[box] [featured] Together with our partners, the Coalition for Smarter Growth has been fighting against the Outer Beltway since our founding in 1997. Through grassroots efforts with our supporters in Virginia and policy work by our staff, we’re on constant watch for new attempts to build this “zombie highway”. [/featured]
The Outer Beltway is a proposed highway encircling the outer suburbs of Washington, D.C. Various components return to the forefront every few years. Back in 2013-2014, there was a big push for the BiCounty Parkway in Virginia, but the project was stopped due to concern over the impact to Manassas National Battlefield, the Prince William Rural Crescent, the Loudoun County Transition Area and neighborhoods in Loudoun. Parts of this project remain on the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority Transaction Plan.
Simply put, these projects would be wasteful and destructive:
- Helping a very tiny percentage of commutes
- Diverting funding from critical needs like Metro, the American Legion Bridge, VRE, MARC, existing commuter routes, and local roads
- Harming our drinking water supplies
- Fueling sprawl and more traffic, while destroying rural areas, parks and neighborhoods
- Increasing greenhouse gas emissions
- Undermining sustainable transit-oriented development
Our actions over the past several years have included testimony, meetings with officials, critiques of VDOT’s studies, development of an alternative set of transportation solutions, briefing communities in Loudoun, Prince William and Fairfax, participating in negotiations related to protection of Manassas National Battlefield, action alerts sent to our members, and petitions!
What’s happening now:
- Last year, the Transportation Planning Board’s study found an upper Potomac bridge would have little to no impact on traffic congestion in Northern Virginia by 2040 — this was a big win for us!
- We’ve been supporting repairs to the American Legion Bridge that were discussed recently, but we also want to see HOT lines extended across the bridge, funding for bus transit, free HOV lanes to promote carpooling, and a potential Metrorail link between the red and silver lines
Be on the lookout for new actions related to Outer Beltway projects in your community!
Stay tuned for action alerts on the Outer Beltway!
Here are some additional great resources to learn more about the campaign against the Outer Beltway:
- Comments on NVTAuthority 6-year plan
- Letter on NVTA 6-year plan
- Joint letter to TPB re the Constrained Long Range Plan
- Joint Letter to TPB re the Long Range Plan Task Force Study
- VDOT presentation of travel patterns (2015)
- Review of 2004 VDOT crossing study
- Rethinking the BiCounty Parkway
- Loudoun Citizens Transportation Report
- Transportation Planning Board: Land Use and Commuting Patterns
- Joint letter on NVTA’s TransAction Plan
- Former Congressman Wolf’s bridge study map from 2001
- More maps
Read more: What’s so bad about the Outer Beltway and its bridges?
- They won’t relieve traffic at the American Legion Bridge and Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
- A 2015 VDOT study showed only a small percentage of trips might use an upriver bridge and that the priority needs were the American Legion Bridge and Rosslyn Metro Tunnel.
- The 2003/2004 VDOT study of every license plate crossing the American Legion Bridge also found very few trips would use an upriver bridge.
- Because of induced demand, the new highways will generate more traffic in the short, medium, and long term than not building them at all.
- They’ll generate more sprawl and more traffic. The three projects are designed to open up the Prince William Rural Crescent, the Loudoun Transition Area, Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve, and the forested Nanjemoy area of Charles County to development.
- They’ll divert funding from much more critical needs, such as:
- Fixing the bottleneck at the American Legion Bridge including adding transit, fixing Metro and adding 8-car trains and an expanded Rosslyn Tunnel
- More VRE and MARC trains and an expanded Long Bridge across the Potomac; and
- Fixing radial commuter routes and local road networks.
- They’re terrible for the environment.
- The northern Potomac bridges would be upstream of the drinking water intakes for most of the region’s population
- The BiCounty Parkway would impact drinking water from the Occoquan and Beaverdam Reservoirs
- The southern Bridge would harm the proposed Mallows Bay marine sanctuary.
- Historic and recreational resources including the Balls Bluff Battlefield, C&O Canal, Potomac Heritage Trail, and Manassas Battlefield would all be irreparably harmed.
- They would fuel more long-distance driving, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change.
- They will bring noise and toxic air pollution to neighborhoods in the path.
- They don’t serve the overwhelming volume of commuter trips, which are east-west. Here are the latest commute patterns by percentage:
- 47% of Loudoun residents work in the county, 92% work in VA or DC
- 46% of Fairfax residents work in Fairfax; 96% work in VA or DC
- 49% of Montgomery residents work in the county; approximately 8% work in Fairfax and the inner suburbs out of 9.3% total employed in Virginia; and 19.6% work in DC
- 62.9% of Frederick residents work in Frederick and Montgomery Counties; 90.4% work in MD or DC, and just 5.9% work in Virginia
Our Alternative: Smart Growth, Fixing Existing Infrastructure, Investing in Transit
For many years the Coalition for Smarter Growth has worked for an alternative to sprawl and traffic. Our Blueprint for a Better Region is a future focused on walkable, transit-oriented communities including a revitalized DC, Metro station development, walkable suburban neighborhoods, and commercial corridor transformation into mixed-use walkable communities. Only by changing where and how we grow and thereby reducing the amount we have to drive can we more effectively deal with our traffic.
Local leaders have said “transit-oriented development (TOD) is our future.” Studies by Metro have shown that Metro and TOD are essential to the functioning of our transportation system and economy. The marketplace has responded with people and companies flocking to walkable urban places. Think of the 120,000 new residents in DC, most of whom don’t own cars. In DC, 18% of residents walk or bicycle to work, 37% take transit, and only 34% drive alone. The results are similar in Arlington’s Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. So, the more future residents who live and work in these Metro centers, the fewer regional car trips – particularly in the peak hours.
This is why we argue for fixing Metro and other existing infrastructure first, focusing on mixed-use, transit-oriented development, local street networks, and more housing close to jobs and transit. By any measure, funding Metro, fixing the American Legion Bridge, expanding the Long Bridge commuter rail bridge into DC, local arterials and streets, and bus rapid transit, are all more effective investments than an outer beltway.