A Bump in the Road

Under withering criticism for a lack of transparency, the Commonwealth Transportation Board has agreed to a one-month delay before formally endorsing the McDonnell administration’s vision for the North-South Corridor.

by James A. Bacon

Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton, a former chairman of the Prince William County board, is a key driver behind the North-South Corridor.

Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton, a former chairman of the Prince William County board, is a key driver behind the North-South Corridor.

In deference to a scathing letter from Congressman Frank Wolf, R-10, and personal appeals from two members of the General Assembly, the Commonwealth Transportation Board voted Wednesday to delay formal acceptance of the Northern Virginia North-South Corridor Master Plan by a month.

Any recognition of the master plan would have been purely symbolic — it represents no more than an aspirational vision for a north-south multimodal corridor west of Washington Dulles International Airport. Blocking the plan would not thwart any of the specific projects discussed within it. And the deferral was equally symbolic. Not a single member of the CTB expressed reservations of any kind about the plan. Its acceptance in June seems pre-ordained.

But in the trench warfare over new transportation projects, warring parties place great stock in even symbolic victories and defeats. And opposition to the linchpin segment of the 45-mile North-South corridor, the so-called Bi-County Parkway (also referred to as the Tri-County Parkway), is intense. The crux of the conflict centers on the alleged necessity of routing the Parkway through or around the Manassas National Battlefield Park. The interests of stakeholders as varied as the McDonnell administration, the National Park Service, Northern Virginia commuters and residents of nearby farms and subdivisions seem largely irreconcilable.

Approval of the Bi-County Parkway, which is moving along its own bureaucratic track, is not contingent upon acceptance of the North-South master plan. But accepting the master plan would confer legitimacy upon the Parkway. And that was enough to goad several Prince William County residents to travel to Richmond to address the CTB and to inspire two elected officials, Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centreville, and Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, to endure four hours of CTB tedium in order to speak on the behalf of constituents who had packed previous Northern Virginia gatherings to protest plans for the parkway.

Tim Hugo

Tim Hugo

“Normally, we can’t get 15 people to a town hall meeting. We had 400 people show up,” Hugo told the CTB. “Congressman Wolf is not a flamethrower. I’m not a flamethrower.” But both are concerned by how the project is progressing. The Bi-County Parkway, the delegate said, will create “a traffic armageddon.”

But the Parkway had its defenders, including representatives of the Loudoun County and Prince William chambers of commerce and an aide to Loudoun County Board Chair Scott York. Brian Fauls, manager-government affairs for the Loudoun Chamber, said Loudoun needs a north-south highway to improve access to Dulles airport. Like the ports in Hampton Roads, Dulles is regarded as an economic engine of the state. But unlike Hampton Roads, which is served by five existing Corridors of Statewide Significance, Dulles is served by none. The North-South corridor would remedy that deficiency.

Richard McCary, past-president of the Committee for Dulles, also pointed out that the corridor is needed to serve the massive population growth in eastern Loudoun/western Prince William projected by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

The Master Plan outlines several components to the corridor. One piece already exists — Rt. 234 (the Prince William Parkway), which runs from Interstate 95 to Manassas. The corridor would continue north past the Battlefield Park and through the rural, western reaches of Prince William County — the Bi-County Parkway — and then tie into a northern segment aligned with Northstar Boulevard in Loudoun. Additional pieces of the corridor would include an east-west link to Dulles airport and a widening of Rt. 606 on the airport’s western edge. VDOT has not yet developed a cost estimate for the projects.

The great sticking point is the middle segment where it would run along the western edge of the battlefield and through the so-called “rural crescent” of Prince William. According to the latest version of a deal negotiated between the National Park Service and the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Bi-County Parkway would align with the western half of a proposed battlefield bypass. When the Bi-County parkway is built, park authorities would close Rt. 234, a parallel north-south road that runs through the center of the park, and install unspecified traffic-calming measures on a section of U.S. 29 that runs east-west through the park. Traffic on those two roads, which park officials say disrupts the visitor experience, carry roughly 24,000 cars a day. In theory, completing the eastern half of the bypass will improve conditions for east-west commuters, but no one has identified a source of funds for that project. Continue reading.

