Tag: battlefield bypass

Prince William’s reexamination of the Bi-County Parkway comes at important moment

Prince William County’s Dec. 3 decision to reexamine its position on the Bi-County Parkway comes at an important moment in the long, contentious debate over whether the road should be built, opponents say.

The parkway, a controversial 10-mile road that would connect Interstate 66 in Prince William and Route 50 in Loudoun County, faces several hurdles in the coming months, said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which opposes the project.

Federal transportation authorities are examining the parkway proposal, but the final outcome probably rests with the administration of Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe (D), Schwartz said. McAuliffe said during his campaign that he would study the issue, and it’s unclear whether his administration would push the Bi-County Parkway when his term begins Jan. 11.

Schwartz said he hopes that state and federal transportation officials consider the board’s recent decision. “The new governor will hopefully ask for a major reevaluation,” Schwartz said. “The views of local elected officials . . . can carry weight.”

In a 7 to 1 vote, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors agreed to conduct a $100,000 study of the project to determine whether it should remain part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, it’s long-term planning document. Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville), a supporter of the parkway, was the only vote against the move.

It’s unclear whether the board’s study will have any effect on the process. Supervisor Peter K. Candland (R-Gainesville) said supervisors should hold a simple up or down vote on the parkway itself.

The Bi-County Parkway has been the subject of much heated discussion over the past year. Supporters say the road is necessary to bolster economic development and connect two of the fastest-growing counties in the country. Opponents — particularly those who live in the path of the proposed route — say that the road would affect their property and way of life, as well as the county’s federally protected Rural Crescent and the historic Civil War grounds near Manassas National Battlefield Park.

Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, which supports the road, told supervisors before the vote that nothing has changed despite the ongoing debate. Northern Virginia is growing, and new transportation infrastructure is needed for traffic and job growth, he said.

“As John Adams said, facts are stubborn things,” Chase told the board. “There are certainly a lot of wishes, inclinations, surrounding these issues. . . . The need for the Bi-County Parkway is well documented.”

Candland, a vocal road opponent, said supervisors chose the easy way out by appearing to take action without actually staking out their position. Because the vote was technically on a study to determine whether the parkway should be removed from the county’s Comprehensive Plan, Candland said the action meant little.

“Certain individuals don’t want to take a straight up-or-down vote on the Bi-County Parkway,” Candland said. “Enough is enough. We’ve talked about this issue ad nauseam.”

Candland said time is of the essence because the Virginia Department of Transportation is moving forward on an agreement with federal transportation authorities, upon whose approval the project is contingent. Once that agreement is signed, supervisors may no longer have a voice on the issue, Candland said.

Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) said supervisors might have more time than they think as McAuliffe considers his position on the subject.

County staff members plan to study the parkway and other area roads in a comprehensive traffic, road and land-use analysis. That study would then go to the Prince William County Planning Commission, and supervisors would have a final vote on the Bi-County Parkway and other area improvements, a process expected to take about a year.

 Read the original article on Washington Post >>

The North-South Divide

Battle lines are forming over the north-south transportation corridor in Northern Virginia. Backers say it would serve a growing population and stimulate economic development. Foes say the state has more urgent priorities for spending $1 billion or more.

Tri-County Parkway
Red line shows approximate route of the North-South Corridor where it runs through the Manassas Battlefield and extensive farmland.

Northern Virginia, we hear over and over, is one of the most congested regions in the nation – perhaps the most congested. Even with new mega-projects coming on line like interstate express lanes and the rail-to-Dulles Metro service, the list of transportation needs seems endless. Most improvements under consideration are designed to ameliorate the traffic gridlock that grips the region now. But one particular cluster of projects zooming through the bureaucratic approval process is designed to address traffic congestion that is forecast to be a problem… in 2040.

In 2011, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) added the so-called North-South Corridor west of Dulles International Airport to its list of strategically important Corridors of Statewide Significance (CoSS), a designation that gives priority funding to projects within the corridor. It was the first time the CTB had added a new corridor not based upon an existing Interstate or rail line. Fast-tracking the project, the McDonnell administration has held public hearings and plans to present findings regarding a specific route and the cost to build a limited access highway this month.

Backers say Northern Virginia needs a north-south corridor – in particular, a limited access highway known in different configurations as the Tri-County Parkway or Bi-County Parkway — to accommodate the region’s fast-growing population and employment, and also to promote freight cargo-related economic development around Dulles International Airport.

“If you look at the population projections of the [Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments] and the Commonwealth of Virginia, you see a major percentage of future growth in Northern Virginia does occur in this corridor and points west,” says Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance. “Loudoun and Prince William counties will add a couple hundred thousand people over the next 20 to 30 years.”

But skeptics describe the project as a wildly speculative endeavor that might enrich big landowners whose properties could be developed but otherwise do little to address Northern Virginia’s most pressing concerns. In particular, they say, Northern Virginia growth patterns in the 1990s and 2000s have zero predictive value for the future.

“The world has changed. Our population is older and is downsizing their homes. Empty nesters and younger workers want to live closer to jobs and transit, and in more urban places,” says Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG). “Moreover, the region has far more pressing needs serving existing population centers and addressing existing congestion. We need every dollar to fix existing commuter routes like I-66.”

Funding the north-south corridor, says Schwartz, would be “a misallocation of scarce resources.”

Only a year ago, the point seemed moot. Virginia was running out of state funds for new highway construction projects. But the north-south corridor controversy is sure to flare now that the General Assembly and Governor Bob McDonnell are close to approving a restructuring of transportation taxes that is expected to raise $800 million a year statewide for new transportation spending. Projects that had been pushed to the back shelves suddenly look fundable.

$2 Billion dollar project?

