It might seem odd that in a region with near-constant traffic congestion, a proposed remedy would be so roundly attacked.
Yet that’s the case in Northern Virginia, where a proposed new Bi-County Parkway spanning the outer suburbs in Loudoun and Prince William Counties has drawn fire from citizens and senior government leaders alike.
The 10-mile route between I-66 near Gainesville and U.S. Route 50 is part of a long-envisioned north-south alternative to existing roads that have never fully kept pace with demand since the region’s 1980s-era “big bang of growth.”
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) contends that a combination of new and existing roads would not only help alleviate this congestion—particularly since the area’s population is projected to increase by 50% by 2040 according to VDOT—but also provide a more direct connection between I-95 in the eastern part of Prince William and Washington Dulles International Airport, benefitting passengers and cargo carriers alike.
Many business leaders and transportation advocates agree, which is why the Bi-County Parkway has been endorsed by both counties’ Chambers of Commerce, and the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance.
But most everyone else, it seems, hates the idea.
Via letters, email and social media campaigns, and at VDOT information sessions, opponents’ complaints have run the gamut from intruding on mandated low-development areas and to compromising the historic character of the area, including adjacent Manassas National Battlefield Park—the flashpoint for an equally controversial bypass plan. (According to VDOT, the National Park Service supports the Bi-County Parkway’s current alignment along the edge of the Battlefield.)
There’s also concern that at a current projected cost of $400 million, the Bi-County Parkway’s pricetag pales in comparison with more pressing deficiencies in the region’s east-west highway network.
And despite VDOT’s assurances that the Parkway will be limited access with only a handful of interchanges, residents worry about overloading winding country roads separating farms and subdivisions with more traffic.
Though the motivations of some members of the anti-Parkway faction may be rooted more in NIMBYism than anything else, opponents have nevertheless gotten the ear of local legislators and longtime Congressman Frank Wolf (R), who expressed “serious reservations” about the project in a letter to Gov. Bob McDonnell (R).
And last week, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors dropped the Bi-County Parkway from its wish list of state-funded road projects. It does, however, remain part of the County’s long-range Comprehensive Plan.
It’s unclear what the response will be from VDOT and the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), chaired by State Transportation Secretary and former Prince William Supervisors Chair Sean Connaughton. Because the Bi-County Parkway route exists only on paper, with little existing state-owned right of way, there’s no ready-made corridor for the road. The CTB has allocated $6 million for preliminary engineering and design in the recently adopted six-year transportation plan, but no contracts have been awarded.
For now, the Bi-County Parkway appears to be a transportation project that the region’s motorists desperately need, but don’t want.
UPDATE 6/20/2013: The Commonwealth Transportation approved conducting a master plan study for the N-S corridor that includes the Bi-County Parkway.