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20 responses to “A Bump in the Road

  1. I have no opinion on this road and corridor plan. I do not live in that area and very seldom drive in that area. I give deference to transportation planners who say better access to Dulles is required, and clearly it is better to plan for growth in advance, but whether this is the best way is beyond my ken. Rational decisions are possible and I hope those are the ones that are made. I make two points:

    1) It looks to me like the process is fairly open and the public does have a chance to express itself. And now they have been given more time. The fact that this is part of an overall plan I see as a plus and a sign of progress, better than decades ago when this stuff just happened in the back room and devil take the hindmost.

    2) Former battlefields are not sacred. Virginia is awash with former battlefields. Throw a rock and it will land where somebody was shot, scalped, kidnapped in a raid, died of the pox, etc. etc. (Now we can add eaten, gee I didn’t need to know that. But that wasn’t war.) Yes, Manassas is worth preserving because it was the scene of the first major battle of the Civil War and because that is an area were expansive green space is in short supply. But unless we ask a couple of million people to go back where they came from, and stop the inflow, it is going to be harder and harder to preserve all of the battlefields here in the Commonwealth. More traffic on the edge of this battlefield, allowing for less traffic through the center, sounds reasonable to me but it might not sound reasonable if my daily commute includes a road that gets closed. But do what makes sense from a traffic standpoint and don’t justify it as dishonoring or honoring the glorious dead. They are dead and care not for glory.

  2. “Richard McCary, past-president of the Committee for Dulles, also pointed out that the corridor is needed to serve the massive population growth in eastern Loudoun/western Prince William projected by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.”

    The massive population growth in Eastern Loudoun/Western Prince William is likely demand induced by the completion of the Tri-County Parkway.

  3. re: projected massive population growth”

    bzzzzzttt…. that ought to kill it..

    I have no confidence what-so-ever in road proponents ‘projections’ of growth.

    it’s the ultimate oxymoron….

    I don’t even think Weldon-Cooper or the census folks have it right anymore.

    not only do they have it wrong on the total numbers, they never had it right on geographic allocation… ever…

    it’s a black art enormously enjoyed by those who want more infrastructure.

  4. Force all landowners receiving an increase in density due to the new road to pay the bulk of the road’s construction costs. How about the Tysons’ 59.5%. If they are required to do this and still support a new road, it’s probably not a boondoggle. If they oppose the payment, the road constitutes theft from taxpayers.

    • I like the idea of transportation districts around new road interchanges. Give the original property owner a fair deal – which includes them keeping their land and paying the higher tax rate if that is what they want, or let them sell their land at whatever they can sell it for or make them an offer than they can turn down and pursue the other options.

  5. You report that Delegate Hugo said that closing Route 234 and throttling U.S. 29 would send thousands of drivers onto a congested I-66. As commuters use Route 234 to get to I-66, why would closing the road add traffic to I-66? Further, as traffic during the rush hour on U.S. 29 is heavily congested, why would traffic calming worsen the situation?

    I’m all in favor of bypassing traffic around the Battlefield – a four-lane limited access Battlefield Bypass would be infinitely better for travelers than the current two-lane road – but I do wish people would get their facts straight before trying to whip everyone into a frenzy of worry.

    I also favor rapid construction of the Bi-County Parkway as a limited access facility. The road is needed to move the growing volumes of north-south traffic between Prince William and Loudoun Counties, to help Virginian’s use the services at Dulles Airport, and to bypass that interregional traffic around established communities and their adjacent businesses.

    Absent the Bi-County Parkway, society will do what it usually does – leave the traffic like water to find its own level and flood along local community roads. It’s a case of plan now or pay later, and unfortunately, sensible long-range planning raises questions that can be twisted to get ones name in the paper prior to an election.

