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Tri-County Comments Favor Comp. Plan

A final decision on the path of the Tri-County Parkway is not expected until fall. But in the meanwhile, VDOT's releasing the results of the public comments on the project — with the route most detrimental to Centreville seen as the clear favorite.

Three possible alternatives are under consideration. Two travel west of the Manassas National Battlefield Park, and one — on Fairfax County's Comprehensive Plan — cuts a swath through Bull Run Regional Park in Centreville.

And according to Ken Wilkinson, VDOT project manager for the Tri-County Parkway, 40 percent of the people weighing in on the issue chose the Comprehensive Plan route. He said the data was culled from an initial analysis of all the input received from public-hearing transcripts and comment sheets, e-mails, postcards and letters.

"I am just shocked," said Bull Run Civic Association President Judy Heisinger. "If you look at the statistics on the DEIS [draft environmental impact statement], the Comprehensive Plan is twice as awful and devastating as the other alternatives. I can't imagine anyone in their right mind voting for the Comprehensive Plan [alignment]."

The theory behind the Tri-County Parkway is that uniting Prince William, Fairfax and Loudoun counties with this road — as well as Manassas with I-66 and the Dulles area — will improve traffic flow and reduce congestion. It's planned for four lanes in Prince William and six in Fairfax.

BUT MANY Fairfax County residents say the problem is drivers traveling east-west, not north-south. And Jim Fowler of Centreville's Gate Post Estates community believes "none of these alternatives do a good job at improving transportation between Manassas and the Dulles Corridor."

"The DEIS really showed the inadequacy of I-66," he said. "On alternative E [part of the Comprehensive Plan alignment], most of the traffic goes east onto I-66, but not to the Dulles Corridor."

Still, public comments received by VDOT show strong support for the Comprehensive Plan route. Of the 789 total comments, said Wilkinson, 9 percent had no preference, 3 percent suggested routes not in the DEIS, 7 percent chose West Two (map segments D and C), 13 percent chose "no build," 13 percent chose West Four (map segments F', G and C), 15 percent opposed the Comprehensive Plan alignment; and 40 percent supported that alternative.

"We're still reviewing it, so these numbers may not be exact," said Wilkinson. But he said the Comprehensive Plan was selected by 31 percent of the 329 Fairfax County residents commenting, 54 percent of the 225 Prince William residents responding, and 43 percent of the 107 Loudoun residents responding.

Said Wilkinson: "We'll give the Commonwealth Transportation Board [CTB] a summary of the comments, the entire written record of all the public hearings, plus the information in the DEIS."

The CTB will ultimately choose the route. Wilkinson said he's seen it decide "contrary to what public opinion was," but he doesn't know what it'll do in this case.

VDOT will present all its information to the CTB at a workshop meeting in September, October or November. Then the members could act on it immediately or consider it for a month or more.

"After the CTB takes action, we'll document it in the final EIS, respond to comments we received in the draft EIS and discuss any mitigation to the impacts of the alternative that's adopted," he said. "We hope to get this done by next spring."

FOR NOW, though, many local residents are reeling at VDOT's latest findings. "Oh, my God — that's bad news," said Jan Guthrie, Gate Post Estates Homeowners Association president. "It's incredible. At all the public hearings we went to, the majority of the people were against the Comprehensive Plan alignment because of all its negative effects, the financial cost and the effect on Bull Run Regional Park."

According to the DEIS, the Comprehensive Plan alternative would be more than twice as expensive to construct as the other two routes. West Two would cost an estimated $201,174; West Four, $176,674; and Comprehensive Plan, $547,826.

"This highway does not make sense," said Guthrie. "Maybe people just don't know the details of the Comprehensive Plan. I just put out a newsletter to Gate Post Estates residents, asking them to send their comments [about the project] to their elected officials."

She said the Comprehensive Plan route is "actually going to increase traffic in the Route 29 Corridor and also on I-66 because the E-F alignment at the I-66 access will back up I-66 even more. And right now, I-66 from Centreville to Gainesville is already a parking lot."

Gate Post Estates resident Debbie Foster was as stunned as Guthrie. She, too, said the results of the comments were "very surprising, based on the number of people that spoke against the Comprehensive Plan at the [May 10] public hearing at Bull Run Elementary."

However, Virginia Run resident Jim Hart looks at it differently. Regarding the 31 percent of the Fairfax County residents who chose that route, he said, "I expect a lot of the 31 percent is from Virginia Run. It demonstrates that there isn't any unanimous opinion and, at least, there's some hope alive for people wanting relief from the traffic volumes on Pleasant Valley Road."

Hart said the Comprehensive Plan alignment would address and help alleviate congestion on Pleasant Valley Road north of I-66. Realistically, he said, "No one's going to come from South Riding to Gainesville to pick up I-66; it doesn't make sense. They're going to use Pleasant Valley Road because it's faster."

BULL RUN ESTATES' Judy Heisinger understands why Prince William and Loudoun residents favor the Comprehensive Plan. But she, too, wondered "if most of the 31 percent live in Virginia Run. I'd like to know that because, if they do live in Virginia Run, then it's a NIMBY thing."

Besides, she added, "The Comprehensive Plan [route] is not going to take all the trucks off of Pleasant Valley Road. And if [this] alignment [is chosen], traffic would go through Bull Run Regional Park." Furthermore, she said, "Because it costs twice as much, it won't get built for a long time, so it won't alleviate the traffic [for years]."

Heisinger also noted that residents of Bull Run Estates and Fairfax National Estates — the neighborhoods most affected by the Comprehensive Plan route — are at a disadvantage. "The people who'd have the parkway in their backyards don't have as much of a voice as everyone else," she explained. "Because we've been downzoned, our population numbers are smaller — so you can put a road through here and not as many people can complain about it."

Meanwhile, Gate Post Estates resident Jim Schuping said he doesn't "put a lot of stock in these percentages [from VDOT] because you don't know if [the 31 percent] is a dozen people who all sent in the same letter." If so, he said, it "might have skewed the results."

Instead, he wants to know what the Board of Supervisors and the CTB are going to say. He said 37 of the 59 DEIS categories "rated the Comprehensive Plan as the poorest choice. So from a business and logic sense, there's got to be a compelling reason for [the CTB] to go for the Comprehensive Plan; I just don't see it."

Schuping said he's prefer VDOT look at alternatives to Route 29 and I-66, "rather than spend all this money to build a highway that's not really going to solve the problem. According to their own figures, all the Comprehensive Plan would save is nine minutes in commuting time to go from Manassas to Route 7 — and that's now, not whenever this road would be finished. So if moving traffic is the issue, how would this help?"