” and even a larger “Outer Beltway,” which VDOT has denied.

VDOT’s pitch is that the new highway will ease congestion by increasing connectivity between Loudon and Prince William counties and replacing a route through the battlefield park. Supporters have also said the highway will spur more air cargo activity at Dulles Airport, though a researcher at George Mason University disputed that claim.

So far there’s no definitive indication of how the next administration will deal with the Bi-County Parkway. When the topic came up during election debates, McAuliffe avoided taking a firm stand, saying he needed more facts. McAuliffe’s Republican opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, was more forthright in opposing the proposal, though he expressed support for some type of north-south connector.

For some voters, the issue was enough to bring them over to the “Democrats for Cuccinelli” camp, said Charlie Grymes, chair of the Prince William Conservation Alliance. Even more interesting, he said, was the way it forced some Virginia delegates to mark their positions. Bacon’s Rebellion also noted the unusual camaraderie the issue forged between populist conservatives and liberal smart-growth advocates.

While Cuccinelli’s stance stemmed from his fiscal conservatism, McAuliffe has made it clear that he intends to pour big bucks into transportation. As Politico notes, his campaign played up his support for Virginia’s new law to raise $1.4 billion for infrastructure through increased sales taxes and other fees.

To Bacon, that may make McAuliffe more inclined to support wasteful projects like the Bi-County Parkway.

But The Washington Post also notes that McAuliffe’s platform highlighted “elements that appeal to advocates of livable, walkable communities.”

Schwartz sees the new administration as a fresh opportunity to examine alternatives. With McAuliffe “walking into a transportation agency which enjoys significantly higher levels of funding,” he said, it’s going to be “incumbent to look at how we can spend funds more wisely.”

Also critical will be McAuliffe’s decisions about transportation leadership. Many view the Bi-County Parkway as a pet project of Sean Connaughton, the current transportation secretary.

“Once he’s gone, the project’s going to lose a big backer,” said Bacon. “On the other hand, the political constellation around it won’t disappear.”

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