  6. Mr. Schefer – Til Hazel and others have been fighting for this road for many years. It would enable them to get rezonings for their land holdings. Why should taxpayers fund corporate welfare? Landowners can make all sorts of promises and then walk away from them by applying for changes in the Comp Plan and zoning ordinance. Force them to pay the lion’s share of the costs to build the road and then we will see if this road is truly needed.

    Ditto for the air freight. Impose a special tax on air shipments in and out from Dulles and bond the revenues to pay for a major part of the road.

    It’s time to stop corporate welfare.

  7. I’m in basic agreement with TMT.

    If new roads make land more valuable then the taxpayer should get some of that value to pay for the road.

  8. One of the biggest problems with transportation funding in Virginia is the disconnection between the primary beneficiaries and the payment of costs. Certainly, there is some level of benefit when there is an increase in economic activity. Building new houses employs people, causes purchases of other goods and services, etc. Ditto for an increase in air freight. One can reasonably argue that there should be some tax support for infrastructure that enables more economic activity.

    But the benefits of a new housing development or more air freight to the average person, driver, transit user, taxpayer are very tangential. Few will get a raise, a bonus, or a lower tax bill because of these gains in economic activity. Therefore, doesn’t stand to reason that these people ought to pay very little, if anything, for these increases in infrastructure that primarily benefit others and that those primary beneficiaries ought to pay a lot for what causes their benefit.

    Now a road or transit improvement that primarily benefits the public by reducing travel time or removing a safety hazard is different. There is a much stronger case for sending at least most of the bill to taxpayers. We need to end corporate welfare.

  9. How asinine this entire $1 billion-or-more north-south corridor proposal is. From its top to its bottom, from its front to its rear end, this $1 billion-or-more north-south corridor is asinine.

    Talk about the mangy tail waging the dog’s ass. Visualize it.

    First translate this Virginia style proposal from its Virginia Speak. Imagine “building a $1 billion-or-more north-south corridor to stimulate the growth of the air cargo business at Dulles, creating thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in warehouse-and-distribution investment.”

    What’s this mean?

    Well, imagine spending $1 billion-or-more dollars to build a road through Virginia Civil war battlefields and Hunt Country so that hundreds of trucks can drive through that stunning and sacred landscape to deliver and then pick altogether more and new deliveries from a newly built and massive complex of warehouse and distribution centers built in that historic countryside.

    Imagine thus transforming the Virginia Piedmont into a place where thousands of trucks will daily pass through and then unload their wares and then reload more wares in a sea of warehouses so that those hundreds of newly fully reloaded trucks can then be unleashed everyday by the hundreds into most congested commercial corridors and residential neighborhoods to the south side of Northern Virginia, as well as west across the piedmont all the way to the Blue Ridge.

    Is this Northern Virginia’s vision for its future, and that of its neighbors to the west?

    At first glance it’s hard to believe that Virginia Politicians in Northern Virginia would do this to their fellow Virginians, the folks who share that part of Virginia with those politicians.

    On reflection, however, it’s not hard to believe. Indeed it is akin to tradition. These people will sell Virginia’s heritage, sell what is precious and what belongs to all Virginians, to anyone who comes to town, so long as the price offered is right. Watching Virginia’s movers and shakers do such deals, or try too, is not pretty. Unfortunately, examples from their past are not hard to find.

    So for example, look into what went on among Virginia’s movers and shakers when Disney came to their town not so long ago with buckets full of money. All Disney wanted was buy the right to build a “Historical” amusement park where the dead lay under the ground at Bull Run Battlefield. What a draw a real battlefield right off the highway would be, Disney said. What a moneymaker!

    And so what happened? Here’s what happened. A lot of Virginian’s finest couldn’t line up fast enough with their hands out, trying to sell Virginia, and line their own pockets with the cash. That’s is what happened then. And it’s what’s happening now. Some Virginian’s still can’t line up fast enough with their hands out, selling what belongs to their fellow Virginians.

    History is repeating itself. This time they’d get away with it. Unless what happened the last time happens again, namely that some good folks step up now like they did before when their legacy was threatened and stopped the land speculators and their moneychangers in their tracks.

  10. This north south connector will be an unmitigated disaster for many reasons. One is that it goes nowhere and connects nothing.

