Tag: outer beltway

Virginia Wants To Talk To Maryland About A New Potomac River Bridge — Again

Virginia’s influential Commonwealth Transportation Board wants to open discussions with officials in D.C. and Maryland about improving congested Potomac River crossings, with priority given to expanding the capacity of the American Legion Memorial Bridge and Metro’s Rosslyn tunnel, which is the bottleneck for the Silver, Blue, and Orange lines.

The long-running idea of building a new bridge west of the American Legion — which carries I-495 over the river — also was included in the board’s resolution, although Maryland repeatedly has refused to go along with it. Opponents of adding a bridge west of the American Legion derisively say it would be part of an “outer Beltway.”

“We have had indications from Maryland that they are not opposed to discussion,” said Gary Garczynski, the Northern Virginia representative on the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), which voted Wednesday in favor of opening discussions again.

“There should be dialogue about any one of those crossings or all of them, because in total they would certainly effectuate a much more connected region,” he said.

Studies by the Virginia Department of Transportation have identified the American Legion Bridge as the most important choke point for car commuters. A study of 11 Potomac crossings released in July recommended extending Virginia’s HOT lanes on I-495 across the bridge north to the I-270 spur.

More than 300,000 commuters per day use the bridge, the study said. More than 44,000 people travel through the Rosslyn tunnel on Metrorail into Virginia.

Opponents of an “outer Beltway” say there is relatively light demand for a new bridge upriver.

“There are certain lobbyists who continue to push this. There are certain parts of the business community that keep putting pressure on Gov. McAuliffe and Gov. Hogan. They are totally off base,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a long-time foe of building a new bridge between the American Legion and Point of Rocks bridges over the Potomac.

“There is no funding available for upriver bridges and no demand based on VDOT’s own study. So to us it is a waste of time,” he added.

A spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation said the agency would continue to talk to Virginia officials about its concerns with a new crossing.

Also on Wednesday, the CTB formally approved VDOT’s plans to toll I-66 inside the Beltway staring in 2017, accepting a deal with the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission to allow local representatives to decide where to spend toll revenues to improve mobility in the I-66 corridor.

Read at WAMU >>

Gov. McAuliffe Needs to Resist Pressure From Usual Suspects and Reject Bi-County Parkway

According to Leesburg Today, Gov. McAuliffe appears to be leaning towards support for the “Bi-County Parkway” project. “We have to open up Dulles airport,” McAuliffe said. “We will have a resolution relatively quickly.”
[…] McAuliffe pointed to stalled growth in Dulles Airport’s passenger counts as a key concern. While efforts are being made to add new flights-such as Air China’s direct connections to Beijing that began last week-increased cargo operations will be important to keep the airport growing, he said.

RELEASE: Another Potomac River Bridge Study?

Coalition for Smarter Growth, Piedmont Environmental Council Sierra Club – Virginia Chapter

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FEBRUARY 6, 2014

Contact: Stewart Schwartz, CSG, 703-599-6437 (C)
Chris Miller, PEC, 540-347-2334

Another Potomac River Bridge Study?
Proposed Legislation Could Inject a Hot Potato into Congressional Race

Proposed legislation by Delegates Tom Rust and Randy Minchew threatens to throw a hot potato into the middle of the pending race to succeed Congressman Frank Wolf, igniting a repeat of the neighborhood outcry that followed past bridge proposals. Citing an in-house study quietly initiated by the former Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton, the bill (HB1244) would effectively endorse continuation of the Connaughton study and encourage VDOT to recommend a location or locations for new bridges, if needed.

The bill is currently before the House Appropriations Committee which could hear it Friday, February 7th.

The patrons are proposing that the state spend additional staff resources on the study even though the State of Maryland has reiterated its opposition to new bridge crossings in an October 2012 letter to former Secretary Connaughton. Moreover, in 2012, the House Rules committee rejected a similar bill, HJ131, after having confirmed that the State of Maryland remained strongly opposed to new Potomac River bridge crossings.

“Back in 2000 and 2001, after Congressman Wolf funded a federal study of new bridge crossings, the proposed alignments were found to have significant community impacts and generated a firestorm of community opposition,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Congressman Wolf had the study discontinued, noting that because of existing land uses a new bridge and connecting highways could not be built without significant impact on neighborhoods in the path.

