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Tri-County Parkway Worries Residents

Local residents got their first look, Friday night, at preliminary alternatives for the Tri-County Parkway which would link Prince William, Fairfax and Loudoun counties.

Gathering at Westfield High, about 100 people listened to Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) project manager Ken Wilkinson explain what the project entails and the approximate timeline for developing a final proposal.

However, not everyone liked what they heard.

That's because the parkway's proposed alignment through Fairfax County goes south of Route 29 in Centreville, takes a nearly 90-degree jag eastward and then turns south again to bisect Bull Run Regional Park and the residential area along Bull Run Post Office Road north.

"I live on this road, and this [alignment] goes right through my house," said Marlene Hylton of Bull Run Post Office Road. "This will totally disrupt this country road that has been a peaceful, quiet, back road for many years."

Indeed, she echoed the words of many residents and horse-stable owners there who fought bitterly against this parkway alignment in 1994 when Fairfax County first considered adding the road to its Comprehensive Plan.

Touting the parkway as a needed north-south connector and a way of relieving future traffic congestion on Route 28, the county was all for it. Opponents waged a tough fight: Homeowners said their property values would plummet, and stable owners said it would put them out of business.

But the county got its way and, in 1994, the line for the Tri-County Connector (as it was then called) was drawn on the map and put into the Comprehensive Plan. Now — although there's no construction money budgeted for it — VDOT is examining this alternative and others in an attempt to eventually develop a specific route for the parkway.

Wilkinson first addressed local residents last March and learned they were also concerned about the parkway's potential impacts upon schools, groundwater, forests and the Manassas National Battlefield Park. They also worried about air and noise pollution, and Wilkinson said Friday the next step will be technical and environmental studies.

He said the parkway's purpose is to:

* Improve transportation mobility, capacity, access and safety while reducing traffic congestion; and

* Enhance the connections between communities and the transportation system serving them.

Former VDOT commissioner David Gehr — now the parkway's project manager for VDOT's engineering consultant — said engineers will also examine how the transportation network in that area currently operates: "Is it free-flowing? Or is there lots of stop-and-go?"

Frank Ojeda of Sully Estates asked when the parkway would actually be built, and Wilkinson said — even if construction money were available now — the earliest would be 2008. It's planned for four lanes in Prince William County and six lanes as it travels further north. Access would be controlled and would probably be via interchanges and intersections.

As things stand now, the roughly 10-mile stretch of road that would comprise Fairfax County's portion of the Tri-County Parkway would begin at a Route 28 bypass junction. This would be a new interchange on I-66 at Bull Run Regional Park, coming in on the Manassas side of I-66 between Bull Run Post Office and Compton roads.

It would then travel north to Bull Run Post Office and generally along its right-of-way to Route 50 at the Loudoun County line, where it would tie into the existing Loudoun County Parkway. However, Wilkinson noted that other north-south corridors are being considered, besides this parkway:

* Six interchanges are already planned — and approved — for construction along the 14 miles of Route 28 between I-66 in Fairfax County and Route 7 in Loudoun County. Four more interchanges, plus the widening of Route 28, may also be done as funding becomes available.

* VDOT is considering widening Route 28 and improving its intersections from Centreville, south to Manassas Park.

* The Route 234 Bypass in Manassas could be extended from I-66, south to Catharpin.

* The existing Route 659 would be relocated to link the Route 234 Bypass extension to Route 50.

* Prince William County's section of the Tri-County Parkway is planned to run from the Route 28/Route 234 /Godwin Drive intersection in Manassas, north to I-66.

* The Tri-County Parkway/Route 234 Bypass would connect to the existing Loudoun County Parkway, at or near South Riding.

With all these possibilities, said resident Dave Sanders, "Which corridor do we choose?" Replied Wilkinson: "We think these all answer the problem; we want to hear from you which alternatives you think are best."

He also noted that, instead of building the parkway, VDOT could simply improve the existing road system by other means, such as adding turn lanes or improving traffic-signal operations. Or mass transit could be evaluated.

Wilkinson then informed those attending that VDOT already started developing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Tri-County Parkway: "We hope to have the draft EIS completed by this time next year for public hearing and then send [the public's] comments to the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB)."

Mark McConn of Bull Run Estates warned that major floodplains exist where Prince William's and Fairfax County's portions of the parkway would meet, and he wondered why this area was even being considered. Said Wilkinson: "We're putting it on the table to evaluate it."

Marlene Hylton, also of Bull Run, offered her own alternative to using Bull Run Post Office Road. "There are so many people that ride horses there," she said. "Has anyone thought of building [the parkway] behind that road, instead?"

Similarly, Bull Run Estates' Christine Sunda asked if there's an alternative that "goes directly to I-66, without doing that jag [in Centreville] that impacts a whole lot of people's property." Stressing that, in 1982, Fairfax County downzoned that area to protect the drinking water, McConn was incredulous that "now, [VDOT's] considering putting a major road through there."

Wilkinson told them both that these things would be looked at. Bull Run's Ed Glade asked when construction costs would be revealed, and Gehr said an estimate will be done when VDOT narrows down the final alternatives.

Carol Hawn of Old Mill asked if VDOT will file an alternatives-analysis report before doing the EIS, but Wilkinson said no, because it'll be part of the EIS. His answer angered her, and she then gave him some advice.

"This is not a very well-liked road," she said. "Given that you have to sell this to the residents, it would be better if you took the extra step. You're going to get a lot more opposition if you don't inform the public along the way."