    Rather “this connector” will send huge volumes of non local I-95 traffic spilling over onto a cross county road that dead ends at the Potomac River. This river blockage then will back up the traffic monster still coming along the route that its head has just traveled, jumbling the monster into humps as it keeps coming, until the beast is jammed solid all the way back to I-95.

    (All this of course will be compounded by reloaded trucks wheeling out of Dulles airport’s new mega regional warehouse and distribution center.)

    This huge mess will then stagnate and fume, reeking, until ever so slowly the traffic coming down I-66 finally subsides and the mass caught on the North South connector drains out into the already congested local traffic labyrinth to the south, into Northern Virginia proper.

    Imagine being caught in this traffic backing up in every direction.

    Some ensnared cars and trucks headed north will not escape until they’re finally released from the grip of the traffic Armageddon days later when finally they’re 65 miles north of the Potomac River in Maryland, headed for the closest town which by then will be Gettysburg Pennsylvania.

    Ridiculous you say. Well, look at a map. Once they’d committed to the North South Connector past Route 50 crossing the Bull Run Battlefield, they’ll have no where else to go, unless they can escape north up into the Virginia Piedmont, turning that land into another Woodbridge Virginia.

  11. Much of the “problem” stems from Dulles International Airport’s excessive per-passenger operating costs of more than $27. Reagan National’s costs are less than $15, while BWI’s are $10 because of a taxpayer subsidy. Also contributing to the problem are the attractiveness of BWI and Reagan to passengers. BWI has low-fare Southwest, while Reagan is very convenient for many passengers.

    So, instead of addressing supply and demand by cutting costs and marketing to airlines and passengers, MWAA wants to find other sources of revenue. It’s typical D.C. bull****, trying to suck up other people’s money. It makes Richmond look like choir boys.

    • You are right TMT-

      The more one looks at this the more it appears the the primary driver is Dulles Airports, Air Cargo, Warehouses and Distribution, and land speculation. And this road once built will become a platform from which to bust open yet another land rush of sprawl across the Virginia countryside.

      Making money quick and on the cheap, gobbling up the land. This old Northern Virginia story reads now like Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road.

      It’s time for Northern Virginia to open a new chapter – one that fixes its mistakes of the past instead of adding insult to injury by soaking whole new generations of Virginia taxpayers of yet more billions of their hard earned dollars only to drown those taxpayers in yet even more traffic congestion across a yet again expanded and wasted landscape.

  12. It’s a shame a book was never written about the third battle of Bull Run. How Disney marched on Richmond demanding $200,000, 000 from Virginia’s taxpayers, and $75,000,000 more from Prince William County taxpayers in return for Virginia having the privilege of Mickey Mouse plop himself down in their historic countryside on a 3,000 acre $650,000,000 Mickey Mouse real estate project, centered on a 150 acre amusement park.

    Here at Disney’s Virginia World, all Virginians and everyone else in the country would learn Mickey Mouse’s version of Virginia history from Pocahontas through the Civil War plus whatever else Mickey Mouse might dream up to keep day trippers coming by the thousands down I-66 from Washington to be entertained daily. All this would be just like happened that first day at the first Battle of Bull Run. How clever and historical.

    (Although there’s also be planeloads of happy tourists flying in for the week. If 66 is congested now, what a bullet was dodged back then in 1994.)

    And, despite all the taxpayer cash going into making Mickey Mouse happy, it was a pittance compared to the zoning Mickey demanded. Folks never got to the bottom of all those demands apparently, but thousands of homes, millions of office & commercial square feet, campgrounds, golf courses, and the amusement park were going to sit on those 3,000 acres. And that pot kept getting sweeter even as the citizen uproar grew ever louder.

    The Virginia General Assembly had approved $163, 200,000 and things were moving fast with $130,000, 000 authorized for roads only days before Disney abruptly pulled the plug and vanished. Engaged local Virginia citizens were tarnishing Mickey’s national image apparently.