A subsequent “Origin/Destination Study” study in 2003-2004 by VDOT tracked every license plate crossing the American Legion Bridge and those entering and exiting the Beltway from every entrance/exit between Route 50 in Virginia to Georgia Avenue in Maryland. The results showed that very few vehicles were making the so-called “U-shaped” commute from Reston and beyond to the Rockville/Gaithersburg area and vice versa. The vast majority of commutes needed to use the American Legion Bridge and Beltway or were making strictly radial (in-out) trips.

“Based on past studies, we are convinced that these bridges would waste scarce transportation dollars, have no effect on congestion on the Beltway and other major highways, harm water quality and the historic C&O Canal and open up the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve and other rural land to development,” said Douglas Stewart, Transportation Chair for the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “This region has made a strong commitment to transit and transit-oriented development including investment in the Silver Line and Tysons Corner. Outer Beltways undercut that investment, diverting private development to areas that are far removed from infrastructure and amenities, generating significant new traffic,” said Chris Miller, President of the Piedmont Environmental Council.

In their letter the State of Maryland makes clear that they to not intend to “revisit the years of debate over new crossings of the Potomac River” and instead want to focus on potential improvements to existing crossings including the American Legion Bridge, the Route 301 Henry Nice Bridge and transit on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Since 2012, Fairfax County and Montgomery County elected officials and staffs have been discussing how to improve transit in the American Legion Bridge corridor.

“We believe the proposed studies are unnecessary, wasteful and a diversion of time and attention from fixing the American Legion Bridge corridor and other key commuter corridors with multimodal solutions,” said Schwartz. “The region should continue its focus on implementing key transit projects like the Silver Line, Purple Line, Montgomery County Rapid Transit Network, streetcars and mixed-use transit-oriented development. The benefits will be significant in terms of maximizing transit, walking, biking and carpooling and reducing the number and length of vehicle trips region-wide.”

About the Coalition for Smarter Growth

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington D.C. region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Our mission is to promote walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies needed to make those communities flourish. To learn more, visit the Coalition’s website at www.smartergrowth.net

 

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Update on The Bi-County Parkway: A Chance to “Take a Second Look”

During his campaign, Governor McAuliffe said he would take a hard-look at the controversial $440 million Bi-County Parkway, reevaluating this project and others proposed by VDOT. In his campaign platform, under the section titled “Pick the right projects; build the best ones,” he stated:

Joint Environmental Groups’ Letter to Terry McAuliffe against Bi-County Parkway

Dear Governor-Elect McAuliffe: Congratulations on your victory and thank you for your support for so many of our conservation and smart growth priorities. With regard to transportation, we are particularly pleased with your support for building sustainable communities, seeking the least intrusive solutions, adapting infrastructure to serve community needs, and commitment to “pulling the plug” on transportation projects that fail to meet these standards. In keeping with those priorities…

Will Terry McCauliffe Sign Off on a Notorious Sprawl Project in NoVa?

With Terry McAuliffe about to move in to the Virginia governor’s mansion, it’s unclear what will become of one of the state’s most contested transportation proposals — the Bi-County Parkway, a $440 million highway in the outer D.C. suburbs.

Though it seems likely the current administration of Republican Governor Bob McDonnell will make a forceful push to get approvals sealed before the end of the year, the timeline is tight. Then there’s the big question of how McAuliffe, a Democrat, will manage the controversial proposal.

As planned, the four-lane divided highway would run 10.4 miles north-south between Route 50 and Route 66, two notoriously clogged commuter roads into D.C.

Critics of the Bi-County Parkway — who have been varied and outspoken — warn that the new highway would do little to ease congestion, and would in fact create even more traffic in this mixed region of farmland, cul-de-sacs, and Civil War landmarks. Smart growth advocates see the developers salivating over the project and predict that the road will simply perpetuate the trend of isolating housing from jobs.

“From what we see, all it’s going to encourage is more residential development in an area that lacks sufficient infrastructure,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “It’s putting more cars on top of the funnel.”

The proposal is at a critical juncture now, with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) aiming to submit a final environmental impact statement to the feds by the end of the year — before McDonnell leaves.

McDonnell has aggressively pushed the Bi-County Parkway, even going so far as to hire a public relations firm to pitch the project.

“He has fast-tracked the planning and approvals and all that,” said James Bacon of Bacon’s Rebellion, a Virginia public policy blog. “He clearly made it a priority.”

And though several aspects of the project are still tied up in negotiation — particularly due to the government shutdown — many believe McDonnell will make an all-out effort to get Federal Highway Administration sign-off before 2014.