Northern Virginia’s major transportation arteries – Interstate 95, Interstate 66 and the Dulles Toll Road – all converge on the I-495 Capital Beltway or Washington, D.C., itself. Over the decades, population growth, job growth and development have followed those pathways out from the urban core. North-south arterials have been built to connect that growth, including the Fairfax County Parkway in the center of Fairfax County, and Rt. 28, farther west. The North-South corridor would represent a fourth such arterial but it would serve hypothetical future transportation demand, not a demand that exists at present.

Although the final plan has not yet been published, the North-South corridor likely will follow a path something like this:

  • Apexct its southern terminus the highway will start at Interstate 95 in Prince William County. It will follow the existing Rt. 234, which becomes a partially limited access highway west of Manassas.
  • The highway will proceed north across I-66 along the western boundary of the Manassas Battlefield and run parallel to Pageland Lane through miles of farmland, in areas zoned for low density — the so-called Tri-County Parkway.
  • The highway will incorporate Loudoun’s expansion of Northstar Boulevard, crossing another stretch of undeveloped land, where it will connect to Belmont Ridge Road until it reaches the northern terminus at Rt.  7.

Because corridors of statewide significance are designated multimodal corridors, not just highways, the north-south corridor plan could include other components such as tolled express lanes and, in theory, Bus Rapid Transit, although there is unlikely to be much demand for mass transit in a rural area far from major job centers. Also, the McDonnell administration is studying the idea of linking the proposed highway to the western approaches of Dulles airport and upgrading Rt. 606, which runs along the western edge of the airport. These improvements would open property on the west side of the airport for commercial development.

Smart growth groups like the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Piedmont Environmental Council view the north-south corridor as the same as an Outer Beltway proposal that belly-flopped more than a decade ago, with the main difference being that the McDonnell administration seems willing to build it piece by piece rather than all at once. The original plan for the Outer Beltway was to continue north, bridging the Potomac River and hooking up with a major Maryland arterial, opening vast tracts of relatively inaccessible land for new subdivisions and shopping centers. Maryland officials have made it clear that they have no interest in such a collaboration but the Virginia Department of Transportation is footing the bill in a separate study to examine the feasibility of building another Potomac crossing at an unspecified location.

The Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment (OIPI) is scheduled to present its recommendations to the CTB regarding the routing and corridor improvements, says Dironna Belton, OIPI policy and program manager. The OIPI will not make its cost estimates available until then.

Schwartz with the CSG guesstimates that the north-south corridor would cost a minimum of nearly $1 billion — figure $19 million per mile for 50 miles — only a small portion of which could be paid for by tolls. Some of the highway would follow the existing Rt. 234, he says, but construction work on an operating road is very expensive. Throw in some interchanges and the cost of connecting the highway to Dulles airport, he says, and the project could approach $2 billion.

Growth Projections

The argument for a north-south corridor is based upon the proposition that jobs and population growth will continue booming on the western edge of the Washington metropolitan region. That case is buttressed by forecasts made by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service’s Demographics & Workforce Group, which serve as the basis for state and local government planning purposes.

Here are the Weldon Cooper projections for the year 2040, listing jurisdictions in rough order of their proximity to the Washington urban core.

gorwth projections

According to the Weldon Cooper projections, jurisdictions in the urban core like Arlington and Alexandria will see no growth – or actually shrink. Following the radius out from the core, Fairfax County will continue to see substantial growth in absolute numbers but only moderate growth as a percentage of its already-large population. The bulk of the population growth will occur in outer-ring counties, especially Loudoun and Prince William but also, traveling down Interstate 95, Stafford and Spotsylvania.

In just Loudoun and Prince William counties and Manassas, the jurisdictions directly served by the north-south corridor, the population is expected to grow by nearly 500,000 by 2040.

In its study of the north-south corridor, the McDonnell administration has embraced the forecast of booming exurban growth. “Nearly 700,000 jobs, 800,000 people, and 300,000 new households are expected to join [Northern Virginia] over this 30-year timeframe,” states an OIPI newsletter. “Much of this future growth is expected to occur within Loudoun and Prince William Counties. Larger portions of the new employment and population growth are expected within the North-South corridor area.”

According to maps published in the OIPI newsletter, population in the corridor study area itself will increase by 190,000 and jobs by 127,000. Population in areas immediately to the west will grow by 230,000 more.

Projected corridor population growth

Chase with the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance argues that the growth projections actually might be conservative. In a recent email, he distributed a chart, based upon National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board data, comparing a 1990-to-2010 job-growth forecast made for the Washington region with actual performance. Urban-core jurisdictions like Washington, Alexandria and Arlington under-performed the forecast by a wide margin while outer jurisdictions tended to out-perform the forecast. “These trends are expected to continue for decades to come,” he wrote.

Forecast versus actual

In the battle over a proposed outer beltway a decade ago, which would have run more or less the same route, the Piedmont Environmental Council had warned that building the beltway would generate a population explosion, says Chase. “We didn’t build the corridor but the people came anyway.”

The idea that building roads causes population growth to occur that would not otherwise is wrong, Chase says, particularly in places like Northern Virginia with a strong economy and people moving  in from all around the country.

Creating a north-south corridor makes sense, he says. As he wrote in the email cited above: “Most of the region’s workforce lives outside the Beltway and employers are moving closer to their workers. Moving jobs closer to where people live is more efficient than moving people (longer distances) to jobs. It reduces commutes and creates a better balanced, stronger regional economy.”

Inflection Point

A big problem with the Weldon Cooper population projections and all the forecasts based upon them is that they extrapolate past trends into the future. There is reason to question whether Northern Virginia can replicate the population and employment growth of the go-go 2000s during the austere 2010s.

