Plans for a major highway in Northern Virginia are taking shape. Officials say the billion-dollar road would spur growth, but opponents say that premise is flawed.
The Virginia Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment state has released a study to the influential, 17-member Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) of a limited access, north-south highway between I-95 in Prince William County and Rt. 7 in Loudoun County, arcing west of Dulles International Airport.
The 600-foot wide “corridor of statewide significance” will eventually extend 45 miles by building upon existing infrastructure, carrying car commuters and express buses to meet forecasted job and population growth. Both counties have in their comprehensive master plans the additional lane capacity, although land use disputes may arise in towns with property in the planned corridor.
“We are in the visioning stage. We have very little money in this project. We have only put $5 million dollars on the project to date,” said Deputy Secretary of Transportation David Tyeryar, who presented the corridor study to the CTB last week. The board is expected to accept the study at its next meeting in May.
“We are still in a phase where we are meeting with the transportation departments of the localities and the landowners and trying to determine a vision for the corridor,” Tyeryar added.
As Transportation Nation has reported, a north-south corridor could theoretically serve multiple purposes: help existing residents avoid traffic congestion, provide lane capacity for expected new residents and businesses, and help turn Dulles Airport into the East Coast’s premier freight hub.
“It’s going to be essential that this route eventually be established and hopefully built,” said Gary Garczynski, the CTB’s Northern Virginia representative and long-time real estate developer. “I’ve been around for 40 years in Northern Virginia and when you see the population and employment figures in this study… you need to have the vision to say we are going to need these roads.”
But studies have shown that building new roads doesn’t necessarily alleviate traffic, and opponents are marshaling objections to the estimated $1 billion price tag as well as the state’s employment and population forecasts in western Prince William and eastern Loudoun.
“Much of the growth projections are based upon plans of the local jurisdictions, not necessarily based upon some sort of demographic and economic analysis,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which favors transit-oriented projects to road building.
“We just raised taxes for transportation, but we didn’t do it to throw away the money. And we have such significant needs in Northern Virginia on the key existing commuter corridors, the funding of Dulles Rail, and fixing I-66,” Schwartz added.
The coalition’s director is also concerned about the public process, accusing the CTB of acting like a “rubber stamp” for Virginia road projects.
“One of the things we’re starting to think we need is an independent transportation planning agency separate from the Virginia Department of Transportation,” Schwartz said.
The CTB would be irresponsible to ignore the need to better move people and goods in Northern Virginia, Garczynski said. “The population and the employment growth is going to happen whether we build the road or not.”