“The McDonnell Administration is flooring the gas pedal… hoping to get final approval before their time runs out,” wrote Morgan Butler, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, in an email. “The administration has downplayed (or ignored outright) major community and environmental impacts and given short shrift to alternatives, as they try to get their pet projects to a point of no return before they leave office.”

A study published by SELC and other smart growth and environmental groups this summer, “Rethinking the Bi-County Parkway,” argues that the project won’t help the region’s biggest transportation problem — east-west travel — and will undermine preservation goals for Manassas National Battlefield Park. Instead of the highway, the report recommends transit improvements like extensions for Metro and VRE and an express bus on Route 50. VDOT has not formally analyzed any of those other options.

Critics of the Bi-County Parkway have also worried the project will help resurrect old plans for other roads, like a 45-mile “north-south corridor of significance,” and even a larger “Outer Beltway,” which VDOT has denied.

VDOT’s pitch is that the new highway will ease congestion by increasing connectivity between Loudon and Prince William counties and replacing a route through the battlefield park. Supporters have also said the highway will spur more air cargo activity at Dulles Airport, though a researcher at George Mason University disputed that claim.

So far there’s no definitive indication of how the next administration will deal with the Bi-County Parkway. When the topic came up during election debates, McAuliffe avoided taking a firm stand, saying he needed more facts. McAuliffe’s Republican opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, was more forthright in opposing the proposal, though he expressed support for some type of north-south connector.

For some voters, the issue was enough to bring them over to the “Democrats for Cuccinelli” camp, said Charlie Grymes, chair of the Prince William Conservation Alliance. Even more interesting, he said, was the way it forced some Virginia delegates to mark their positions. Bacon’s Rebellion also noted the unusual camaraderie the issue forged between populist conservatives and liberal smart-growth advocates.

While Cuccinelli’s stance stemmed from his fiscal conservatism, McAuliffe has made it clear that he intends to pour big bucks into transportation. As Politico notes, his campaign played up his support for Virginia’s new law to raise $1.4 billion for infrastructure through increased sales taxes and other fees.

To Bacon, that may make McAuliffe more inclined to support wasteful projects like the Bi-County Parkway.

But The Washington Post also notes that McAuliffe’s platform highlighted “elements that appeal to advocates of livable, walkable communities.”

Schwartz sees the new administration as a fresh opportunity to examine alternatives. With McAuliffe “walking into a transportation agency which enjoys significantly higher levels of funding,” he said, it’s going to be “incumbent to look at how we can spend funds more wisely.”

Also critical will be McAuliffe’s decisions about transportation leadership. Many view the Bi-County Parkway as a pet project of Sean Connaughton, the current transportation secretary.

“Once he’s gone, the project’s going to lose a big backer,” said Bacon. “On the other hand, the political constellation around it won’t disappear.”

Click here to read the original story.

Opponents: VDOT’s PR Effort is to Push Bi-County Parkway, Not Seek Alternatives

The recent disclosure of a nearly $300,000 contract for a public relations firm to tout a controversial road that would connect Prince William and Loudoun counties has galvanized the parkway’s opponents.

Opponents of the Bi-County Parkway, a 10-mile road to link the fast-growing counties, say the Virginia Department of Transportation’s contract with Stratacomm, a District PR firm, shows that the agency is not seriously considering other alternatives.

Although the contract mentions “education” efforts, Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), an opponent of the road, said that VDOT has been presenting only one side of the story. Marshall obtained and released the contract.

“They’re running a political operation,” Marshall said. “They say nothing bad about this road. This is a political campaign, nothing else.”

Stratacomm was hired in recent months to work on issues related to the Bi-County Parkway, according to the August contract.

The document shows that VDOT wanted Stratacomm to build relationships with local media, as well as engage elected officials, businesses and environmental interest groups on the parkway. The bills tallied reach $299,725, according to the contract. Much of that was Stratacomm’s staff time, including a senior vice president who billed 500 hours at $250 per hour.

Stratacomm Vice President John Undeland has been a fixture on the project for months. The firm’s Web site said the company seeks “to create and run winning communications campaigns.”

Undeland did not return calls seeking comment.

Elected officials and others have criticized VDOT, saying the agency has not been transparent about its plans for the parkway. Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton said in an e-mail that VDOT was trying to respond to such criticism by hiring Stratacomm. Many have faulted the agency for failing to explain why the controversial north-south road, which would pass near protected Civil War parkland and would be adjacent to long-established neighborhoods, is necessary.

