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Votes

Residents Vent to VDOT On Tri-County Parkway

More than 200 people jammed a standing-room-only public hearing, Tuesday night, at Bull Run Elementary to tell VDOT their feelings about the proposed Tri-County Parkway.

SOME SAID don't build it and a few favored the route that would go through Centreville and is on Fairfax County's Comprehensive Plan. But the overwhelming majority said that particular road alignment comes with too high a price tag — monetarily and in terms of its impact on homes, the environment and quality of life.

"The cost to the environment is severe and irrevocable," said Steve Foster of Centreville's Gate Post Estates community. "Tree cover, water supply, wildlife will all be affected. The Comprehensive Plan alignment drives a stake in the heart of Bull Run Regional Park."

The Tri-County Parkway is proposed to join Prince William, Fairfax and Loudoun counties, plus Manassas with I-66 and Dulles. It's intended to improve traffic flow while reducing congestion; it would be four lanes in Prince William and six in Fairfax.

Three possible routes are under consideration. Two travel west of Manassas National Battlefield Park. But the pathway most troubling to local residents comes down Bull Run Post Office Road from Loudoun County, bends east just north of the SYA "Fields of Dreams," crosses Bull Run Post Office and continues west of Luck Stone quarry.

It then crosses Route 29 and goes in between I-66 and Route 29, heading east/northeast, behind Bull Run Elementary. Next, it crosses Compton Road near the UOSA sewage-treatment plant and goes into Prince William County.

VDOT recently released its draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the project and, Tuesday night, it held a public hearing on it. Attendees included Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th), county Planning Commissioners Ron Koch and Jim Hart, Sully District Transportation Commissioner Jeff Parnes, county Department of Transportation Director Ho Chang, VDOT District Administrator Dennis Morrison and former county Board of Supervisors Chairman Kate Hanley.

"This is an open process, and we want everyone's input," VDOT study manager Ken Wilkinson told the crowd. "This is a concept that's 20 years old and first began as a plan to bypass the City of Manassas." But now, he said, it's part of Northern Virginia's Regional 2020 Plan and "has been brought about by an increase in employment and population in the area."

HE SAID Tuesday's comments would go to the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), with input from the local governments. The CTB will select a final route "likely in September," said Wilkinson, and then VDOT will write a final environmental impact statement — including ways to mitigate impacts.

The plan would then need federal approval for the funding. But realistically, said Wilkinson, the road probably won't be constructed anytime soon. "If money was available, this road would be on the ground in 2012, in the best-case scenario," he said. "[But] right now, there's funding for the study only — not for the design, right-of-way acquisition or building of the road."

Speaking first at the hearing, Del. Hugo said he has "serious concerns" about the Comprehensive Plan (CP) alignment because it cuts through Bull Run Regional Park's southern portion and its projected cost is too high.

The other two proposed alignments would cost an estimated $201,174 and $176,674, but the CP alternative is figured to run $547,826. And Hugo warned that, whenever a road goes through wetlands, its final price tag always ends up being much higher than originally anticipated.

Clifton's Wilma Kime said her four children grew up playing in Bull Run park and now her grandchildren play there. And as an equestrian, she's enjoyed and helped maintain its trails. Noting the park's famed bluebells that bloom each spring, she said, "Once paved over, the spectacular carpet of bluebells will be gone forever." Urging VDOT not to support the CP alternative, she added, "I would not sacrifice a single acre of parkland to alleviate [traffic problems here]."

Courtney Sargent of Fairfax National Estates said most of the land the CP would cross is classified RC (residential conservation). "What Fairfax County is being asked to do — and unfairly — is to help mitigate explosive growth in Prince William and Loudoun counties," he said. "Why are we going to put another road in Fairfax County that'll end up being a parking lot?"

JAN GUTHRIE of Gate Post Estates wondered why there's not a study looking at overall traffic problems in Northern Virginia. "We need a regional, unified plan that addresses the issues in Northern Virginia and doesn't pander to developers," added Virginia Run's Matt Borowski.

"Why aren't we looking at mass transit and widening Routes 15 and 66?" asked Guthrie. "Ten years ago, we begged our supervisors not to approve the [CP] alignment, and they didn't listen to us."

Furthermore, she said, with traffic from the Tri-County Parkway, Routes 28 and 29 and the Fairfax County Parkway all emptying onto I-66 within a span of a few miles, the result will be "the biggest traffic jam in Northern Virginia."

While roads are important, said Kathy Ziegler of Virginia Run, "We also can't ignore the need for fresh air and water, green space and natural habitat. She said the CP would create "added congestion in our area, without significantly reducing travel times" and urged residents to "e-mail VDOT that we do not want roads destroying our parkland or watershed."

Evan Smithgall, Fairfax National Estates Homeowners Association president, said the DEIS shows "the majority of traffic is from Manassas to I-66 east ... with only a small percentage continuing north toward Dulles. This clearly shows there's more need for an east/west roadway than north/south."

He said the study also didn't consider that "as the intersection at I-66 backs up, more and more traffic will head north to Route 29 and continue east on Centreville's surface streets. [So] Pleasant Valley and Stone roads will be directly impacted."

Centreville's Dave Sanders, on the Virginia Horse Council board and a founder of the 2,700-member Northern Virginia Coalition of Equine Organizations —including the Clifton Horse Society, said both groups oppose the CP. "It would be fiscally irresponsible to choose this option, when other viable [ones] exist," he said. "And it would be a travesty to put a six-lane highway in the middle of the park."

Gate Post's Debbie Foster said the CP would displace the most families, take out hiking and horse trails and destroy the largest amount of wetlands and forests.

However, Paul Tayala of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce said the CP provides the most traffic relief for Route 28. And Virginia Run's Jim Hart said it's the only alignment addressing Pleasant Valley Road's traffic problems caused by South Riding and Loudoun commuters.

"BRADDOCK, Pleasant Valley and Stone roads are bearing the brunt of that traffic now, and the two western alternatives are too far away [to help]," he said. Hart noted, too, that anything going east of Luck Stone Quarry "would have a negative impact on Virginia Run."

Meanwhile, Virginia Run's Ted Troscianecki said he initially wanted to support the CP, but now he believes "the cost is too high in terms of the environmental resources and parkland the residents have fought so hard to protect." He was also surprised and alarmed that the DEIS suggests an "alignment shift" sending the CP east of the quarry.

E-mail comments by May 21 to tricountyparkway@virginiadot.org. Or get a comment form at www.virginiadot.org/projects/resources/TCP-Form.pdf and mail it to Ken Wilkinson, Environmental Division, Virginia Department of Transportation, 1041 E. Broad St., Richmond, VA 23219.