Thursday, June 6, 2013

Public Meeting on the Bi-County Parkway

Monday evening June 3rd the Virginia Department of Transportation, VDOT, held a Public Information meeting from 6 to 9 pm at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas, VA. The meeting was held in response to public outcry against the roadway variously known as the Tri-County Parkway, Bi-County Parkway, Outer Beltway and North-South Corridor and Battlefield Parkway.  For the first hour, VDOT had materials in the lobby outlining the history of the planned roadway, and addressing public concerns that had been raised, collected questions and a list of people who wished to address the meeting. From 7 to 8:15 Charles Kilpatrick who is the Chief Deputy Commissioner for VDOT addressed the crowd.  The meeting was held in a packed auditorium attended by a crowd of over 500 that thinned out considerably after the VDOT presentation and as the evening wore on. VDOT did not answer all the questions submitted (only those selected by staff) nor did they call on everyone who requested two minutes. There were too many questions and Mr. Kilpatrick only addressed the questions that he felt able to address. Someone at his level cannot be expected to know the environmental impact details, details of the section 106 mitigations negotiated, legal aspects of eminent domain or how to pronounce Catharpin and on which corner on route 29 is the Stone House.

The first thing that VDOT settled is the planned road is called the Bi-County Parkway.  Mr. Kilpatrick presented the VDOT plan for all the improvements in northern Virginia and the reason this parkway is planned at all. The basis for the plan is VDOT’s projections of what the traffic and population growth will be in the next 30 years. In addition he showed the current traffic congestion in the north south roads getting from the housing developments in Dominion Valley, Gainesville, the new massive housing construction in Loudoun between the Loudoun county line and the Greenbelt on both sides of route 50 between route 15 and Loudoun County parkway. All those residents need to reach an east-west route to commute and try to avoid the traffic problems that construction in Loudoun and route 50 have created.  VDOT projects that the north south traffic will continue to increase (though mostly north of the Loudoun County line according to the VDOT traffic projections) and that by eliminating route 29 as an east-west corridor through Prince William county that traffic will be alleviated in the north south roadways.

In addition in addressing concerns that the limited access Bi-County Parkway will be a toll road, Mr. Kilpatrick stated that while I-66 will get HOT toll lanes, the four lane portion of the Bi-County Parkway made HOT lanes impractical. This seems to be a change in position for VDOT, though Mr. Kilpatrick did not frame this as being a response to public concern and the efforts of Delegates Marshall and Hugo.
There had been a significant negative community response to the plan for the Bi-County Parkway in the past two months since VDOT released the “Northern Virginia North-South Corridor of Statewide Significance –Corridor Master Plan” on April 8, 2013. In that document VDOT stated “the Northern Virginia North-South CoSS (Corridor of Statewide Concern) will be an integrated, multimodal network of transportation facilities that connect major centers of activity within and through the Commonwealth and promote the movement of people and goods essential to the economic prosperity of the State.”

The key elements of the Bi-County Parkway outlined in that publication were:
  • “Construction of a continuous high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) facility between I-95 and the area west of Washington Dulles International Airport, which would operate during peak periods in the morning and evening.”
  • “Establishment of a high-occupancy toll (HOT) system for the Corridor between the intersection of VA 234 and Country Club Drive and the Washington Dulles International Airport area. Vehicles carrying three or more persons (HOV 3+) would be able to access the system at no cost, and other vehicles would pay a toll to access the HOV/HOT lanes during peak periods.”
  • “Construction of a new roadway connection between the North-South Corridor and the Washington Dulles International Airport area, providing connections to VA 606 and improving regional and statewide access to the airport, surrounding freight facilities, and the Metrorail Silver Line.”
  • “Provision of new and expanded transit services operating throughout the Corridor... They will provide north-south mobility as well as connections for individuals destined toward the east and west via transfers at convenient locations such as park-and-rides and rail stations. Construction of a continuous multi use trail along the Corridor for the use of bicyclists and pedestrians, allowing them to access activity centers throughout the north-south corridor seamlessly.”
  • “Improvements to transportation demand management programs (TDM) within the Corridor, focused on marketing and promotion of the expanded transit services and the HOV network.”

During the meeting on Monday Mr. Kilpatrick stated that the Rural Crescent will not be opened up to development by this multi-lane highway because the road will be limited access through Prince William county. The only access points in Prince William County will be I-66, Route 29, and existing Route 234 west of the Battlefield. The environmental study is being completed. There is only $12,000,000 available for design in the current 6 year plan, though money has been allocated for “traffic calming” on route 29 through the park ahead of the development of any other roadway.  Mr. Kilpatrick did not explain what kinds of traffic calming measures would be used. In addition, Mr. Kilpatrick stated that the Battlefield will be enhanced, Sudley Methodist Church will maintain an access route and be eligible for signage, though their road will be closed to the public. Finally, Pageland Road will remain open.

Delegate Bob Marshall followed Mr. Kilpatrick. He said the VDOT presentation was three years too late, and there had been a lack of candor or transparency in the process. Delegate Marshall said that there has never been a corridor of significance in absence of an existing road, and designation of this corridor as CoSS had not followed VDOT’s own procedures. He said that this was road was being built for political purposes or was a developer’s road to a round of applause. Delegate Marshall was followed by a legislative aid for Delegate Hugo who read his statement. The Delegate had met with the Governor on Monday and could not attend the meeting.

Prince William County community objections to this planned parkway have focused on several issues that are still of concern to the community.
  1. The Bi-County Parkway will drive all the east-west traffic from route 29 which will be effectively closed to through traffic by "traffic calming measures" to I-66 increasing traffic on that road.
  2. The Bi-County Parkway is intended to be a 4 lane and 6 lane highway that will provide direct access to Dulles Airport, but have limited access to the Prince William community, yet will utilize a section of the Rural Crescent for the road essentially destroying the intent of the Rural Crescent.
  3. The planned road will require that Virginia invoke eminent domain to take more than a dozen homes.
  4.   Route 234 through the Battlefield that provides road access to several businesses and Sudley Methodist Church (that predates the Civil War) will be eliminated. As the Reverend Mitchell explained the Church believes that closing the road to through traffic will remove the Church from everyday lives of its members and potential members in the community, and effectively land lock and isolate the Church within the park to a slow death. This has happened to other churches.
  5.  Closing route 234 through the park and route 29 through the park to through traffic essentially isolates northwestern Prince William County from the rest of the county and Manassas. There is no route from Heathcote Health Center to Prince William Hospital without going on I-66. The only route from Dominion Valley, Regency and all the development on route 15 to Manassas or anywhere will be I-66 which will be the only way to cross from western Prince William County to Eastern Prince William County.
  6.   The Bi-County Parkway does nothing to improve east-west traffic, instead it provides connectivity to the airport that Prince William residents do not want, divides the county and eliminates connections within our county and only benefits the Loudoun County developments.
  7.  The route through Prince William County’s Rural Crescent potentially damages our watershed  and water resources. The Rural Crescent provides a significant portion of our green infrastructure to our community.  Green infrastructure connects the still intact habitat areas through a network of corridors that provide for wildlife movement and trails as well as pathways for pollinators. Maintaining intact, connected natural landscapes is essential for basic ecosystem and watershed preservation to ensure that there will always be clean air and water in Northern Virginia. The Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC) has called the corridor one of three priority conservation area for the region.

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