In the past, Stratacomm has been hired to work on communications efforts for other government projects, including the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project, the Interstate 66 study and the Route 1 study, Connaughton said.

“It is disappointing that we are being criticized for doing too much public outreach in response to complaints that we were not doing enough,” Connaughton said. “Our intent is to inform and educate the public about the Bi-County Parkway — to get the facts out so the public can ask questions, provide comment and come to their own conclusions about the project and its potential impacts.”

Marshall said that it is too soon for VDOT to stop considering alternatives to the project. Preliminary designs for the parkway have not been completed. And VDOT and other state and federal agencies haven’t issued the necessary approvals.

Stewart Schwartz, president of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which opposes the project, said VDOT has refused to study alternatives to the road.

“It’s one thing to provide information to the public,” he said. “It’s another to try to basically sell the project.”

Click here to read the original story. 

RELEASE: Don’t Waste our Money, Don’t Destroy our History

Under pressure from Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton and Governor Bob McDonnell, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is rushing to approve a highway that would slice through Manassas National Battlefield Park and its surrounding National Historic District. This new highway would open the door to an Outer Beltway, cutting a 45-mile swath through Northern Virginia at a cost of $1 billion or more. The Bi-County Parkway has sparked broad and deep opposition from local residents, state legislators and preservation groups.

Bi-County Parkway Means Traffic Solution or Fresh Mess

outer beltway 3A new route through some of Prince William County’s rural north is pitched as pro-business and part of the area’s transportation solution, but critics have lined up to push back on a new run of pavement through a part of the region happy to be away from gridlock.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board recently approved a master-plan study for what’s become known as the “Bi-County Parkway,” a 10-mile road that would connect I-66 in Prince William County with Route 50 in Loudon County.

“This parkway would make people’s lives better,” said Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance. “It provides faster, safer transportation, and takes people off local roads.”

The road’s purpose is to ease the horrendous traffic that currently plagues the area, while also providing easier access to the Washington Dulles International Airport for residents of these counties. The Virginia Department of Transportation estimates that the road could carry nearly 42,000 vehicles a day by 2020 to combat the area’s exploding population.

“We see this as a vital north-south link for Prince William and Loudon,” Chase said. “It’s a common sense solution that makes employment centers accessible and takes traffic off existing roads.”

The parkway is also seen as an economic boon for the region.

“Not only will the road reduce traffic congestion between the counties, but it will also help the region connect with the airport,” said Leo Schefer, president of the Washington Airports Task Force. “The airport’s an economic engine for the area, and better access to it helps encourage businesses to locate nearby.”

The road also has the potential to benefit the airport itself by increasing the number of passengers and encouraging more cargo to pass through Dulles.

“It would allow for a better flow of passengers and information through the airport, and cargo is a part of that,” said Christopher Paolino, media relations manager for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. “That would be a net positive for everyone, since as the airport grows, the region grows, and vice versa.”

But critics of the parkway are worried that road may harm the nearby Manassas Battlefield and Prince William’s Rural Crescent.

“This road could forever harm the landscape and the acres of historic sites it would cut through,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “Residents have real concerns about the damage that this could cause to the community.”

Schwartz’s coalition has worked with other groups in developing a study finding that the parkway will only add traffic to the area, not ease it.

“If you build it, people will try to use it, and that creates congestion,” Schwartz said. “It’s also likely that this will bring pressure from developers to convert the Rural Crescent, and that will bring even more traffic.”

The group has also developed an alternative plan aimed at dispersing traffic by improving the interchange between Route 28 and I-66 and extending Metrorail service to Centreville, avoiding the need for the parkway.

“Our best hope is to improve our existing transit options and to build compact, walkable neighborhoods with public transportation,” Schwartz said.

Some local politicians echo the road rage, particularly Del. Tim Hugo (R-Centreville).

Transportation officials were trying to get the road done quietly, Hugo said. “But people woke up.”

The fight over the road has sent longtime political allies in Prince William County to opposing corners. Hugo argues support for the project is developer-driven.

“This is the wrong project at the wrong time, and the response from the people has been overwhelmingly in opposition,” Hugo said. “This road could create a commuter crisis from Fauquier to Fairfax.”

Proponents argue the goal is to get cars from one end of this rural area to the other, not increasing development within these communities. Shefer said the parkway can include easements around the road and limits on the number of exits to restrict development.

