The Bi-County Parkway is effectively off the table thanks to relentless community opposition to plans to build a connector road between Prince William and Loudoun — but transportation planners across Northern Virginia are still brainstorming how exactly they might link the two rapidly growing counties.
The issue has mostly faded from the public eye, particularly after the Prince William Board of County Supervisors removed the project, which would extend Va. 234 to connect to U.S. 50, from its comprehensive plan two years ago. Yet, at a panel of transportation-focused policymakers and advocates convened by Prince William’s “Committee of 100” in Manassas on Thursday, there was broad agreement that officials need to do something to ease north-south travel between Loudoun and Prince William, even if it doesn’t take the form of the infamous Bi-County Parkway.
“We need the connectivity, so if the answer is no Bi-County Parkway, we need some other way to make that connection,” said county Supervisor Marty Nohe, R-Coles, and the chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. “It’s a political hurdle, though.”
Nohe expects that the widening of Interstate 66 outside the Beltway to Gainesville will help some in that regard, as will the bypass for Va. 28 that his NVTA is studying right now. He hopes that improvements to Va. 28 will help ease access to Dulles International Airport, a key factor for Bi-County Parkway boosters. But he still believes transportation planners need to consider “another option” for people looking to get to Loudoun.
“We’ve decided the Bi-County Parkway is not going to be that option, so now there’s an effort to identify a new alternative,” Nohe said. “Later this year, we’ll have an update to the transportation section of our comprehensive plan, and I expect then we’ll have some type of new northsouth connectivity to supplant the Bi-County Parkway on the table.”
Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and a longtime Bi-County Parkway critic, praised that approach, noting that he sees a variety of potential options on the table. In particular, he thinks Prince William could mirror Loudoun’s decision to use roundabouts to link U.S. 15 and U.S. 50 by constructing roundabouts where Pageland Lane intersects with U.S. 29 and Va. 234 in Gainesville.
“That way, you have the ability to rotate around if you’re an existing resident, and not have anyone else join you on the roads,” Schwartz said. “The bottom line is, the Bi-County Parkway is not the silver bullet it’s advertised to be. There are other options.”
Not everyone around Northern Virginia is so sure. Not only has Supervisors’ Chairman Corey Stewart, a Republican, repeatedly insisted that the project could be revived, but the project’s original proponents in the region remain adamant that it’s best solution for the two counties.
“It’s an absolutely essential and obvious need,” said David Birtwistle, chief executive officer of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance. “Route 28 obviously needs to be widened, but it’s never going to be enough to meet demand…It makes no sense to move all north-south traffic through Manassas, and it makes all the sense in the world to move it around the city to the west.”
Birtwistle is still convinced that the absence of the road is constricting the county’s access to Dulles, making Prince William less attractive to businesses and even hampering the growth of George Mason University’s Science and Technology campus outside Manassas. He expects that the county may well be able to make road improvements in the area, but he believes they are no replacement for a major new highway.
“It puts the county at a disadvantage when it comes to moving away from being a 21 century bedroom community,” Birtwistle said.
Schwartz, however, maintains that the Bi-County Parkway would become an “access point for new development” in western Prince William and Loudoun, forever marking the end to rural areas like the “Rural Crescent.”
“It’s just going to mean that tens of thousands of drivers join you on the roads,” Schwartz said. “You can’t build your way out of this.”
Schwartz’s group has long advocated for more public transit options in the region, and the development of walkable communities split between residential and commercial spaces known as “mixed-use developments” as a surer solution for the region’s transportation woes.
He believes the city of Manassas is already doing a “great job” of creating that sort of community, and he feels officials have “waited far too long” to embrace the same sort of ethos in Woodbridge. Supervisor Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge, has championed the idea some in the past, but Schwartz is eager to see Prince William leaders embrace the area as “the gateway to the rest of the county.”
“If we’re already doing all our shopping on Amazon, why not re-develop these parking lots in shopping centers you’ve built to make more walkable communities?” Schwartz said. “You’ve already paved over all the land and cut down the trees. Why not use them?”