The terrorist attack on 9/11/2001 precipitated a decade-long growth in spending on defense, intelligence and homeland security, with much of the money going to federal agencies and contractors in Northern Virginia. With Washington adither over unsustainable budget deficits, however, the main question today is by how much defense spending will shrink. Likewise, spending on discretionary (non-entitlement) domestic spending is expected to level off, according to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) data show below. While federal spending is not likely to collapse any time soon, it won’t provide the jet fuel for Northern Virginia’s growth that it has in the past.

Federal spending

Not only is population and employment growth likely to slow, smart growth advocates contend that the pattern of that diminished growth is shifting dramatically away from the peripheral counties of the Washington MSA back toward the urban core.

Many urban economists believe that the forces impelling metropolitan growth to green-fields on the periphery have petered out or even reversed themselves. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any job or population growth in places like Loudoun and Prince William, but it does suggest that growth could fall far short of projections based on past trends.

Major economic and demographic shifts are transforming growth patterns across America. Most notably, the cost of automobile ownership is outstripping the rate of inflation and household incomes. Over the past decade (2003 to 2013), the Internal Revenue Service deduction for business travel, a good proxy for the cost of owning and operating a car, surged 57% to 56.5 cents per mile, far faster than the 26% increase in the consumer price index over the same period.

There is good reason to believe that the cost of ownership will continue to rise. Global supply and demand forces will continue to push the cost of gasoline higher. Interest rates, a critical factor for automobile financing, can hardly get any lower and likely will climb. Federal fuel economy standards will save on gasoline costs but increase the cost of purchasing cars — a 2012 study by the American Automobile Association indicated that 122,000 licensed drivers in Virginia, or 1.9%, would be priced out of the market. Meanwhile, automobiles are evolving into mobile communication and connectivity hubs that add tremendous functionality but also push up the price. While the cost of driving is increasing, incomes are stagnating for the bottom 80% of income earners. Assuming the laws of economics still hold, Americans will adapt to the higher cost of automobile ownership by driving less.

That economic trend dovetails with major demographic trends. Two-thirds of all households today consist of singles, childless couples, or empty-nesters, and that proportion will rise over the next 20 years, Christopher Leinberger , a real estate developer, Brookings Institution fellow and author of “The Option of Urbanism,” has argued. Those households don’t need a big suburban yard where Little Johnny can run and play. They prefer smaller accommodations that require less maintenance and offer a variety of transportation options. Indeed, Leinberger says, there is a huge housing surplus in what he terms the “drivable suburbs” and a pent-up demand for what he calls “walkable urbanism” where inhabitants can meet many of their daily needs by walking, biking or riding mass transit.

The evolving priorities are most evident among Millennials, the rising generation of 20- to 30-year-olds, who appear to be less enamored with automobiles than their parents were. In 2008, according to the Federal Highway Administration, only 46.3 percent of potential drivers 19 years old and younger had drivers’ licenses, compared to 64.4 percent in 1998. Similarly, drivers in their twenties drove 12 percent fewer miles in 2009 than twenty-somethings did in 1995. In big cities, many Millennials are abandoning the idea of car ownership and flocking to rental services like ZipCar and ride-sharing services like SideCar and Lyft.

Consistent with these trends, the 12-month moving average of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) plateaued in 2006 around 3 trillion miles, according to Federal Highway Administration data, and has dipped since then. Adjust for population growth, as seen in the chart below, and the decline is striking.

Decline in VMT
Graphic credit: Business Insider.

In the Washington region, developers are pouring billions of dollars into re-developing the District, close-in suburbs like Arlington, and even middle-band suburbs like Fairfax County. D.C.’s population increased by 30,000 over the previous 27 months, the Census Bureau reported in December 2012. Arlington planners, who count some 1,380 housing units under construction at present, project that 36,000 residents will move to their county by 2040 — diametrically opposite to Weldon Cooper’s prediction forecast that the jurisdiction will shed 23,500 people.

Here is the breakdown for population growth in 2012. At this point Loudoun and Prince William, which are working off a large inventory of houses and lots from the recession, are on pace with the Weldon Cooper projections. But Arlington and D.C. are coming on strong.

NoVa population increase

Meanwhile, Fairfax County is the sleeping giant. Nowhere is the shift in human settlement patterns more visible than at the 10 Metro stops planned for the Silver Line. Literally tens of millions of square feet of walkable, mixed-use development are planned for Metro stations along the Dulles Corridor. Fairfax County is undertaking a massive, multibillion-dollar transformation of Tysons from the prototypical auto-centric suburban office district into a pedestrian-friendly community. The addition of a strong residential component to Tysons alone could absorb between 20,000 and 40,000 new inhabitants by 2040.

Alternate investments

Given the pent-up demand for transit-oriented development and the massive resources committed to building it in Northern Virginia, diverting resources to the North-South corridor makes no sense, contends Morgan Butler, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC). Investing in the Silver Line so Tysons can be the center of growth while building a highway that facilitates sprawl are mutually contradictory aims, he says. Transit-oriented development represents the future, he says, and state and local authorities should focus limited resources on making it work.

Northern Virginia has many transportation needs that are urgent right now, much less three decades from now. Just one example: A recently issued Environmental Impact Statement found, for example, that nearly half of a 25-mile stretch of Interstate 66 outside the Capital Beltway operates at a Level of Service E or F (worse than free-flow conditions) during morning rush hour. Nearly two-thirds are deficient during the afternoon rush hour.

What kind of traffic relief could Northern Virginia buy with the $1 billion or more proposed for the Tri-County Parkway?