“If it’s designed the right way, then the parkway won’t harm the rural presence, but preserve it,” Schefer said.

Some changes have already been made to resolve some concerns about access and impacts on historical sites. As the project continues to take shape, Schefer and others are hopeful that the final product is controversy-free.

“The key is for everyone to work together, in order to help improve connectivity and save people time,” Schefer said. “There’s no reason this can’t be a win-win for everyone.”

Photo courtesy of VDOT.

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Leesburg Council Passes Resolution Against Bi-County Parkway

The Leesburg Town Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to pass a resolution opposing the North-South Corridor and its components, despite firm requests – some have called them threats – from Loudoun Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York and Loudoun Chamber President Tony Howard not to do so.

The resolution opposes construction of the Bi-County Parkway (formerly the Tri-County Parkway until shifted west several years back), which is a component related to the North-South Corridor aimed at improving connectivity between Prince William County and Dulles International Airport and the surrounding area. The corridor itself actually refers to an area, not a specific road; however, the construction of the Bi-County Parkway would complete a new direct four-lane path from I-95 in Prince William County to Route 50 in Loudoun. In its entirely, it would link I-95 all the way to Route 7. All segments of that connection are planned for at least four lanes of traffic, with few interchanges and plenty of traffic lights.outer beltway 2

The Loudoun Chamber and Board of Supervisors as well as the state have put their support behind project, but a majority of the Leesburg Town Council believes the road would spark denser development in Loudoun’s Transition Policy Area and dump traffic on Route 7 that would overflow onto town streets.

“The problem I have with the North-South corridor is that … as with Prince William County, they’re concerned about protecting the Rural Crescent; in Loudoun we’re concerned about protecting the low-density transition area,” said Mayor Kristen Umstattd.

Umstattd and at least one other councilmember also pointed out that Interstates 95 and 81 were only four lanes in sections.

“I don’t want to see another I-95 or Interstate 81 coming up from 95 and dumping onto Route 7,” Umstattd said.

The Chamber’s Howard called that point “a completely misunderstood representation of what this project is proposed to be.”

Howard said the four-lane road, which would have traffic signal primarily instead of interchanges, would in no way resemble those interstates.

“I’m very disappointed in the vote,” Howard said. “The actions they took yesterday weren’t necessary. It’s not reasonable that Leesburg will see any increase in traffic, because the Bi-County Parkway is 15 miles away.”

Councilmember Marty Martinez said the council could not look only at the Bi-County portion of the corridor because the roads will all connect, and drivers will find them.

“They’re all going to connect eventually,” he said. “It is going to impact Leesburg and I have to be concerned about that.”

Councilwoman Kelly Burk said the chamber was putting business interests over those of residents.

“Economic development gets higher consideration than anything else – the environment, the community,” she said.

The council’s resolution included a list of projects it would prefer to see funded instead of the Bi-County Parkway, which the council requests undergo further environmental study.

Council members Kevin Wright and Tom Dunn voted against the resolution.

Opponents of the road held a conference call last week to offer an alternative plan that they said would keep 45,000 vehicles off of Loudoun’s roads. While those vehicles trips, the group acknowledged, would still exist somewhere in the region, they would have fewer impacts on the Manassas National Battlefield Park.

“The Bi-County Parkway makes conditions worse and doesn’t address some important needs,” said Stewart Schwartz, of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, one member of the group of opponents.

Opponents of the road have also argued that it primarily serves business needs, but forecasts show commuters would be the primary users, using the road to escape other congested routes. That would lengthen routes for commuters and prove a minimal benefit and other users crowd the new route, according to opponents.

Fin the full report with executive summary and appendices here.

The group offering the alternative vision for the parkway includes the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the Piedmont Environmental Council, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Parks Conservation Association.

Virginia Sec. of Transportation Sean Connaughton, who is the former chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, previously presented his case for the road in an editorial letter; read the letter here.

Howard said the disagreement would not harm the relationship between the town and chamber.

“We’re still friends,” he said. “The chamber’s going to continue to advocate for the town’s projects.”

The council’s resolution included a list of favored projects, including interchanges at the Route 15 Bypass and Edwards Road, Battlefield Parkway and Route 7 and Battlefield and the Leesburg Bypass. In addition, the resolution urges support for construction of Crosstrail Boulevard between Route 7 and Sycolin Road.

Photo courtesy of VDOT.

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