A plan to add roadways to the D.C. suburbs is drawing fierce opposition. The so called "outer beltway" project stole the show at a recent public meeting, hinting at the ferocity of resistance in store for the plan to build a 45-mile, north-south corridor in the western suburbs of Washington.
At a public hearing on Virginia's six-year, $15 billion program to fund road and rail projects this week, about 200 unhappy residents turned out to condemn the plan to build a "north-south corridor of statewide significance."
"I double dog dare you to try to put this kind of a road through Loudoun County's non-development area. They would have you all tarred and feathered," said Mary Ann Ghadban, a resident of Gainesville, where 100 homes could potentially be condemned in the highway corridor. "We are not going to stand for this in Prince William County. It's our rural crescent. It's our historic district."
The new road would connect I-95 in Prince William County to Rt. 7 in Loudoun County, arcing west of Dulles Airport and rubbing the western fringe of Manassas Battlefield National Park. On a map, the corridor looks like part of an incomplete circle, leading opponents to refer to it as an "outer beltway."
The proposal has been around for years, and it's pitting homeowners and state Republican lawmakers against the Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, the Virginia Department of Transportation and real estate developers who are seeking approval of the highway plan in the governor's final year in office.
Opponents raised a range of issues during the three-hour hearing: the north-south highway would cost too much, condemn too many homes, open rural land to development, and introduce more tolled lanes to Northern Virginia. They contend a four- or six-lane limited access, divided highway would benefit truckers and real estate developers at the expense of commuters seeking east-west, not north-south, congestion relief.
"It's amazing how this road morphs. Its purpose changes and the name of the road changes," said Philomena Hefter, another Gainesville resident.
Once called the Tri-County Parkway in planning documents, only two counties remain involved, Prince William and Loudoun.
Residents of Pageland Lane in Gainesville showed up in force. They attacked the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) for allegedly proposing to close two roads (Rts. 234 and 29) cutting through Manassas Battlefield before completing other improvements to I-66 and a battlefield bypass, a step that would snarl traffic on already congested roadways.
"These projects should be ranked by the reduction in congestion for the funds spent, and under that criteria alone the north-south corridor should not get a dime of taxpayer funds," said Prince William County resident Martha Henley.
At a news conference in Manassas, business leaders responded to what they view as a dishonest campaign by opponents of the north-south corridor.
"They are really designed to scare folks off from the many benefits this road will bring. There has been less than a fair and open conversation about the many attributes of the bi-county parkway project," said Tony Howard, the president of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce. "We can advocate a message of reducing congestion in our region, of accommodating the substantial growth we know we are going to see. Our two communities brought in 250,000 new residents in the last ten years."
Future job and population growth in the Dulles area, he argues, necessitates more north-south lanes, even though state data show significantly more traffic volume on Northern Virginia's east-west routes. "Loudoun and Prince William County are no longer bedroom communities exclusively. They are now true employment centers," said Howard. "We know with the growth of the commercial tax base in our respective communities that there is going to be ever increasing demand for north-south connectivity."