Several years ago, Fairfax County placed a possible alignment for a future Tri-County Parkway in its Comprehensive Plan. It was called the Tri-County Connector then, and residents and horse-stable owners along Bull Run Post Office Road north fought bitterly against it.
The Sully District powers-that-be promoted it as a needed north-south connector to link Prince William, Fairfax and Loudoun counties and relieve future traffic congestion on Route 28. But since part of that road would go right up Bull Run Post Office Road north — resulting in homeowners' property-value decreases and putting stable-owners out of business — the protestors waged a tough fight.
Orderly demonstrations — including a protest on horseback — ensued, along with all the required public hearings at the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. But in the end, the opposition was no match for Fairfax County — and in 1994 the line for the Tri-County Connector was drawn on the map.
That caught the eye of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and, Tuesday night, representatives held a "scoping" meeting at Westfield High to discuss the start of a study to plot a more definite alignment between the three counties. Some 200 people attended, and it was obvious that either they'd forgotten about all the furor over the Tri-County Connector or didn't live here at the time and didn't know about it, at all.
Even VDOT project manager Ken Wilkinson, running Tuesday's meeting, waffled a bit when a resident asked if the idea for the road was Fairfax County's or VDOT's, and he told the resident to check with the county. But Virginia Run's Deb Leser wouldn't let him get away with it.
"Eighteen months to two years ago, VDOT representatives told our trails committee that VDOT asked Fairfax County to [add the road]," she said. "Mr. Wilkinson, somebody had this idea to start with. Asking us to check with Fairfax County is something of a shell game."
Another VDOT representative then replied that Fairfax put it into its Comprehensive Plan in 1994 and said the three counties had discussed and come up with the alignment. Wilkinson said Tuesday's meeting — which included maps of a proposed alignment — was just the first step in a two-year process during which VDOT will gather information to establish a need for the road and to learn how residents feel about it.
He said VDOT will make an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the Federal Highway Department and then the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) will make the final decision about exactly where to place the roughly 10-mile road. He said VDOT will look at the general alignment identified in the Comprehensive Plan, but "will not rubberstamp it. We'll look at a whole range of alternatives."
Considerations will include community linkage, traffic congestion, residential/business displacement, archaeological or historically significant resources in the site area, wetlands, noise impacts and air quality. Then, said Wilkinson, "Engineers will start to lay out on maps alignments to solve these problems — and we want the input of local citizens and governments."
He said VDOT will also evaluate mass transit, look at transportation improvements such as turn lanes and traffic signals, determine if the road should be built and even consider solving the transportation problem by means other than construction of a Tri-County Parkway. "One of our alternatives is to do nothing," said Wilkinson. "We're going to evaluate everything in a fair and reasonable process."
VDOT is to have its last draft of the EIS to the CTB in the third quarter of 2003. Then will come meetings with citizens and location public hearings before the CTB renders its decision in the second quarter of 2004. Wilkinson called the EIS a "decision-makers' tool" to determine the road's effects on the environment.
A Centreville woman asked if VDOT had looked at Braddock Road "because it's only a two-lane road and is very close to this." Wilkinson said no, but added, "It's one of the first things we'll do." Virginia Run's Jim Doyle was also alarmed about the current alignment.
"South of Route 29, [the road] takes an almost 90-degree turn east before turning south again and bisecting Bull Run Regional Park and a residential area," he said. "Wouldn't it be better to run the alignment west into Prince William County?" Wilkinson said the road doesn't have to go through Fairfax County if a satisfactory alignment or alternative could be found. But, he added, "This was the alignment identified in Fairfax County's Comprehensive Plan."
And both Bob Hood of Virginia Run and Kathy Ziegler of Centreville suggested instead that VDOT continue the Route 234 Bypass north of I-66. Asked Ziegler: "Instead of building a road paralleling Route 28, why not increase the number of lanes on Route 28 and tie into that bypass?" To comment or for more information, call 866-874-5286 or e-mail Tricountyparkway@virginiadot.org.