It won't happen until funding permits — which could be a long time off — but eventually, the Centreville area may well be impacted by one or both of the major road projects currently being studied by transportation engineers and officials.
The Tri-County Parkway is geared at providing a traffic conduit between Prince William, Fairfax and Loudoun counties, and the Battlefield Bypass would shut down routes 29 and 234 through Manassas National Battlefield Park and send their motorists somewhere else.
AFTER MUCH study, information-gathering and public discussion, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) whittled down the possible pathways of the Tri-County Parkway to three candidates. And the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is looking at five proposed routes and one alternate for the Battlefield Bypass.
And with the draft Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for each project slated to be released in the next month or so, many local residents are concerned about the potential adverse effects these road projects could have on the local area if certain routes are chosen for construction.
"Twelve months ago, there were a lot of hearings about the parkway, and now it's kind of faded away and is not on everybody's radar," said Jim Fowler of Centreville's Gate Post Estates community. "We're interested in having people learn about it before the public hearing on the draft EIS."
Fairfax County's Comprehensive Plan says the parkway's also intended to relieve traffic from residential communities along Pleasant Valley Road. If it's not built, said At-Large Planning Commissioner Jim Hart, "then Braddock and Pleasant Valley roads will become the north-south connector by default. And both are substandard and overburdened roads now."
With thousands of new homes being built in eastern Loudoun, he said, "The pressure for those residents to get to Route 28 and I-66 will be great. There's no north-south arterial between Routes 50 and 29 and Routes 28 and 15."
But, said Gate Post's Jan Guthrie, "We want them to build a road that makes sense." Bull Run Regional Park contains the largest stand of bluebells on the East Coast. But if the Centreville alternative for the Tri-County Parkway is approved, she said, they and their surroundings will be paved over by a six-lane highway.
Ironically, said Dan Cruz, president of the Gate Post Estates Homeowners Association, "The Battlefield Bypass would protect a park, and the Tri-County would destroy a park." Citing 2003 and '04 county Park Authority surveys, Guthrie's husband Arlo said residents' top priority was preserving open space. So, he asked, "Why infringe on parkland when other options are available?"
IN MAY 2003, the transportation consulting group studying the Tri-County Parkway location for VDOT, released a Purpose and Need Technical Report about the parkway. In it were detailed the large increases expected in travel demand from the South Riding and Gainesville/Catharpin areas between now and 2025.
"Work trips destined for the study area from the Gainesville/Catharpin area are expected to grow by 393 percent (from 1,666 to 8,220) and from the South Riding area by 865 percent (from 1,215 to 11,725) between 2000 and 2025," said the report. "The [existing] roadway network will be inadequate to handle the expected increase in traffic."
Said Gate Post Estates' Debbie Foster: "All the development is to the west, in Prince William and Loudoun." So, said Fowler, "If the idea is to get people from Manassas and Gainesville to the Dulles area, it would be better to choose the western [Tri-County] option, C, G and F' from Route 234 extended in Manassas, or C and D." (See map, page 1).
"Why bring them down I-66, which is already crowded, to Centreville and bring them north?" he wondered. "Why not just go like the crow flies and take them west? "
"I wouldn't disagree with that observation, at all, [but] the law requires us to look at a whole range of alternatives," replied Ken Wilkinson, VDOT project manager for the Tri-County Parkway. "[These people are] right on target — and that's exactly the type of comment we want to hear at the public hearing [after the draft EIS is released]."
Still, asked Fowler: "Why bring eastern Loudoun County's traffic through Fairfax County?" Agreeing, Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th) hopes a route joining with the Route 234 bypass will be chosen.
"If you put it west of Fairfax County, it would serve the residents of Loudoun — that's where the true growth is," he explained. "I think a western corridor makes sense for both our folks and Loudoun's, and it would be easier to accomplish — and more quickly built — than by devastating a park."
Calling Bull Run a "crown jewel in Northern Virginia," Hugo vowed to do what he could to protect it. In fact, he met last Monday, Oct. 4, with state Transportation Secretary Whittington Clement about both the bypass and the parkway. "I think it's important to reiterate that a lot of us up here have real concerns about the placement of the Tri-County Parkway," he said. "People here will make VDOT and the FHWA go through every hoop [before letting those road projects be built in our area]."
VDOT'S PURPOSE and Need statement says the Tri-County is being considered because it could "improve transportation mobility and capacity and, by doing so, improve access and reduce congestion." But, asked Fowler, "How much improvement in transportation mobility and capacity will we get by building the TCP? Ten percent? Twenty percent? How much access will be improved? By what factor will congestion be reduced?"
