Jan. 2, 2013 is the last day for citizens to voice their opinions on the new Bi-County, formerly Tri-County North/South Dulles Corridor, for a 2012 General Assembly report.
Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a nonprofit group of business people and residents within Northern Virginia, recommends residents demonstrate their support for the corridor by sending a message to Governor McDonnell.
“The North/South Corridor is critical to the future of Dulles Airport, and the future of Dulles Airport is critical to Northern Virginia and the entire Commonwealth,” said Bob Chase, President of NVTA.
According to Chase the need for the corridor is, “well-documented, going back for decades.” Chase said residents are concerned that new roads encourage development, but he said that is not the case. The corridor is designed to be an express, limited access highway, not one which neighborhoods would easily pop up around.
What the Corridor would do, Chase explained, would be to get north/south commuters off existing roads, be they neighborhood or rural roads. Faster access between neighborhoods and Dulles Airport will create more jobs in the region, moving jobs to the people, said Chase.
Chase argues that more jobs created in Prince William and Loudoun counties will also lessen traffic on I-66, Route 29, 28, 15 and 50, because fewer people would have to commute east/west every day.
“One of the reason you have a lot of east/west travel is you do not have jobs closer to home. By creating a better balance in terms of ratio of jobs to people,” Chase said, you eliminate much of the traffic towards D.C.
He sees the North/South Corridor as redesigning economic centers.
“If the future means that everyone has to continue to work in Arlington, Tyson’s Corner and D.C., you will continue to fail; but if you create a balanced grid, then you create a better balanced land-use pattern,” Chase said.
If that sounds like promoting population growth and the erosion of the rural crescent, Chase said you cannot blame trend on infrastructure developments.
“Hundreds of thousands more people are going to be moving into the area. The growth projections are not predicated on the construction of this road; they are predicated on the available land,” Chase said.
Chase noted that Prince William County’s Board of County Supervisors and the Parks Authority have given their approval for the Bi-County Corridor. The Supervisors believe it will create jobs and the Parks Authority believes it will improve tourism and take commuters off roads closer to the Manassas Battlefields like Route 29 and Route 15.
Chairman At-Large Corey Stewart said that he has approved of the Dulles Corridor for many years, but he understands residents’ wishes to not overcrowd the county with new developments.
“That’s a concern of mine too. There is a way to do it, to place the property around the road in a conservation to prevent the development of the rural crescent in Gainesville,” Stewart said.
Stewart added that having the Corridor be a limited access road limits the desire to build neighborhoods around it.
However, Coalition for Smarter Growth Director Stewart Schwartz believes the Bi-County Corridor is wrong for the people of Western Prince William. Since the highest volume of traffic occurs on I-66, Schwartz believes I-66 should be the Virginia Department of Transportation’s primary goal for improvement of transportation.
“In our view, (the Bi-County Corridor) is an outer beltway designed to fuel more spread-out development and add more traffic to already overcrowded roads,” Schwartz said. “Fix I-66. Help the overwhelming majority of people.”
Although, Chase said it is not and “either/or” proposition, Schwartz said there is a limited amount of money VDOT is given and it needs to set its priorities.
Schwartz said he “cannot imagine” the corridor would alleviate traffic, because it would encourage truck traffic between Dulles and Prince William. He said it would also transition rural zones to developers.
Instead, his organization proposes various methods to alleviate congestion on I-66. These include a Metrorail extension to Centreville, extending the Virginia Rail Express (VRE) to Haymarket and providing bus access lanes along I-66. To hasten traffic north and south, he suggests improving Route 28 access.
But Stewart said there is no federal funding available for Metrorail to come out to Prince William or Centreville in the next 30 years, and that in the case of I-66 improvements are already underway in Western Prince William. That does not negate the need for businesses to have access to Dulles. He said it’s very important not just for shipping, but for access for personnel, especially international executives.
Plus, it is a practical move for the two fastest growing counties in the nation to create access between them.
“It’s like developing New York and New Jersey without creating a connection between them,” Stewart said. He is confident that building the Corridor would bring jobs and access to jobs to Prince William County.
Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland said he is inclined to support any measure that would bring quality jobs into his district, saying lack of having access to the airport “puts our county at a serious disadvantage when it comes to recruiting high-paying jobs.” However, at this stage, he remains open to study other options.
But Schwartz further voiced concerned with a lack of transparency with VDOT, noting that the deadline for comments is right after a holiday and public meetings were held right before the holidays. During these meetings, he said, the public was not able to comment.
Chase countered the deadline for comments is simply for a report, and that residents will continue to be able to comment throughout the process. Although citizens were not given the microphone at previous meeting, he said they were able to talk personally with the Deputy Secretary of Transportation as well as send emails and make phone calls. In addition, he said that discussions on the Corridor have gone on for decades and continue to go on, since nothing has been firmly decided.
More information on the plans for the Bi-County North/South Corridor can be found on the VDOT’s website under Northern Virginia projects.
To send an email to Governor McDonnell in reference to the plans for the Bi-County Corridor, use this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos courtesy of Bristow Beat.