A coalition of smart-growth and conservation groups has published an alternative to the Tri-County Parkway that would not only protect Loudoun and Prince William farmland and steer traffic away from the Manassas Battlefield Park but ameliorate congestion that afflicts commuters here and now. States their “Updated Composite Alternative”:

Our alternative is designed to address the much greater need for east-west commuter movement and to provide for dispersed, local north-south movement for current and future traffic. Access to Dulles is provided by the completion of upgrades to Route 28 from I-66 north, improvements to the I-66 corridor, and upgrades to the Route 234/Route 28 connection and Route 28 on the east side of the Cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. The composite set of connections is designed to improve traffic movement throughout the area, benefitting more travelers and trip types than would the single large north-south highway proposal.

The document does not contain a cost estimate for the alternative projects, which includes mass transit and lots of local road fixes, so it’s not clear if the proposals constitute an apples-to-apples comparison with the proposed north-south corridor improvements. What is clear is that there is no lack of pressing projects competing for that $1-$2 billion.

The Air Cargo Push

Backers of a north-south corridor cite a second justification for the Bi-County Parkway: By improving access to Dulles International Airport, a highway would promote warehouse and logistics investment around Dulles Airport and even in Prince William County.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) plans to develop 400 acres of airport property on Route 606, while Loudoun County is promoting 500 acres on the north-south corridor for cargo expansion, according to a December 2012 presentation made by Garrett Moore, then-district administrator for Northern Virginia. VDOT is conducting an environmental assessment for widening Rt. 606 on the western edge of Dulles’ property and a variety of other projects to improve western access to the airport.

“My gut tells me that Dulles in terms of cargo is about where we were with passengers in 1982. In those days, … there was very little passenger activity,” says Leo Schefer, president of the Washington Airports Task Force. But passenger service did take off. Dulles now is one of the busiest airports in the country and an economic engine of Northern Virginia. Schefer sees a parallel process underway with air freight. The established air cargo gateways are becoming more congested and more expensive to operate. The big logistics companies can cover their bets, he suggests, by establishing a presence at Dulles, which has enormous expansion potential and superior operating economics.

Schefer concedes that cargo-related development is not a sure thing. Unlike passenger service, in which airlines respond to rising traffic volume, “air cargo is more of an economic development exercise.” Northern Virginia economic developers need to persuade the big logistics companies to use Dulles as a strategic gateway where they can consolidate operations. That won’t be the easiest sell because the Washington region is not itself a huge market for air cargo. “We don’t produce much here besides paper,” he quips.

Northern Virginia is too expensive for the manufacturing sector, a major customer of air freight. However, Schefer sees that changing as new super high-tech manufacturing technologies are deployed and increasingly automated manufacturing processes rely upon fewer, more highly skilled employees. That kind of manufacturing could thrive in the region, he suggests, especially if manufacturers could avail themselves of superior air-freight access.

Be that as it may, Dulles has the real estate to accommodate large warehouses. “Logistics companies will want to see better truck connections,” Schefer says. “That’s where the north-south corridor comes in: A highway would provide superior access to markets to the west and south.”

Local economic developers view the situation similarly. “We view [the corridor] as an asset,” says Brent Heavner, marketing and research manager for the Prince William County Department of Economic Development. “One of the advantages of having better north-south transportation capacity is the market it opens up for industrial, warehouse and distribution users” in Prince William County, particularly the western county. “Right now those operations are at a disadvantage due to the circuitous route they have to move their freight to reach Dulles.”

A beefed-up air freight operation at Dulles might find itself competing with Richmond International Airport (RIC), which also has positioned itself as an air cargo handler. At this point, however, Dulles’ air-cargo ambitions have not made much of an impression on RIC. It’s not something airport management has studied, says Troy Bell, director of marketing and air service development. “We’re not anti-Dulles. But we have capacity and a very capable field.”

Schwartz remains skeptical of the economic-development argument. “Dulles is pushing its dreams on the rest of us. … They’ve justified the corridor by cargo growth at Dulles Airport. We think that’s a red herring. Air freight is a tiny percentage of total freight traffic.” While Dulles boosters have been promoting the north-south corridor, he adds, the air freight companies themselves have been conspicuously quiet.

There may be sufficient locally generated traffic demand to justify four-laning Rt. 606 on the west side of Dulles, a project that would cost $50 million, Schwartz says. But the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) wants eight lanes and four interchanges, which could bump the project up to $300 million. “They’re asking for the taxpayer to pay for the expansion of Rt. 606. Why shouldn’t they pay for it?”

The way forward

In sum there are several imponderables the state needs to consider before putting money into the north-south corridor:

  • Federal budget. Will the federal government deal with chronic deficits and a mounting national debt by cutting defense and discretionary spending, the lifeblood of the Washington metropolitan economy, and what impact would a spending slowdown have on population and job growth in Northern Virginia, particularly in the area served by the north-south corridor?
  • End of sprawl. Do economic and demographic trends portend an historic shift in the pattern of growth and development in the Washington region, away from the growth frontier served by the north-south corridor and back toward walkable urbanism served by mass transit?
  • Dulles air freight. Does Dulles air-freight traffic have a realistic shot at growth, and how significant is the economic impact of that growth?
  • Alternative investments. How much will North-South corridor improvements cost, and how else could funds be deployed to mitigate congestion and create economic value?

Anyone can say anything. Anyone can make unsubstantiated claims. As Nassim Taleb, author of “The Black Swan” and “Antifragile” observed, however, players with “skin in the game” — with something to lose if they’re wrong — deserve to be taken more seriously than outside pundits and prognosticators.

One option for the commonwealth would be to solicit bids to build the Tri-City Parkway and other corridor improvements by means of a public-private partnership, in which private-sector partners would invest their own money. Private investors, unlike parties with a political or ideological axe or something material to gain or lose, would have every incentive to develop realistic projections for the key drivers of traffic volume and toll revenue: population, employment and air-freight growth. If corridor improvements create sufficient economic value, it should be possible to pay for the project with toll road revenue. If the demand is lacking or takes too long to materialize, as happened to private investors in the Dulles Greenway, private players will pay the cost of their miscalculation with their own money — not the taxpayers’.

