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Votes

Tri-County Parkway Rte. Chosen

Selected path spares Bull Run Regional Park

Local residents have something extra to be thankful for, this Thanksgiving — the Commonwealth Transportation Board. It voted last Friday, Nov. 17, on a route for the Tri-County Parkway that won't destroy Bull Run Regional Park.

"IT'S LOUDOUN'S first choice, it's on Prince William's Comprehensive Plan and it was the one recommended by county staff," said Kate Hanley, Northern Virginia District representative on the CTB. "The [Fairfax County] Comprehensive Plan alignment had significant environmental impacts."

Furthermore, she added, since that alignment would have gone through parkland, the Army Corps of Engineers said the road couldn't be built with federal money and it wouldn't be able to issue permits without extensive mitigation.

So instead, the CTB chose the "West Two" route, west of the Manassas National Battlefield Park. Comprised of segments D and C on the map, it connects with Prince William's Route 234 interchange, running north of I-66 to the Loudoun County line.

"Hot dog — that is really good news," said Bull Run Civic Association President Judy Heisinger. "I'm so pleased that all of those environmental issues were taken seriously."

Actually, the possibility of this road has been a sword hanging over residents' heads — especially those living near Bull Run Regional Park — for nearly 12 years. That's when Fairfax County placed onto its Comprehensive Plan an alignment for what was then called the Tri-County Connector.

The roughly 10-mile road traveled south of Route 29 in Centreville, took a nearly 90-degree jag eastward and turned south again to bisect Bull Run Park and the residential area along Bull Run Post Office Road north. It was to link Prince William, Fairfax and Loudoun counties — plus Manassas with I-66 and the Dulles area.

Residents and horse-stable owners along Bull Run Post Office Road north fought bitterly and even eloquently against it. They held a mounted protest on horseback outside the Government Center and testified against the proposed route at public hearings at the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

"THIRTY-SIX people spoke against it at the public hearings," said Heisinger. "They talked about equestrian issues, streams, water and other matters. One person spoke for it, and it passed."

The Sully District powers-that-be promoted it as a needed north-south connector to relieve future traffic congestion on Route 28. But homeowners there said it would decrease their property values and put the stable-owners out of business.

In the end, though, Fairfax County prevailed and, in 1994, the line for the Tri-County Connector was drawn on the map. Since then, most of the stables along that road have closed and/or moved elsewhere, but many of the residents remained.

And now, after another go-'round of public hearings — this time, before VDOT — they're glad they did. And they're overjoyed with the CTB's alignment selection.

"We're so delighted that wisdom and common sense prevailed," said Heisinger, Friday night. "It shows that all the people who wrote letters, made speeches and took an interest in this were listened to — and that's always very gratifying and satisfying. This will be a great load off our minds; we will all sleep better tonight."

Greenbriar's Hal Strickland, chairman of the Fairfax County Park Authority, is also resting easier. In August, he and Bill Dickinson, Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority chairman, stood together and denounced the Comprehensive Plan (CP) alignment.

They said a six-lane highway through Bull Run park would devastate its natural and cultural resources and place both the area's water supply and the Occoquan Watershed in jeopardy. Friday night, Strickland said how pleased he was that "the decision-makers gave our position full consideration."

"This is one that I feel was won for the environment," he said. "It was truly a benchmark decision, now that we're fully cognizant of the impact that certain road corridors will have. This shows we're giving heavy weight to quality-of-life issues pertaining to air, water, wildlife and plants."

NOW THAT Fairfax County has become so urban, explained Strickland, "Any additional encroachment is major and means that we lose because there's nowhere that parks can expand and make up for it. Citizens deserve to be able to get home from work, but the impact this road would have had would have been inexcusable."

Noting that Hanley supported the park authorities in this matter, he said both park boards appreciate her help and sensitivity to the environment. And, he added, "Faced with transportation issues within Fairfax County, we're also pleased that the Board of Supervisors chose not to oppose the [parkway's] western location. We recognize their sensitivity, as well."

