Tag Archives: North-south corridor

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.

A North-South Highway for Northern Virginia

The McDonnell administration has unveiled its vision for a north-south highway and other improvements to Virginia’s newest Corridor of Statewide Significance.

Source: Office of Intermodal Policy and Investment. (Click map for more legible image.)

by James A. Bacon

The McDonnell administration has unveiled a recommended alignment for a limited access highway to be built as the backbone of the North-South Corridor of Statewide Significance in Northern Virginia. The 45-mile circumferential highway would start at Interstate 95 in the south, swing west of Dulles International Airport and terminate at Route 7 in the north.

The route would following existing highways, roads and projects contained in the comprehensive plans of Prince William County and Loudoun County. In a brief presentation of the proposal yesterday to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, Deputy Secretary of Transportation David Tyeryar justified the project on the grounds that it would help Dulles airport compete in the air cargo arena and would serve an area on the fringe of metropolitan Washington whose population is expected to grow by hundreds of thousands over the next three decades.

Although Tyeryar noted that the highway would provide an estimated $3.9 million a year in annual travel-time savings, he did not tell the CTB what the facility was estimated to cost. No one on the CTB asked. However, answering questions after the presentation, Dironna Moore Belton, policy program manager for the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, gave a rough estimate of $1 billion to be financed by a yet-to-be-determined mix of local, state and private dollars.

The presentation inspired a sharp rebuke from Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “I thought it was a very thin presentation. It failed in the most basic way by not even providing a price or a detailed explanation of what they were proposing.” The cost of the circumferential highway does not include a connector to Dulles airport or proposed upgrades to Rt. 606 running along the western edge of the airport, which could add another $500 million, he said. Tyeryar provided no Return on Investment analysis, Schwartz added, nor, given Northern Virginia’s many transportation needs, did he address alternative uses of public funds.

No money has been allocated to the project, Tyeryar said. The McDonnell administration has simply laid out its vision for the corridor. Before anything gets built, the eight segments of the proposed highway need to be studied in significantly more detail and gain approvals from local governments and Northern Virginia’s regional transportation planning organization. Segments will be constructed piece-meal as money becomes available. No action from the CTB was needed yesterday.

The project has been a top priority for Gary Garczynski, Northern Virginia district representative for the CTB. “This is a blueprint for the future,” he said. “We still have challenges. We’re asking for acceptance of this study to be continued.”

In making his presentation, Tyeryar summarized the findings of the just-released “Northern Virginia North-South Corridor of Statewide Significance Corridor Master Plan.” The deputy transportation secretary, a former Prince William County budget director, has acted as the McDonnell administration’s point man on the project through a series of public presentations and official public hearings over the past several months.

The Master Plan provides a detailed description of the McDonnell administration’s vision for the corridor, which the CTB had designated as a Corridor of Statewide Significance in 2011. Key elements include: Read more.

Correction: An earlier draft of this article stated that David Tyeryar estimated that the travel-time savings from the highway would be $3.9 billion. The correct figure is $3.9 million.

The North-South Divide

Battle lines are forming over the north-south transportation corridor in Northern Virginia. Backers say it would serve a growing population and stimulate economic development. Foes say the state has more urgent priorities for spending $1 billion or more.

Red line shows approximate route of the North-South Corridor where it runs through the Manassas Battlefield and extensive farmland. (Click map for more legible image.)

by James A. Bacon

Northern Virginia, we hear over and over, is one of the most congested regions in the nation – perhaps the most congested. Even with new mega-projects coming on line like interstate express lanes and the rail-to-Dulles Metro service, the list of transportation needs seems endless. Most improvements under consideration are designed to ameliorate the traffic gridlock that grips the region now. But one particular cluster of projects zooming through the bureaucratic approval process is designed to address traffic congestion that is forecast to be a problem… in 2040.

In 2011, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) added the so-called North-South Corridor west of Dulles International Airport to its list of strategically important Corridors of Statewide Significance (CoSS), a designation that gives priority funding to projects within the corridor. It was the first time the CTB had added a new corridor not based upon an existing Interstate or rail line. Fast-tracking the project, the McDonnell administration has held public hearings and plans to present findings regarding a specific route and the cost to build a limited access highway this month.

Backers say Northern Virginia needs a north-south corridor – in particular, a limited access highway known in different configurations as the Tri-County Parkway or Bi-County Parkway — to accommodate the region’s fast-growing population and employment, and also to promote freight cargo-related economic development around Dulles International Airport.

“If you look at the population projections of the [Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments] and the Commonwealth of Virginia, you see a major percentage of future growth in Northern Virginia does occur in this corridor and points west,” says Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance. “Loudoun and Prince William counties will add a couple hundred thousand people over the next 20 to 30 years.”

But skeptics describe the project as a wildly speculative endeavor that might enrich big landowners whose properties are made accessible by the new highway but otherwise do little to address Northern Virginia’s most pressing concerns. In particular, they say, Northern Virginia growth patterns in the 1990s and 2000s have little predictive value for the future.

“The world has changed. Our population is older and is downsizing their homes. Empty nesters and younger workers want to live closer to jobs and transit, and in more urban places,” says Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG). “Moreover, the region has far more pressing needs serving existing population centers and addressing existing congestion. We need every dollar to fix existing commuter routes like I-66.”

Funding the north-south corridor, says Schwartz, would be “a misallocation of scarce resources.”

Only a year ago, the point seemed moot. Virginia was running out of state funds for new highway construction projects. But the north-south corridor controversy is sure to flare now that the General Assembly and Governor Bob McDonnell are close to approving a restructuring of transportation taxes that is expected to raise $800 million a year statewide for new transportation spending. Projects that had been pushed to the back shelves suddenly look fundable.

$2 Billion dollar project?

Northern Virginia’s major transportation arteries – Interstate 95, Interstate 66 and the Dulles Toll Road – all converge on the I-495 Capital Beltway or Washington, D.C., itself. Over the decades, population growth, job growth and development have followed those pathways out from the urban core. North-south arterials have been built to connect that growth, including the Fairfax County Parkway in the center of Fairfax County, and Rt. 28, farther west. The North-South corridor would represent a fourth such arterial but it would serve hypothetical future transportation demand, not a demand that exists at present.

Although the final plan has not yet been published, the North-South corridor likely will follow a path something like this: Read more.