Too Early to Celebrate Demise of Bi-County Parkway

Traffic back-up on Sudley Road in Manassas National Battlefield Park

Traffic back-up on Sudley Road in Manassas National Battlefield Park

by James A. Bacon

Foes of the proposed Bi-County Parkway, which would skirt the Massassas battlefield, are more optimistic than ever that the highway mega-project will never be built. Del. Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax, and Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun, proclaimed at a press conference yesterday that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) “is not actively working on the Bi-County Parkway” or the related agreement with the National Park Service, which would close Rt. 234 through the battlefield and install traffic-calming measures on Rt. 29.

Said Hugo in a prepared statement: “For over two years, this has been a hard fought battle to stop an ill-conceived transportation project that would add thousands of cars onto I-66, worsening traffic congestion from Arlington to Fauquier. I am pleased that VDOT has shifted its focus to those transportation projects that will provide the most relief for Northern Virginia’s commuters and improve Virginia’s transportation infrastructure. ”

The proposed $400 million Bi-County Parkway will be subjected to a newly instituted Return on Investment analysis that ranks proposed transportation projects by benefits to the public such as congestion mitigated and economic development stimulated. The proposed four-lane highway, envisioned as part of a larger road complex providing superior transportation access for Washington Dulles International Airport, would do relatively little to alleviate current traffic congestion; indeed closing Rt. 234 would re-route more drivers onto an already-congested Interstate 66. The justification given for the road is to mitigate future congestion from growth that is projected to occur west and southwest of Dulles.

Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne cautioned that that subjecting the Bi-County Parkway to the new rating process does not mean that it is dead. Rather, it has been put on hold. It would be foolish for the state to make any decisions until that process is complete, he told the Washington Post. “A lot of people are trying to prejudge where this is going to go.”

Bacon’s bottom line: It’s probably too early to celebrate. Hugo and Black are drawing attention to a new procedural obstacle that the project will have to surmount. The Parkway undoubtedly will rank lower than many other Northern Virginia transportation projects, such as proposed improvements to I-66, for congestion mitigation. If that were the sole criteria for funding, it would be Dead on Arrival. But the McDonnell administration also plugged the Parkway as a way to jump-start efforts to build the air cargo business at Dulles, which could result in hundreds of millions of dollars of commercial development in Loudoun and Prince Williams counties, and Governor Terry McAuliffe, who deems himself pro-economic development, might think similarly. If the new ranking system gives sufficient weight to the project’s potential economic development benefits, it still could have legs.

Update: Martin DeCaro does some solid reporting on this development for National Public Radio. He posts a copy of Virginia Commissioner of Highways Charlie Kilpatrick’s letter to Hugo. I don’t see how Hugo concluded that VDOT has “shifted its focus” from that letter.

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6 responses to “Too Early to Celebrate Demise of Bi-County Parkway

  1. Its too early to celebrate its “demise” but its not too early to celebrate an administration that has instituted metrics to measure the value of a project instead of offering billion dollar construction projects up like gifts to their favored donors and supporters.

    Even if the Bi-County parkway were to be eventually approved it will likely be after a thoughtful process of determining its value, creating some kind of value capture or freight fee, in order to square away the cost versus the benefit (which when this was proposed as all public funds was insanely out of whack).

    Admit it Jim, that sleazy democrat is actually reducing the chrony capitalism that the prior “fiscal conservative” was a champion of.

    • I would agree that McAuliffe’s transportation policy has been far superior to McDonnell’s. He has shut down, or put the brakes on, a number of wasteful mega-projects. Taxpayers should be grateful.

      But I would correct you on one point: The legislation to create an objective scoring system for road projects was submitted by Jim LeMunyon, a Republican. This is not about partisan politics.

      I would also point out that the scoring system does *not* apply to transit projects. We can still continue funding those on the basis of ideology and political log-rolling.

      • LeMunyon might be a republican, but he’s also a northern virginian, and the scoring system is much more about rural versus non-rural/ south vs northern virginia and how capital funds have been stripped from up here despite how much of it has been generated up here.

        So I concur, on that particular point its not politics, and yet it is because despite LeMunyon being republican he comes from a more moderate to liberal part of the state.

        On the subject of transit, oh please, transit funding has always had to jump through a dozen more hoops than middle of the night decisions about roads.

        Transit/Bike/Bus projects have to prove ZERO disturbance to traffic patterns to get approved, just one example. When is the last time a road project had to prove no impact to pedestrians or bikes or transit I ask?

        Then on the funding side, when was the last time a transit project didn’t have a value capture in Virginia? I can cite 20 cases of road overpasses in NOVA alone, let alone the rest of the state, that had no such organizational element despite being as costly as the potomac yard metro infill or the busway, and as an amalgam more expensive than silver line phase 1.

        Heck, I mean it was so easy that SV took a measely 25 years to get approved. On the other hand the Gainsville interchange which cost 1/3rd of the SV and serves a limited amount of people got approved in 2 years and has no value capture.

        So I’d suggest you consider those already existing prerequisites when you say that transit is just so darn easy to get approval for and is solely ideologically driven. Go look up requirements TIGER loan and see how easy it is to get funding and green light.

  2. On a marginally related note, does anyone know if the newly selected “Preferred Alternative” for the US 460 project will be subjected to the ROI evaluation? My opinion is that it would fail miserably…

  3. I’ve heard both “road people” and “transit people” argue their favorite project should not be subject to measurement. They all should and be required to demonstrate a favorable benefit-cost ratio to the public without reference to the “great benefits of development.” Projects should be measured solely on the basis of improved safety and traffic congestion reduction. The CTB should be put under the microscope and any contact between the Board, a board member or staff and a paid lobbyist should be reduced to writing and posted on the Internet.

    Keep in mind that the Silver Line, Phase 1 did not meet federal funding guidelines even when it was grandfathered by Congress under the old and weaker benefit-cost standards. The feds were overpowered by local pols from both Parties to fund it. And the Bi-County Parkway continues to remain a proposed subsidy to Loudoun County land speculators.

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