The polarized community debate over the Virginia Department of Transportation’s plans to build a new western access road to Dulles Airport was on full display Monday, but the outcome may hinge on a new study.
The Board of Supervisors’ public input session at Briar Woods High School Monday night drew about 60 people who expressed concerns the project would impact their neighborhoods and businesses. Most comments focused on whether the proposed Dulles Air Cargo, Passenger, and Metro Access Highway should be built in the median of Rt. 50 or in a new alignment along the Broad Run south of Brambleton. Unsurprisingly, Brambleton residents have pushed for the Rt. 50 alignment, while those living in neighborhoods like South Riding, Stone Ridge and Kirkpatrick Farms along Rt. 50 have touted the northern route.
However, many speakers said the debate should not be pitting neighborhood against neighborhood, but focus on which option is best for Loudoun County as a whole.
“This was never about Brambelton vs. South Riding,” Brian Viola, vice president of the Brambleton Community Association said in the first comment of the evening. “I would hope you would help tamp that down. Somehow this got out of control. It is really about a road and people’s opinions of a road not about neighborhoods.”
Those in favor of the Rt. 50 route have said it more closely follows the county’s Countywide Transportation Plan, which already calls for interchanges at major intersections along the road, and would require taking much less private property. But those who live and work along Rt. 50 say they could not tolerate several more years of construction that make their commutes unbearable already, and that the land through which the northern route would be built already is planned for development that would have significant environmental impacts.
“Alternative 2 does negatively affect the Brambelton community and the future development. Anyone attempting to say otherwise is either misinformed or intentionally misleading,” Brambleton resident Tim Markle said. “The question is, what kind of county do you want? Do you want to look like Chantilly? Do you want to look like Manassas? Or do you want the county to look like it does now?"
Many business owners along Rt. 50 implored supervisors to bring them relief after years of construction in the corridor has snarled traffic and limited access to their properties.
“I really enjoy being a business in Loudoun County, but if you asked me today to move to Loudoun County trying to move trucks and people, I don’t think I would want to move here today,” John Edgemond, who has owned GreenWorks Landscaping on Rt. 50 for more than 20 years, said. He said the board should be looking at the issue based on “how can I make this a viable community for people to come here and do business.”
The route that would build a new four-lane limited access highway from Northstar Boulevard north of Rt. 50 following the Broad Run floodplain to the intersection of Arcola Road and Rt. 606—known as Alternative 2—was one of the original three proposed by VDOT. But last summer, some Loudoun supervisors objected, saying they wanted to see something that followed more closely the Countywide Transportation Plan and melded with development in the area.
The new route—known as Alternative 3C—would make Rt. 50 limited access, with six lanes for general traffic and two median lanes—one eastbound and one westbound—reserved for vehicles going to and from Dulles Airport. In addition, access to the airport lanes would be provided at the Rt. 50/Rt. 606 interchange and at the Rt. 50 interchanges planned at Northstar Boulevard, Gum Springs Road and Loudoun County Parkway. The plan also includes the widening of Old Ox Road between Rt. 50 and Loudoun County Parkway to six lanes.
In early April, VDOT announced the Rt. 50 alignment was its preferred option. The Board of Supervisors was expected to weigh in with its preference, but a new state law has placed the process on hold. The law requires that VDOT evaluate all significant transportation projects for their ability to relieve congestion, improve economic development, and improve accessibility and safety. Subsequent legislation requires funding be applied first to those projects with the greatest congestion mitigation.
However, the model for evaluating projects has not been finalized, leaving the completion of the environmental study for the Dulles Access Road in flux.
“The study is on hold until the prioritization model is approved,” VDOT project manager Tom Fahrney told the audience Monday night. Both options will be put through the model to determine which produces better results.
That revelation led many speakers to ask for a time out on the project as a whole, especially given its ultimate connection to the proposed Bi-County Parkway south from Loudoun to I-66 in Prince William County.
“Why is the airport doing this?…It sounds like they really want to get trucks out to the Bi-County Parkway. Fair enough, but that road isn’t even there,” South Riding resident Danny O'Brien said.
Outside the hearing, representatives of the Piedmont Environmental Council were handing out flyers suggesting that neither of the option was necessary and instead that Loudoun supervisors should be pushing to get that money from the state to complete the road network envisioned in the Countywide Transportation Plan. That idea gained traction with a number of the speakers.
“The Bi-County Parkway is not a done deal,” Aldie area resident Lisa Melton said. “We’re putting the cart before the horse. Or in this case we’re putting the cargo before the commuter.”
“We should be thinking about this, but we should be spending our time building the roads in our plan,” Chantilly resident John Long said. “Let’s concentrate on our roads and let’s get people home with their kids.”