The McDonnell administration’s experience with the U.S. 460 project between Petersburg and Suffolk, designed to serve a projected increase in port-related traffic, is instructive. Soliciting bids from three construction consortia, the Office of Public Private Transportation Partnerships discovered that the private sector was willing to fund only a tiny portion of the project. Demand for the facility would be more uncertain and take longer to materialize than originally anticipated. In a controversial decision, the administration chose to commit more than $1 billion in public funds anyway in the hope that the highway would attract major industrial investment.

Soliciting public-private partnership proposals for the North-South Corridor could yield similarly useful information. How much of their own money would investors bet on the prospect of massive population and employment growth in eastern Loudoun and western Prince William? Investor willingness to fund the project would eliminate grounds for complaining that the project is diverting state funds from Northern Virginia’s other transportation needs. Similarly, the unwillingness of investors to put their own money into the project without a massive state subsidy would be a clear sign that the anticipated benefits are either too meager, too chancey or too slow to materialize to warrant investment at this time.

Images courtesy of Bacon’s Rebellion

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Manassas battlefield must be protected from traffic

Regarding Robert McCartney’s March 7 Metro column “Deal is near to shift traffic out of Manassas battlefield park”:

Everyone involved agrees on the need to direct commuter traffic away from the national battlefield park to protect the park’s history, meaning and visitors. However, not everyone agrees that the proposed new highways can solve traffic problems.

Omitted from Mr. McCartney’s column was the Virginia Department of Transportation’s agreement to analyze a package of practical, lower-impact transportation projects that could provide relief for east-west commuters and the park. That analysis must be completed and considered before this process moves forward. The draft agreement does not yet provide specific, enforceable provisions to close Route 29 and Route 234 inside the park if the new highways are built.

The ghosts of Manassas’s fallen soldiers deserve better. To move forward without an ironclad guarantee that the roads will be closed would put the history and culture of Virginia’s most recognized battlefield in jeopardy.

Joy M. Oakes, Washington

The writer is senior regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association.

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Deal is near to shift traffic out of Manassas battlefield park

The National Park Service and Virginia authorities are close to signing a major Civil War battlefield preservation deal that eventually would close two congested roads that slice through the twice-hallowed ground at Manassas.

The agreement, which could be signed by the summer, would provide for routes 234 and 29 to be shut down inside Manassas National Battlefield Park. That would happen once new highways are built along the western and northern edges of the battlefield and serve as bypasses.

“We’re down to the wire here. It looks good,” said Ed Clark, the park superintendent, a key architect of the pact. “It puts the goal of removing all the traffic from the battlefield within sight.”

There are downsides, of course. It could be more than 20 years before both highways, sometimes called the Bi-County Parkway and the Battlefield Bypass, are completed.Local residents and environmental groups said they would destroy the rural character that drew them to western Prince William County. Some accuse the Park Service, which previously has resisted new roads and development, of selling them out.

On the bright side, however, shutting the roads inside the park would be one of the biggest achievements ever to restore the authenticity and improve the visitors’ experience at the premier Civil War battlefield closest to Washington.

The 1861 Battle of Manassas, known in the North as Bull Run, was the war’s first full-scale engagement. It’s the one where Washington’s elite naively took carriages 30 miles to the scene for a picnic, thinking war was a spectator sport.

They were shocked when the Rebels routed the Union troops and sent them scampering back to the capital.

The same ground was the site of a second battle a year later, even bloodier than the first. It marked one of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s greatest victories and helped encourage him to invade Maryland, where he was turned back at the historic battle at Antietam.

The Park Service and preservationists have long been unhappy principally with the steadily rising traffic inside the battlefield. On a typical workday, more than 50,000 vehicles pass through the intersection of 234 and 29 in the center of the park.

Congestion is so bad that it’s often impossible to complete the driving tour that traces the highlights of Second Manassas.

“What we’ve been saying for more than a decade is the biggest threat to this park is the commuter and industrial traffic that goes through it every day,” said Jim Campi, spokesman for the Civil War Trust.

Campi’s group hasn’t yet formally endorsed the deal, known as a Section 106 programmatic agreement under federal historic preservation law. His group wants to be sure the final form guarantees that both roads, and not just one, will eventually be closed. That’s important because plans provide for the closures to be in two phases.

In the first phase, when the north-south, Bi-County Parkway is completed west of the park, 234 would be closed inside it. State and local authorities are keen to push that ahead quickly. Local residents who stand to lose property, and other groups, are agitating to block it.

The park would have to give up four acres of land for the Bi-County Parkway and allow a noisy, four-lane highway to be built nearby. Clark, the park superintendent, doesn’t like that but says it would be worth it to eliminate a road that’s also pretty noisy and cuts right through his battlefield.

“We’re giving some on the periphery to get an awful lot in the core, in the center of the park,” Clark said.

In the second phase, possibly as late as 2035, the Battlefield Bypass would be built north of the park. Only then would 29 be closed within it.

Clark said that as part of the deal, he insisted that the Virginia Department of Transportation pledge firmly to close both roads once the new highways are built. His nightmare would be that he agrees to new highways just outside his park, only to see the state renege on its promise to shut the roads within.

“They would have to double-cross us to do that,” Clark said. “We have to operate in good faith here that they’re going to stick to their word.”

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Pageland Lane residents see renewal of old fight against Bi-County Parkway in Pr. William


Page Snyder, a longtime resident of Pageland Lane across from the Manassas Battlefield, points to where a proposed four-lane highway would cut through swaths of historic rural farmland. (Jeremy Borden – The Washington Post)

Legendary activist Annie Snyder, before she died in 2002, told her daughter that a road she battled against for decades would never come to fruition.

