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

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.”


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