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Tri-County Parkway Raises Solutions ...

Environmentalists, historians concerned about remaining alternatives for proposed Tri-County Parkway project.

Suburban sprawl is what Peggy Maio envisions will occur if the Tri-County Parkway becomes a reality.

Planned as a north-south transportation link, the highway will not do anything to "address local community needs in Loudoun and Prince William counties," said Maio, Loudoun field officer for the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC). "A regional corridor is a whole different function than a transportation system needed to serve those communities who are already there and who have severe transportation problems that need to be fixed."

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) identified the parkway as a way to increase mobility and reduce congestion in the corridor's 10-mile study area. The corridor is proposed to connect the City of Manassas with Interstate-66 and the Loudoun County Parkway.

"We need to enhance the linkage of communities. This will help link these communities," said Ken Wilkinson, project planner for the Tri-County Parkway and environmental planner for VDOT. "You will not have to build anything north or south of it. It has independent utilities. You don't have to have something else to make it work."

AT THE REQUEST of Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William counties, VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) initiated an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) study in 2001 to identify alternative routes for the corridor and any possible environmental impacts. The corridor is included in the Northern Virginia 2020 Transportation Plan and in the comprehensive plans for the three counties. Officials from the counties and VDOT are meeting on the plan as part of the Tri-County Parkway Advisory Board, tasked with studying the alternative routes for the parkway.

"We do have it identified on our Countywide Transportation Plan for a sepcific route. It has implications that go beyond Loudoun County, but we do support it," said Carol Lew, senior transportation planner for the county, adding that the parkway has been identified in the plan as a north-south route that will serve eastern Loudoun. "It's considered a major collector."

In March 2002, VDOT held three public meetings to gather citizen, along with agency, input. VDOT documented the needs of the study area and developed several build alternatives. The study area extends from the Route 234 and Route 28 interchange in Prince William County through Fairfax County to Route 50 in Loudoun County.

VDOT presented the build alternatives at three public information meetings in December 2002. The alternatives consist of various portions of Segments A to G to connect the northern and southern parts of the study area.

THROUGH the study process, VDOT dropped all but Segments C, D, E, F and G to allow for a more detailed study of the remaining segments and to identify where to align the road, as VDOT announced on Nov. 7. These segments "did a better job of addressing these problems. They handle more trips that have an origin destination within the study window," Wilkinson said.

Segments A and B did not address the problems VDOT identified, Wilkinson said. Segment A, which is under a public-private partnership to expand Route 28, did not address the need to get from Manassas to the Dulles area nor help relieve congestion on the eastern end of the study area.

The five remaining segments can be combined together to make three alternative routes that are within a 600-foot corridor. Segments D and C are combined for the West Two alternative, which is west of the Manassas National Battlefield Park in Fairfax County; Segments F, G and C for the West Four alternative, also west of the battlefield; and Segments F and E for the Comprehensive Plan alternative, which is east of the battlefield.

"We've put together those three for the simplicity of looking at all three alternatives," Wilkinson said, adding that the segments can be combined in other combinations that VDOT is not considering. Ef- segment f east of manassas battlefield

HOWEVER, the alternatives have environmentalists, historians, outdoors enthusiasts and local residents concerned, specifically regarding Segments C and E. Segment C is located near the western edge of Manassas National Battlefield Park, while Segment E crosses through Bull Run Regional Park.

"Our concern is that the Tri-County Parkway will spell disaster for efforts to protect rural Northern Virginia," said Kim Novick, conservation organizer for the Mid-Atlantic region of the Sierra Club, a grass-roots environmental group with 17,000 members in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area.

Segment C will bring air and noise pollution and development to the undeveloped borders of Battlefield Park, Novick said. Segment E will bisect Bull Run park, home to the native Virginia Bluebell flower, along with reducing recreational activities, bringing new development and endangering streams flowing into the Occoquan River, she said.

VDOT sees the matter differently. "We would not put in a facility that would separate the activities of the park," Wilkinson said. "That remains to be seen. That's what we're looking at now, how we would affect the park."

A coalition of organizations, including the Sierra Club, the PEC and the Coalition for Smarter Growth support upgrading Route 28 and portions of I-66 from Manassas east to Route 28 and extending rail to Centreville, along with taking a regional approach to managing growth, as ways to relieve congestion.

"The proposal enables further suburban sprawl out into the countryside west of the new regional corridor highway," Maio said. "The Loudoun solution is the Loudoun County Parkway. ... Loudoun County Parkway should be sized to fit the Loudoun communities of Ashburn and Dulles rather than some regional corridor that becomes interstate. In Loudoun, we need a local solution to service our communities."

"We believe expansions to Route 28 could accommodate the demand," Novick said.

NOVICK WORRIES that the Tri-County Parkway will become just one piece of the Western Transportation Corridor (WTC), along with the Manassas Battlefield Bypass and Route 34 expansions. "All three of these highways fall in the preferred alternative for the Western Transportation Corridor," she said.

The WTC would connect Interstate 95 with I-66, Route 50, the Dulles Greenway and eventually Route 7, creating an "outer beltway through Northern Virginia," as Novick said.

VDOT expects to complete the final EIS study by winter 2004. A public hearing will follow completion of the draft EIS, expected in late summer 2004. The EIS study is estimated to cost $3.5-4 million, funded through state and federal funds.

"I'm sure these hearings will be well attended by local residents," Novick said.