Snyder spent her life advocating for the preservation of rural lands, particularly those around the Civil War battlefields in Manassas near her home. She doubted that those who wanted to build a 10-mile Bi-County Parkway — which would skirt the battlefield and sit near the front of the Snyders’ family farm — would ever get the funds for such a controversial project, which would run from I-66 in Prince William County to Route 50 in Loudoun County.

The north-south route, supporters say, would create jobs and drive area economic development, ease congestion and provide a key connection between two rapidly growing counties. Detractors, including conservationists and smart growth advocates, say the road would be a boon to rural area land speculators, open up a rural area to development, and bring even more congestion that would result from a large Northern Virginia highway.

It would skirt hallowed Civil War ground, and resistant neighbors bristle at the thought of a four-lane highway competing with what is now bucolic spareness in their front yards.

Page Snyder, Annie Snyder’s daughter, now finds herself ensnared yet again in the fight, and she says she feels that the scales are tipped well in favor of the road. The road’s supporters — namely the administration of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) — have little in their way of seeing the road through, she said.

Still, she’s not resigned. “We’ve won many lost causes that nobody thought we could win,” Snyder said. Since the 1960s, a shopping mall, large cemetery and dirt bike track, among others, have been proposed for nearby lands and were defeated.

While the road project has been with planning boards since the 1980s, several recent events have caused Snyder and others to see Bi-County Parkway (which is often called the Tri-County Parkway because past alignments brought it through Fairfax County) as increasingly a done deal.

In May of 2011, the Commonwealth Transportation Board declared the area as part of a north-south “Corridor of Significance” that could eventually connect Dulles Airport with Interstate 95 and provide a more easily accessible cargo hub, a concept that has wide support among many conservatives and business groups across the state. The National Park Service has largely agreed to the project, and a federal review that assesses the impacts of the roads, called a “section 106” review, is well under way. Officials say they hope to have it completed and signed off on by federal agencies this summer.

Also, last week, the CTB formally adopted a minor tweak in the road’s alignment to avoid a historic property. All told, residents are preparing for the reality of the road even as they continue to fight it.

If the road is built, Pageland Lane residents want to ensure that it does not cut off their access to surrounding roads. They said language in state documents gives the impression that the neighborhood would be cut off, without access to U.S. 29 and the surrounding community. Some alignment proposals could have them getting on the parkway simply to get off to go in the opposite direction.

Those access problems would have other effects. “We have our life’s savings in [our property],” said Mary Ann Ghadban, who lives on Pageland Lane. “If we don’t have access, our property is totally devalued.”

Maria Sinner, a VDOT official who helps oversee projects in Prince William, said that VDOT has not designed or engineered the road’s specifics yet. She said that the state is doing what it can to assure that Pageland Lane residents maintain access to U.S. 29 and the surrounding community.

“We’re going to do anything possible to continue to provide them access,” Sinner said.

There are still key hurdles to the parkway’s construction, even as the McDonnell administration sees the road as a “high priority,” said Sinner. The biggest is the road’s price tag: $300 million. A new funding plan for Virginia transportation means that some long-delayed projects should move forward, but there are competing needs, Sinner said.

“The administration has a high priority on this, but we know they don’t have $300 million right off the bat,” she said. So far, $5 million has been allocated for design work, and officials hope to get about another $15 million for studies this June, subject to a decision by the Commonwealth Transportation Board, the governing body that controls VDOT.

That board is lead by its chairman, Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton, a former Prince William supervisor, who has long advocated for the road.

“It is our desire to fund and build it as soon as practical,” Connaughton said in an e-mail.

Still, residents feel that VDOT has not been straightforward with them. Del. Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax), whose district includes the area, has scheduled a town hall meeting on Monday at 7 p.m. at Bull Run Middle School with VDOT officials to address concerns.

Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said that the north-south connection when most residents travel east-west in notorious traffic conditions is a waste of state resources. He has called the parkway the “Zombie Road” — because, he says, it’s not needed, and it never dies.

The road, officials say, was formally approved in 2005 and should rightfully be on its way toward construction.

Photo courtesy of Washington Post

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Follow the money in Virginia’s transportation bill

Virginia’s complex transportation funding bill, HB2313, is headed to Governor McDonnell for his signature and potential amendments. The bill is a prime example of political sausage, seeking to satisfy Republican and Democrat, urban and rural, transit and road constituencies.


Photo by jimmywayne on Flickr.It also represents poor public policy by undermining the “user pays” principle, failing to reform VDOT spending, allocating far too little to transit in an urbanizing state, and off-loading responsibility for local roads to Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

Some political observers argue that the only way Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads could win rural legislators’ support for new revenues would be to place the burden on themselves. And they have, by increasing local sales taxes, recordation fees and transient occupancy (hotel) tax, and with a higher state sales tax, which derives heavily from the two regions.

Virginia’s smart growth and conservation community expressed concerns with the bill on Saturday.

While Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads will able to raise (tax themselves), keep, and allocate new transportation revenue, VDOT escapes responsibility for meeting the needs of the two most economically important parts of the Commonwealth. The bill frees VDOT to take more of the statewide sales tax revenues for highway construction outside the two regions.

Now that the bill has passed, and presuming the Governor signs it, it will be incumbent upon legislators, local elected officials and the public to watch-dog how the money is spent, starting with the next update of the state’s 6-year transportation plan, due in June. Setting the right priorities with the local money from and for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads will be equally important.

Who voted for and against?

