RELEASE: Coalition pushes back on yet another lobbying campaign for an upper Potomac Bridge


July 18, 2017

Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director, Coalition for Smarter Growth
703-599-6437 (c),

They have a bridge to sell us…again. Coalition pushes back on yet another lobbying campaign for an upper Potomac Bridge

Washington, DC – Tomorrow, the region’s Transportation Planning Board will vote whether to include an upper Potomac Bridge for study as one option to add to the region’s long range transportation plan. Northern Virginia also has a draft transportation plan out for public comment (deadline of July 23) that includes not only the northern bridge, but also a southern bridge to Charles County, and the Bi-County Parkway between Prince William and Loudoun Counties – segments of an outer beltway long sought by developers of rural land in outer areas of the region.

“The upper Potomac Bridge and other segments of an outer beltway are back, as a result of the latest multimillion dollar lobbying campaign that began back in 2010,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, whose partners in opposing the outer beltway include the region’s leading conservation and transportation reform groups.

In 2010, longtime Virginia developer John “Til” Hazel, the CEO of NVHomes Dwight Schar, and Montgomery and Loudoun developer Bob Buchanan, formed the 2030 Group with what we believe is an underlying and primary goal of pressing for an upper Potomac Bridge (Buchanan testimony in 2015 to Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board) as part of an outer beltway including the Bi-County Parkway. They in-turn provided funding to the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance and jump-started the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance (SMTA). The two groups did what many consider to be a “push-poll” to try to demonstrate support for a new bridge. The poll did not include information about costs, trade-offs, induced demand, land use, or other factors involved in real world transportation and land use planning.

“This is just the latest campaign spearheaded by Mr. Hazel and others for the bridge and outer beltway,” said Schwartz.  Previous efforts took place in 1980, 1988, 1997, 2000, and 2003.

“These projects would be totally at odds with the region’s vision in the Region Forward Plan and would undermine the network of transit-oriented development which is so much in demand today. It would worsen auto-dependent sprawl and traffic, worsen the east-west economic divide, and undermine efforts to fight climate change. Because of induced driving demand, it would add new traffic without reducing traffic at the American Legion Bridge,” said Schwartz “The upstream bridge would also represent a threat to the region’s drinking water supplies – creating a risk of toxic spills upstream from drinking water intakes during bridge construction and from tanker truck spills.”

“The bridge has been studied a number of times before and shown to not be needed while also risking great harm to neighborhoods and the environment,” said Schwartz. “Moreover, during a time when the market is demanding urban, transit-oriented environments, and when we need to reinvest in Metro to the tune of about $25 billion while fixing other existing needs like the American Legion Bridge, this upper bridge proposal is a wasteful diversion of time and potentially billions of dollars.”

“The TPB should not have to study it yet again, and Northern Virginia officials should be taking the bridges and outer beltway out of their draft plan,” said Schwartz.

In 2003-2004 VDOT and the TPB did an “Origin-Destination Study,” which tracked every morning rush hour license plate crossing the American Legion Bridge. It showed that only a small percentage of the trips could be considered the so called “U-shaped” commutes from Loudoun/W Fairfax to Frederick/Upcounty Montgomery that might use a new bridge. The overwhelming commutes were radial or to/from destinations on, inside or near the Beltway.

In 2015, VDOT did another study, this time looking just at Virginia commute origins and destinations and reconfirmed that just a small percentage of commutes were U-shaped — with the overwhelming majority radial or “L-shaped.” The study showed that the Rosslyn Metro tunnel carried the largest share of cross-Potomac trips, and concluded that the Rosslyn tunnel and American Legion Bridge were the locations needing high-priority investment.

An earlier study in 2000-2001 of actual upriver route options between Virginia and Maryland by the Federal Highway Administration, and initiated at the behest of Congressman Frank Wolf, resulted in a huge outcry on both sides of the river. The impact to neighborhoods was so severe that Congressman Wolf ordered the study to be halted. The following extract from the Fairfax Times, May 29, 2001, study captures what happened:

The Federal Highway Administration announced late last week that it was canceling its year-long, $2 million review of the so-called Techway at the request of U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th), who said it’s creating too much heartburn among area homeowners.

“I’m not going to be at war with the people I represent, saying this is better for you,” Wolf said to a gathering of Times reporters and editors Tuesday.

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 presented a map with a spaghetti-like maze of proposed routes for the new bridge and parkway, all bisecting mature communities. One proposal even had the road cutting across the heart of Great Falls before crossing the river near McLean.

But the threat of taking homes has always been a factor with this project, and Wolf couldn’t say why it’s taken so long for planners and elected officials to reach this conclusion.

Moving the route further west put the bridge into Maryland’s agricultural preserve and too far out to make a difference for commuters, Wolf said.

“I asked the Federal Highway Administration what the chances were of this road being built, and they said 10 percent was an optimistic figure,” Wolf said.

“Our groups urge the Transportation Planning Board to drop study of the upper Potomac Bridge – but if they do study it, they must ensure that the study accounts for induced development and induced traffic, harm to communities and the environment, the opportunity cost compared to other investments, and the impact on the east-west economic divide,” said Schwartz.

“At the same time, the TPB’s proposed transit packages, along with land use, and demand management represent the most sustainable and effective set of solutions that will reduce driving demand, improve access to jobs and housing, and reduce air, water, and greenhouse gas pollution.”

“Finally, we also urge the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to delete the northern and southern bridges and the Bi-County Parkway from their draft ‘TransAction’ plan,” said Schwartz.


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.