According to the project's draft environmental impact statement [DEIS], the CP alignment would have cost $547.8 million to build — three times as much as the other alternatives. The one selected by the CTB will cost an estimated $201 million.

"According to the staff report, it met the need, did the least environmental damage and was not objected to by any of the localities," said Hanley. She said the vote wasn't unanimous, but wasn't close, either, and she made the motion.

"The cost and the environmental impacts of the Comprehensive Plan were substantial," she said. And frankly, "I thought it best to support the alignment that was more likely to actually get built in our lifetime and move us forward toward relieving the congestion."

The CTB also directed VDOT to solicit for Public/Private Transportation Act proposals to build the road, since there aren't enough state and federal funds. However, not everyone was happy about the decision, and Virginia Run's Jim Hart called it a shame.

"It's good for Gainesville, but we still need a north-south alignment to relieve Pleasant Valley Road," he said. "The rationale for [the CP] alignment was relief of Pleasant Valley, and West Two is not the answer."

NOTING THAT South Riding residents won't take West Two to access I-66, he said they'll continue using Pleasant Valley, instead. "It's a real tragedy for folks living along Pleasant Valley Road," said Hart. "Who's going to fix its traffic?"

But Heisinger disagrees. She said many Loudoun residents don't use that road, anymore. Large numbers are traveling to Reston, going to the Dulles Corridor or staying in Loudoun to work.

So in reality, she said, the CP route would "just bring more traffic into Fairfax County. A lot has changed since the [CP] was approved. A lot of the traffic heads south toward [Fort] Belvoir, and some of it will be trucks coming up to the air freight terminal behind Dulles Airport."

Agreeing, Gate Post Estates' Jim Fowler said West Two "makes more sense, especially looking 20 years in the future. That's where the growth is going to be. It's the best choice, in terms of people served, connecting up the 234 Bypass and going north. And up around Route 50, a lot of the Loudoun [Tri-] County Parkway is already built. So from a cost standpoint, it was also logical, because there's less road to build there. I applaud the CTB ... they made an excellent decision."

Neighbor Dan Cruz called it welcome news. "It showed that somebody's thinking about the traffic problems that'll really need to be addressed in 2010 and beyond," he said. "I feel glad that the system works — that people, when they oppose something, can really make a difference."

"I think they recognized that Loudoun County would be pouring so much traffic onto I-66 here in Centreville that we would have had a real mess," he continued. "This is a triumph for the little guys."

Gate Post's Debbie Foster was happy that the CTB made an informed decision. After all, she asked, "Why route all that traffic through Fairfax County?" Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th) had also expressed concern about the CP route, and he, too, applauded the CTB's action.

Clifton's Wilma Kime was jubilant, as well. Her four children grew up playing in Bull Run Park, and now her grandchildren do the same. She's also used its trails as an equestrian. "I'm so glad they won't destroy the park," she said. "My son had overnights there as a Boy Scout, and now my grandson does, too. And my husband and I have spent hours and hours maintaining the trails there."

Kime, too, said the route selected makes sense because the 234 Bypass already exists. "I'm delighted," she said. "All the people who spoke made a contribution, and I think the fact that both park authorities came out against it also helped."

JIM SCHUPING, Gate Post Estates' vice president, said his homeowners association is pleased. "We've been laboring long and hard on this thing," he said. "There were so many negative factors that went with the Comprehensive Plan." Besides that, he added, "I still think it's an east-west issue because that's where the traffic problem is. And they need to get Metro out here and widen the roads."

Meanwhile, Dave Sanders — who lives with his family on a 134-acre farm along Route 29 in Centreville, just inside the county line — feels as if he dodged a bullet. "I never thought I'd be blindsided by a road coming down the middle of my property," he said. "And it's really nice not having that hanging over my head, anymore. Kate Hanley made a tough decision, but the right one. My hat's off to her."