The 25 to 15 vote in the Senate included 17 Democrats and 8 Republicans voting yes, and 3 Democrats and 12 Republicans voting no. Northern Virginia yes votes were Senators George Barker, Charles Colgan Sr., Barbara Favola, Mark Herring, Janett Howell, Dave Marsden, Toddy Puller and Richard Saslaw, all Democrats. No votes were Democratic Senators Adam Ebbin and Chap Peterson, and Republican Senators Richard Black and Jill Holtzman Vogel.

The 60 to 40 vote in the House included 25 Democrats and 35 Republicans voting yes, and 4 Democrats and 36 Republicans voting no. Northern Virginia yes votes were Democratic Delegates Robert Brink, David Bulova, Eileen Filler-Corn, Charniele Herring, Patrick Hope, Mark Keam, Kaye Kory, Robert Krupicka, Alfonso Lopez, Kenneth Plum, James Scott, Mark Sickles, Luke Torian and Vivian Watts; and Republican Delegates David Albo, Mark Dudenhefer, Thomas Greason, James LeMunyon, Joseph May, Randall Minchew, and Thomas Rust.

Northern Virginia no votes came from Democratic Delegate Scott Surovell and Republicans Richard Anderson, Barbara Comstock, Timothy Hugo, Scott Lingamfelter, Robert Marshall, Jackson Miller, and David Ramadan.

The complete bill history can be found here.

Follow the money

The best source for tracking the new taxes and the funding allocations is the HB2313 Transportation Conference Report, but even this requires interpretation.

While the bill no longer eliminates all taxes on gasoline, it still reduces what road users will pay in daily operating costs. It eliminates the 17.5¢ retail gas tax and shifts to a wholesale sales tax on gas. This reduces user fees in 2014 by nearly one-third, and by 20% in 2018 assuming the receipts increase because of a rise in gas prices.

The bill makes up for reducing gas taxes primarily by increasing the sales tax on new car purchases, charging a $100 fee on alternative fuel vehicles like hybrids, and tapping statewide sales taxes on goods and services (but not food).

Day-to-day vehicle user costs will decline, and all taxpayers will pay more even if they drive little or not at all. Meanwhile, transit fares are likely to continue to climb in the absence of adequate state support for transit maintenance and operating costs.

VDOT is free to continue wasting money on unnecessary highway projects

The statewide portion of the bill is truly a highway bill: it directs $538 million (annually by 2018) to the highway maintenance accounts, but this will effectively free up an equal amount in highway construction funds, allowing the current administration to continue a pattern of funding rural highways with little traffic demand.

Just last week, VDOT announced it would allocate another $869 million in federal Garvee bonds to Route 460 and the Coalfields Expressway, two of the most wasteful, unnecessary projects in the history of Virginia. Four questionable projectsRoute 460 ($1.4 billion), Coalfields Expressway ($2.8 billion), Charlottesville Bypass ($240 million), and the Outer Beltway in Northern Virginia (estimated $1 billion)total a potential $5.5 billion in misallocated spending.

Many expect that Secretary Connnaughton intends to divert a substantial portion of the new statewide money to the controversial and sprawl-inducing Outer Beltway, rather than to the critical commuter corridor needs of the metro regions.

Just 21% of the statewide funds go to transit and passenger rail in 2018, although passenger rail advocates are rightly pleased that $44 million in 2014 and $56 million per year by 2018 will go to current Amtrak services for which Virginia is now responsible, and for capital investment in the passenger rail network. An existing funding source supports upgrades for freight rail.

The $84 million for public transit isn’t a lot of money when it must be shared among transit agencies across the state. The bill allocates a separate $300 million to Dulles Rail, but like some of the road money it’s coming from the existing state sales tax at the expense of General Fund needs like education and health care.

The bill fails to address the empty secondary and urban road capital accounts, unless the administration commits to use some of the freed-up road money in the Transportation Trust Fund for this purpose. Instead, the bill implicitly off-loads the cost of local roads to Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads through the local sales tax increases in those two regions. Shifting this responsibility allows VDOT to spend more money on rural highways.

Part of the future depends on a bill in Congress

Part of the bill also depends on the federal Marketplace Equity Act, a bill in Congress which would let states charge sales tax on Internet purchases. If that does not pass by January 2015, the sales tax on gas will rise another 1.7 percentage points to make up for the expected revenue from the MEA. This would bring gas taxes back to a level comparable to where they are today, if not a little higher at current per-gallon prices.

The Washington Post also reports that Senator Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) secured another provision that would kick in if the MEA does not pass. In that case, the amount of general fund revenue directed to transportation would drop from $200 million a year to $60 million a year.

More taxes rise in NoVa and Hampton Roads

The bill would raise between $300 and $350 million per year in and for Northern Virginia by 2018. It does so by increasing the sales tax in northern Virginia by 0.7 percentage points on top of the statewide 0.3 point increase, for a new total of 6%.

There’s also a 0.25% recordation tax on recorded deeds and a 3% transient occupancy (hotel) tax. The bill retains the existing local 2.1% tax on fuel. 70% of the funds will go to “regional” projects and 30% to local projects in the locality where the money is raised. The funds can go to roads or transit, and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority will decide how to allocate the money.

For Hampton Roads, the bill would raise $219 million in 2018, using a local sales tax increase of 0.7 percentage points and a 2.1% local tax on fuel. However, the legislation directs these funds only for roads, despite the great need for transit and widespread support for light rail in the region.

Following the success of “The Tide” light rail in Norfolk, 62% of voters in Virginia Beach’s referendum last November supported extending light rail to the beach. The Navy has also expressed its strong support for extending light rail to Norfolk Naval Station.

In a final example of VDOT off-loading costs onto the two metro regions, the bill failed to allocate state funds to Hampton Roads’ Midtown/Downtown Tunnel project which local officials want. Instead, the authors of the bill say that localities should use the new regional funding sources if they want to buy down the costs of the tolls, even as VDOT diverts $1.12 billion of state and federal funds to the unnecessary Route 460 over the objections of many in the region.

