Comments on Proposed “North-South Corridor of Statewide Significance” (aka the Outer Beltway)

On behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, I wish to register our strongest objections to the conduct of the “North-South Corridor of Statewide Significance (COSS)” study and to the very concept of the proposal.

A. Our first objection is to the lack of transparency and seriously inadequate public involvement and notice that have characterized this proposal from the outset, including:

1) This proposal was first raised without public notice at the February 2011 and March 2011 Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) meeting and the CTB added this new COSS without the extensive vetting, review committee and public process applied to the original list of COSS. The CTB also allowed this COSS to leapfrog the others for study, at a time when the other COSS involve some of the most important passenger and freight corridors in our state and those segments within the metropolitan areas are suffering some of the worst traffic congestion.

2) Between the approval of the N-S COSS in May of 2011 and the public meetings in late December 2012, the study has had no public involvement in the scoping, definition of the study area, development of alternatives, or vetting of the data and assumptions.

3) The scheduling of public meetings with what may have been less than two weeks notice, and for dates just a few days before the Christmas holiday, and with a comment period that closes on January 2nd, one day after the extended holiday break, is unfair to the public and clearly indicates that the state does not consider public input to be important.

4) The failure to provide a new release or other information on the Virginia Department of Transportation website but to only list the information on the VTRANs/Office of Intermodal Planning website further demonstrates lack of concern about public transparency and involvement.
B. Our second objection is to the unprofessional character of the study, including:

1) The study is entirely conclusion-based, beginning with the conclusion that the state will build a north-south highway connecting I-95 and Route 7.

2) The study offers no real alternative, just one corridor with a toll and a non-toll option.

3) The study data shared with the public to date is minimal and appears to be selectively designed solely to justify the proposed project.

4) The study involves no independent technical review and evaluation by government, academic or other organizations outside the state’s transportation hierarchy.

5) No technical supporting documents have been provided to allow for an effective public review.

6) The underlying assumptions used to make the population and jobs growth projections, the locations of growth, and the cargo projections should be shared.

7) Alternative growth scenarios and assumptions should be tested, particularly in light of the real estate collapse, the aging of the U.S. population, other changes to demographics, and the risk of higher energy prices.

8) The state should be evaluating the transportation challenges of the entire area and determining what mix of land use and transportation solutions would most effectively address the traffic congestion and commuting needs of existing residents.

9) The state should be evaluating alternative transportation and land use investments for their resulting economic value and comparing those investments to the economic value proposed to be generated by this “access to Dulles Airport” scenario. What for example are the current costs of traffic congestion on existing commuter routes in terms of lost productivity of our highly paid knowledge workers and what would be the net economic gain through alternative road and transit investments to more directly assist these workers?

10) If the VTRANS 2025 COSS evaluation of the Northern Virginia Connector showed that air freight by weight was just .1 percent and by valued just .2 percent of the freight moving through northern Virginia, should freight access to Dulles be a high priority?

11) The study does not evaluate whether the new corridor will induce additional development and traffic on major radial commuter routes nor whether it will shift future development from locations with transit access to those without, worsening future traffic congestion.
C. Our third objection is to the placing of this project ahead of so many other needs and its advancement outside of established regional planning bodies and without consultation with all jurisdictions in Northern Virginia.

1) Despite years of work by local and state elected officials to develop the Northern Virginia Transaction plans, and a methodology for prioritizing projects, state officials have bypassed the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and local elected officials in advancing this project. It has never risen to the top of the regional priorities being set collectively by northern Virginia officials.

2) At a time of very scarce transportation resources, and tremendous needs on radial commuter corridors like I-95, I-66, and Route 50, this proposal would divert those scarce resources to a much lower priority.
D. Our fourth objection is to the impact on historic Manassas National Battlefield.

1) At a time when VDOT is promising to protect Manassas National Battlefield by constructing a “context sensitive” TriCounty/BiCounty “Parkway”along the Pageland Lane corridor, it is now clear that this 50 mile outer beltway would be incompatible with the effective preservation of the Battlefield. VDOT has recently told us that they propose a design speed of 65 mph. Combine this with the proposal for a massive increase in truck traffic to Dulles Airport and you have nothing like a “parkway” and major degradation of some of the most hallowed ground in our nation.

2) The “N-S Corridor” maps show a highway that is six-lanes from I-95 to I-66, then four lanes to Route 50, then six lanes. Given this, and the proposed right of way width for the TriCounty/BiCounty of 155 feet, we do not believe that VDOT will maintain the highway through the battlefield at just four lanes.

We strongly oppose the proposal for the “N-S Corridor of Statewide Significance”/Outer Beltway and urge rejection of the very flawed “study” which is being used to justify it. We urge a restoration of the role of local elected officials, regional planning organizations, and the public in assessing our transportation and land use challenges and in developing alternative land use and transportation solutions that more effectively help current residents and more effectively address current and long-term traffic.
Stewart Schwartz
Executive Director