    I keep wondering why this North South Connector keeps reminding me of Mickey Mouse’s third Battle of Bull Run. It’s the billion dollars perhaps. The fact that Mickey’s demands money wise were a faction of the billion whatever that taxpayers will pay for this road.

    And I wonder how, like Mickey, this billion dollar taxpayer funded north south connector got up onto its feet and ran so far so fast for so little discernible benefit for all those taxpayers who’d be forced to pay for it. Did for example the recent Virginia transportation funding bill play into this?

    Something is wrong here.

  13. You see what was going on in the Disney deal was that a lot of high flying Virginians – whether they be land speculators, developers, lobbyists, lawyers, consultants, fixers or whatever – were going to make a whole bunch of money off this Disney project if they could make it happen for Disney.

    And the way for them to make sure that it did indeed happen for Disney was to prime the pump with taxpayer dollars to benefit Disney and then also to hand over to Disney hundreds of millions of dollars worth of up-zoning of Virginia land to make sure that Disney went happily ahead with the project.

    All of this was perfectly legal of course. But that does not necessarily make it right. Nor does it mean that folks should let this spending of their money for the benefit of other people happen.

    Indeed, why should anybody let other folks spend their money for the own personal benefit unless it also benefits those paying the bill in an amount greater than the cost they are paying. This is the question those in charge of the North South Connector need to answer before they approve this project which apparently is what most of them very much want to do.

  14. I never was totally clear on the Disney deal. It was a private concern and as far as I know was not asking for any special sweet deal but it would depend on infrastructure like most developments would – and like it’s other theme parks in various parts of the country.

    down our way, we have Kings Dominion – and it a wonderful provider of jobs for teens in the summer – although I will admit they have messed around with the laws concerning the start of schools in the fall – in a strange way not that much different than farmers were way back when they needed their kids for harvest and not in school.

    We have a place in Fredericksburg zoned resort commercial with the intent of attracting a major theme park and it did split the locals who said it would be unbefitting “Americas Most Historic City” – and those who believe it would provide many school-aged jobs as well as bring in a ton of sales tax money to help pay for local needs – such as schools.

    We’ve had to run-ins with WalMart down our way when first they wanted to put a store next to Washington’s Boyhood Home (and they moved it) and then more recently too near the Wilderness Battlefield (and they moved it).

    Never understand why there was apparently NO PLACE for Disney to locate. Seemed odd to be turning down a business that, unlike land development, would not need schools or parks or libraries or any of those things that residential growth need.

    A couple thousands acres of disney vs a couple thousand acres of residential housing – did not seem like the atrocity that some thought it would be.

    of course that’s my view and subject to “enlightenment” from others.

  15. Obviously there is nothing wrong with amusements parks, theme or otherwise. But not all land is suitable for all amusement parks.

    In the case of Disney, it chose to buy its 3,000 acre parcel of land in Virginia and build on it millions of sq. feet of office and commercial, and its 150 acre amusement park, precisely because that land was near a battlefield where 15,000 soldiers died or were grievously wounded in a tragic Civil War.

    Disney intent behind the project and its location was make money off that tragic story by selling its version of the story of those tragic events, and also its selected portions of early American History, to the public for profit while also using that theme as a draw to make money off unrelated commercial activities on a vast scale. In so doing Disney would drastically change the entire region, one that held great historical significance to the people there, the state, the nation.

    Like all very large real estate projects, this one was a process that took on its own flavor, emotion, tenor and tone. And people came to the own personal judgements as they became more familiar with the developer and plan. Here, many people, locals and outsiders alike, concluded that Disney’s vision was not the proper way to develop and profit from this land and its past. Nor did they think it was a good way to honor the events that happened there. Nor did they like what it would do to their neighborhood.

    Perhaps too most Virginians working on Disney’s behalf were happy to see Disney go. By then insufferable arrogance with the most common theme. That was an expression I remember as being quite prevalent at the time.

  16. Reed – what happened to the land that Disney wanted. Did it get preserved or is it now houses?

    • The Boy Scouts bought, at least, some of the land; sold some to a developer and created a new camp, Wm. B. Snyder, geared more towards younger boys. When my son was a scout, we attended a number of events there. Great place.