Photo courtesy of jimmywayne on Flickr

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The Smart (Growth) Crowd Weighs In

My smart growth buddies have issued a critique of the compromise transportation-funding deal. Among the highlights in the press release issued jointly today by the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Piedmont Environmental Council:

Cutting gas taxes by up to one-third reduces the tie between transportation use and funding. “Transportation, unlike our schools, is like an electric utility, yet the primary fee—the gas tax—hasn’t been increased in 27 years. Transit users have been paying increased fares, year after year, yet road users would see a reduction in daily travel costs under the bill, leading to a potential shift from transit to driving, more driving and more congestion.”

The proposal feeds wasteful spending.  “The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is squandering most of the $3 billion in borrowed funds authorized by the General Assembly in 2011 and we can expect more of the same.” Hard-to-justify projects include the Charlottesville Bypass, the Coalfields Expressway and the Route 460 Connector. Another $1.25 billion in funds raised by the tax restructuring will be lavished upon a Northern Virginia Outer Beltway.

The proposal offers no statewide funding for local road needs.  “VDOT has zeroed out funding for local roads over the past few years. Instead, the bill will make Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads increase sales taxes and wholesale gas taxes to pay for local roads. This is a major step toward devolution and passing on the cost of local roads to Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.”

The compromise pushes all new transit funding — the 0.3 cent addition to the sales tax — into the General Fund, forcing it to compete with schools, health care and other public services.  “Dulles Rail should long ago have been funded through the Transportation Trust Fund. It should not be a bargaining chip to get Northern Virginians to agree to taking General Fund revenues.”

Bacon’s bottom line: I agree with most of this critique — the General Assembly compromise enables a dysfunctional Business As Usual. I do take exception with one point, however. I believe that all modes of transportation should stand on their own two feet, so to speak. I don’t believe in subsidizing rail or mass transit any more than I believe in subsidizing roads. We need to create a level playing field — put each mode on a user-fee basis — and let the most economical mode win.

Would it then be impossible to finance new rail projects? Not necessarily. We could make rail more viable if we could figure out how to tap a portion of the real estate value created by rail projects to help finance the construction. That’s where we need to concentrate our energy, not how to stick non-users with the bill.

Photo courtesy of Bacon’s Rebellion

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Residents Seek Answers About ‘Outer Beltway’ During Forum

More than 150 people gathered in the auditorium of John Champe High School Monday night to learn more about the state’s plans to build a new highway across Loudoun and Prince William counties.

For most in the room, there were more questions than answers, even for program organizers—longtime critics who have been fighting the project they call the Outer Beltway in its many forms since the late 1980s.

The latest version is the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s designated Corridor of Statewide Significance, called the North-South Corridor, which would link I-95 to near Dumfries to Rt. 7 east of Leesburg. Options to develop a four- to six-lane road that would provide a new western access to Dulles Airport has been under study for the past year.

In Prince William County, detailed planning already is under way to extend the Prince William County Parkway from its I-66 terminus to Rt. 50 in Loudoun, including a Manassas Battlefield bypass that would have north-south traffic skirt the western edge of the national park along Pageland Lane and Sanders Lane. That road would link to Northstar Boulevard and then to Belmont Ridge Road in Loudoun. From there, an eastern spur, either along Rt. 50 or to the north, would move traffic to Rt. 606 and Dulles Airport.

In Loudoun, communities have already gotten communication from VDOT about studies that will be conducted between through April, including ones for wetland delineation, noise monitoring, culture resource surveys such as shovel tests, soil samples and/or hazardous waste investigations, according to a letter received by the Brambleton Group.

The Brambleton Community Association has already taken action to oppose the alternative that would bring the limited-access highway through the southern part of the community.

“The Board took this action because they feel that the construction of this highway will have long lasting and negative impacts on our community,” Brambleton General Manager Rick Stone said in a letter to residents. The letter goes on to note a limited-access road could reduce property values, increase noise related to truck traffic, negatively impact the environment and change future planned uses for the property included in the study area.

“The BCA Board believes that VDOT should focus their study to the existing right-of-ways along Route 50 (already planned as a limited access road) and on the airport property for which the road will serve,” the letter reads.

Piedmont Environmental Council President Chris Miller and Coalition for Smarter Growth Executive Director Stewart Schwartz told the audience Monday night the project, with a price tag that could exceed $1 billion, would do little to reduce commute times or spur job growth. They also questioned a key underpinning of the state’s push build the road, dismissing as “overstated” the claims that the highway was needed to accommodate growing cargo shipments at Dulles Airport.

Residents wanted to know more about the specific alignments the road would take and how their properties and their neighborhoods would be impacted.

“I don’t think they know and I don’t think VDOT will tell you,” Miller said. “But you should start asking.”

Also making presentations during the session were John Hutchison of Aldie Heritage Association and Charlie Grymes, chairman of the Prince William Conservation Alliance.

Hutchison raised concerns that the highway would undermine efforts to create a rural experience that would attract tourist seeking to escape urban environments. The project was cited as the association’s top concern by members during a recent meeting, he said.

Grymes said the North-South Corridor project would do little to create new jobs in Prince William County and would conflict with the county’s strategic plans. “We should invest where we can grow jobs,” he said, adding that focus should be in the I-95 and Rt. 1 corridors at the eastern end of the county. “If you spend your money on a dumb road you don’t need, you don’t have any left,” he said.

VDOT planners held two community open house meetings on the project in Loudoun and Prince William just before Christmas and the public comment period ended Jan. 18. Representatives from VDOT, the Department of Aviation, Department of Rail and Transportation and Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority are formulating recommendations for the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

Photo courtesy of Leesburg Today

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