Furthermore, he stressed, "Given the scarcity of transportation funds in Virginia, it would seem that we need a more specific description of what we can expect to get from the TCP in order to make comparisons of the benefits to the taxpayers between competing highway projects."
Added Cruz: "If it's only letting us go a few miles faster — and the road's still congested — what is the return on investment for this improvement? And will it satisfy the traffic that's projected?"
Wilkinson said that, in the draft EIS, some "travel-time savings" will be given for each alternative. "We've taken traffic counts on the existing roads," he said. "And given everything planned for the area, in terms of land use and all road projects for 2025, we've done traffic modeling. This will show what the traffic numbers will be on each of the alternatives, as well as on the existing road networks."
Cruz and Fowler wondered what, if any, coordination is going on between the two agencies working on the Battlefield Bypass and Tri-County projects. "If you look at VDOT's Web site about transportation projects in Northern Virginia, the Battlefield Bypass isn't listed," said Fowler.
"That's correct, because it isn't one of our projects," responded Wilkinson. "But there's a lot of coordination going on between the two agencies regarding traffic numbers, cultural resources and engineering information."
Still, the Gate Post Estates group contends that bringing motorists from Loudoun and Prince William via the parkway onto I-66 will just make matters worse for an already clogged road. Now, said Cruz, South Riding residents use Routes 50 and 28 and the Dulles Toll Road. But if the Tri-County were built, they'd take it to I-66 and travel that road, instead.
"Emptying onto I-66 within a span of three or four miles will be traffic from the Tri-County Parkway entry point, Route 29, Route 28 and the Fairfax County Parkway," said Cruz. "They're gonna have constant gridlock." And, said Debbie Foster, "It will negatively impact our quality of life."
BUT WILKINSON said VDOT's traffic model will take all that into consideration. He said the model considers where people work and live, how wide the roads are and what's intended for these roads in the region's long-range plan.
"People living south of Manassas have to go through Manassas to get to Dulles, and that's why we have those alignments on the west side to address this growth," he said. "Between Route 15 in Loudoun and Route 28 in Fairfax and Prince William, there are a lot of people trying to go north-south."
Wilkinson said east-west movement is an issue, but the problem is the "north-south connectivity." In the future, he said, "There'll be more people who live in Prince William and work in Loudoun and Fairfax, so that's why we're looking at a north-south solution."
When the Tri-County was conceived in the early 1990s, said Cruz, the Air and Space Museum Annex wasn't here, Dulles Airport didn't have three new runways and "all the changed demographics out here" weren't in place. So VDOT needs to revisit and update its old assumptions, he said, "before it starts ripping up trees and destroying a park to build a road."
But, said Wilkinson, "We're evaluating the range of alternatives based on new information. We're not just looking at information from 10 years ago. And we're also looking at the existing and projected land-use in the area."
As for the tremendous explosion of new homes that developers have recently proposed to build in Loudoun County, Wilkinson said, "We're doing the best we can with what has been approved [for construction by Loudoun's supervisors]. And we're aware of what has been submitted." Ultimately, he added, "It's up to the CTB [Commonwealth Transportation Board] to take everything into consideration when making the final decision."
What's really needed, said Gate Post's Arlo Guthrie, is an east-west road or an expansion of I-66 or Metro. "Route 50, the [Dulles] Toll Road and I-66 are clogged," he said. "That's where the money needs to be spent."
Furthermore, said his wife Jan, "Since this area already can't meet the federally mandated air-quality standards, the parkway would just add to the problem. So how can they build it?" Wilkinson replied that it's included in a regional, conforming, long-range plan and does meet air-quality standards.
GATE POST'S Bob Booth has another worry. "In July, VDOT presented to the General Assembly a map showing [Fairfax County's] Comprehensive Plan alternative of the Tri-County Parkway going through Bull Run Regional Park," he said. "It's the only new road VDOT's recommending to the General Assembly for construction — and before the draft EIS has been released."
"It makes me feel like we're up against a stacked deck," said Booth. Added Arlo Guthrie: "It makes people perceive that it's a done deal — without fair comment by the public."
But Wilkinson said no specific location recommendation has been made or discussed. "I'd guess the [parkway route on the map] was intended to convey the concept of a new road," he said. After the draft EIS comes out in November, he said, it'll be available for public review for at least 30 days before the public hearing on it. A 45-day comment period will follow the hearing.
And while noting that VDOT must take into account local governments' land-use plans, Wilkinson said the residents' concerns are valid. And if they oppose the parkway alignment most detrimental to Centreville, he said, "My suggestion to them is to continue to fight it. The CTB will listen to what the residents say."