  17. The up coming decision on the “By-County Parkway” is the pivotal decision that will define the future of Northern Virginia and its historic Piedmont region for many generations.

    Likely this is why its proponents have pushed so hard for a quick decision, risen up as it were, to push their plans so far so fast with so little clarity or reliable information as to the road’s purpose, its consequences, and its cost.

    Perhaps, too, this is why so much quiet and careful preparation has gone into this proposal, using “experts” from two major Virginia universities to compile data that appears to have been spun up for results rather than provide the information needed for sound and informed judgments. This has not been the first time. Recall the original Tyson’s Corner Task Force Report, that sales brochure of pretty pictures and platitudes riding in the disguise of a serious report. Here we go again, the road will reduce traffic.

    Perhaps too, this is why the project has so many confusing names depending on what’s be pushed and sold at the moment. “Circumferential North South Highway”, “North South Transportation Corridor”, “North South Connector”, “Tri-County connector”, and “Bi-County Parkway”.

    One oddity about all these names is how misleading they are. The road being proposed does not connect to anything. It goes nowhere. It’s not a circumferential road. Nor is it a corridor. Nor is it a parkway.

    The only sure thing we know this road is that its proponents want a road for long and short haul trucks to haul stuff of all sorts to Dulles Airport and then pick more stuff up from the airport and deliver it via northern Virginia to out west or up and down the middle Atlantic States.

    Not only that, we’re told this road will save commuting Virginians millions of dollars worth of hours in traffic. Imagine. What a road, one unlike any road other ever built in Northern Virginia before, a magic carpet road like in Cinderella, one that makes traffic vanish, presto, just like that.

    But hold on, there is more. We know all this because this road has yet another name, and its going to be a whole corridor, not just a road. The “North-South Corridor west of Dulles International Airport, a strategically important Corridor of Statewide Significance (CoSS).”

    This big name gives the corridor high priority, fast tracking approval and priority funding of your taxpayer dollars to projects built within the corridor. This is historic Folks. Surely that’s speaks volumes on how much the powers that be in Virginia transportation think its Virginia Piedmont, and its good citizens out there in the Hunt County, need more trucks, more warehouses, more distribution centers, and more traffic.

    So who’s behind this north south connector? Likely, if you removed the political influence of those local business interests, particularly the influence of landowners who would benefit from this road, and those on the Board of Dulles airport, this proposal would evaporate like spring frost.

    This is why this proposal is a traffic generator, doing the exact opposite of what the region needs road wise. What the region needs are roads that divert non-local traffic around northern Virginia. This will allow local northern Virginia traffic to move freely.

    But this proposed road does the opposite. It pulls non-local heavily congested traffic from the south coming up I-95 into the vortex of even more congestion at Dulles Airport. Once all that new non-local traffic has been sucked into the center of that new traffic nightmare up north at Dulles, the airport will reload trucks for more truck traffic outward in all directions.

    The road will work as those proposing it intend it to work. It’s how the big airfreight cargo operation at Dulles Airport will be designed to function. Such an operation to be successful will suck up incoming cargo truck traffic from as many directions as possible – this will include truck traffic coming from the south side of Virginia up I-95, cargo truck traffic from Richmond and Norfolk also coming up I-95, and the truck traffic coming in from the west off I-81 onto I-66.

    All these flows of truck traffic will join into a single flow of traffic that finally comes up the North South Connector to Dulles. There, on its arrival at Dulles, the trucks will unload for distribution nationally and internationally by air, and then collect incoming airfreight from around the world that the trucks will disburse via Northern Virginia to the west, and to the east, north and south into the middle Atlantic states, and beyond.

    That’s not all. This air cargo hub will also turbo charge the local building of distribution centers, warehouses, and light manufacturing facilities that will fed off of Dulles cargo operations. Many new facilities will around Dulles or elsewhere along new North South Corridor from I-95 to Loudoun’s north end at the Potomac River. Any claim that this road will reduce traffic for northern Virginians is surely made in jest.

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