A highway debate that started in 1988 and rekindled many times in the '90s is once again in full swing.
The Board of Supervisors has reopened discussion on whether to build the proposed Western Transportation Corridor, which would run 17 miles along the Dominion Virginia Power lines in Loudoun County. A poll of the board members shows enough support for a new highway to alleviate the county's traffic congestion, but not necessarily this corridor.
Many object to the roadway cutting through neighborhoods that were developed after the corridor was first proposed. Others want to preserve the corridor in case it is needed in the future. Regardless of their views, the supervisors question which traffic problem should be addressed first and whether a corridor or another roadway is needed to solve it.
The board will meet June 1 to consider whether to keep the corridor as an option while it plans the county's transportation needs. The supervisors also will decide whether to renew a proffer that provides a right of way for the corridor at Brambleton. The proffer is slated to expire on Nov. 7, 2005. Four miles of the corridor's right of way are proffered; the other proffers expire in 2014. Developers sometimes offer to pay for roads or land when they are trying to get permission to build beyond current zoning. The offer to pay is called a proffer.
ABOUT 55 PEOPLE debated the viability of the corridor at a public hearing last week. Three supervisors and the Leesburg Town Council plan to explore the issue before the board considers it in June.
The board voted in January to have the staff initiate a comprehensive plan amendment to put the highway back into the countywide transportation plan. The previous board dropped the corridor because it ended at Route 7, and Maryland refused to build a bridge across the Potomac River to carry on the traffic.
Art Smith, principal transportation planner for the Office of Transportation Services, said it would take at least another decade for construction of the corridor if it received approval this year. Studies that were initiated in the 1990s are incomplete and contain outdated data.
Chairman Scott York, (I-Sterling) said the proposed corridor is obsolete. "Too much development has occurred, particularly north of Route 7," he said. "You have power lines, homes and the treatment plant for the Leesburg Sanitation Authority. Where are you going to put it?"
York recommended the Board of Supervisors meet with residents and discuss exactly what they want to accomplish. "Are we trying to relieve traffic off 95 to the beltway or commuter congestion?" he asked.
He said three solutions already have been planned to alleviate the county's traffic problems:
* Expand Route 28.
* Build the Loudoun Parkway on the western side of Dulles Airport.
* Increase the number lanes on Route 659.
Jim Clem (R-Leesburg), Stephen Snow (R-Dulles) and Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin), agreed with York that officials need first to identify the problem before choosing a remedy.
Clem said there are better locations for a north-south corridor. Planners, however, need to decide whether they want a "techway" for people to get to and from work or an interstate. If it's the former, then they should consider building a "techway" along Route 28, he said. If it's the latter, an interstate should start at Frederick, go alongside Route 15, bypassing Lucketts and Leesburg, and then swing back around so it connects with Route 50, 629, 17 and then I-95, he said.
Clem said he opposed the Western Transportation Corridor when he was on the Town Council in 1988 and when he became mayor in 1992. In January he supported initiating the comprehensive plan amendment, but he opposes its current alignment.
Snow said he favors studying whether the corridor or another roadway is the best solution. Loudoun does not want to follow Fairfax County's example and take major arteries off the books and suffer enormous traffic consequences, he said.
Kurtz said representatives of regional counties, Virginia and Maryland need to agree on a plan. She supports an independent study that looks at building a bridge across the Potomac River anywhere between the Point of Rocks in Maryland to the American Legion Bridge in Washington, D.C. York wants to build a tunnel from Route 7 to Maryland instead of a bridge.
Kurtz and Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) said they object to having the corridor end at Route 7 as outlined in the current proposal.
WATERS, HOWEVER, said she will not take a stand for or against the corridor until she gets some answers to her questions about the proposal.
"Over the history of the Western Transportation Corridor, there has been discussion to take it all the way to the river or stop at Route 7 or stop at Route 7 until a bridge is built by Maryland and then extend it," she said.
Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) said he objects to the corridor. "I've opposed it since it first raised its ugly head in the late 1980s," he said.
He said the corridor was first touted as a way to relieve traffic on the capital beltway. A subsequent study concluded the roadway would not meet that objective.
Most of the county's traffic problems are east/west, Burton said. The proposed corridor is a "developer's highway. They are the ones who are pushing it," he said. "I believe the majority of the board is controlled by the development community. They dictated this subject be brought up again."
Another reason for his opposition was that residents who bought houses north of Route 7 and east of Leesburg were not informed that the corridor would slice through their property. "They are very upset and rightfully so," he said.
Vice Chairman Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac) said the developers of those neighborhoods should have shown more integrity. "I am to the point where I can't support putting this through their communities," he said. "We need a north-south pathway. I don't think it has to go all the way to 95 and it doesn't need to be aligned in those communities."
Tulloch and Mick Staton (R-Sugarland) favor preserving the corridor to prevent that land from being developed.
Staton said the corridor might be needed 15 years from now "when traffic is worse than ever." The financial and emotional costs would be higher because a lot of homes would have to be leveled to make room for the corridor, he said
"If we do the study and the environmental impact study says ... it's not a good place, then we haven't lost anything," he said. "Whether the road will get built in its current form, we don't know yet."
Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) supports the corridor. He said those residents do not have to worry so much about the roadway disrupting their neighborhoods because it will be about 35 years before construction is completed. It will take billions of dollars, countless studies and a lengthy political process to build it, he said.
The county's principal transportation planner, however, estimates it will take about 10 years.
Delgaudio sees the corridor as a means to alleviate the region's traffic congestion. "Right now we have people all over the region using our local roads," he said. "This is a plan to cut down on the number of travelers on our local roads."