Summer Update on the Outer Beltway

VDOT is pushing to create a new major highway in Northern Virginia referred to (among other names) as the Outer Beltway. PEC’s take? This mega-highway would cut through a National Park, open up over 100,000 acres to residential development, and has the potential to actually increase traffic congestion on I-66 and Rt. 50. The good news is—after years of trying to get more press coverage and citizen engagement on the issue—we may have reached a turning point.

The Outer Beltway (coined the “North-South Corridor” by VDOT) isn’t just a bad deal for the residents of Prince William and Loudoun Counties—it’s a bad deal for people who live in neighboring counties, and for Virginia taxpayers as a whole.

  • It would cost at least $1 billion, and associated connector roads to the west side of Dulles could cost $500 million or more.
  • It doesn’t address the overwhelming east-west traffic problem faced by Northern Virginia residents and travelers (and there are better ways to fix north-south traffic).
  • It would spark higher levels of residential development within the Prince William Rural Crescent and the Loudoun Rural Transition Area, adding more traffic to already congested com-muter routes I-66 and Rt. 50.
  • It comes with extensive negative impacts—to the environment (think runoff and air quality); to the existing communities (it would split neighborhoods from schools, increasing noise and air pollution); and to historic resources, including Manassas National Battlefield Park.

The Impact on the National Park

As proposed, the Outer Beltway would cut through the western edge of Manassas National Battlefield Park. This has proved to be an important sticking point, because it means that VDOT needs permission to proceed from the National Park Service.

But this is also where it gets complicated…because, while the Park Service is clearly interested in protecting the battlefield, it is also obligated to comply with 1988 federal legislation that directs it to “develop plans for the closing of those public highways (known as Rts. 29 and 234) that transect the park.”

The Virginia Secretary of Transportation, Sean Connaughton, and VDOT are using this situation to pressure the National Park Service to accept the Outer Beltway. They claim that if the Park Service allows the Outer Beltway, then VDOT will give them control over Rt. 234 (along with some unenforceable promises to also close Rt. 29 through the park).

Growing Opposition

Over 600 people attended a VDOT
meeting in Manassas in June

PEC has been keeping an eye on this proposed project for decades, but we refocused in early 2011 when the Commonwealth Transportation Board made it clear that the road was going to be a priority for the McDonnell Administration. Since then, we’ve been writing, talking, and sometimes jumping up and down—trying to bring attention to this wasteful proposal.

In late 2012, VDOT finally put some more detailed lines on the map for the “N-S Corridor,” and began soliciting citizen input on the plan. Since then, there’s been a major upswing in citizen interest and grassroots opposition.

Thanks to this work, local, state, and national politicians are now listening. On April 29th, six republican Virginia legislators—Delegates Hugo, Marshall and Webert, along with Senators Vogel, Black and Stuart—spoke out against the Outer Beltway at a press conference. Soon after, VA Congressman Frank Wolf added his voice to the choir questioning the Outer Beltway in a letter to Gov. McDonnell:

“I am fully aware of the unique trans-portation challenges facing northern Virginia and have worked hard to make improvements to the region’s transportation network,” Rep. Wolf wrote. “That said, I am concerned this project now seems to be on a fast track and many of my constitu-ents are frustrated that they are not getting a fair hearing… These people have invested their lives here and are deeply disappointed with the way the project is being advanced. I share their concerns.”

In other big news, on June 4th, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors voted to remove the Outer Beltway from their 6-year plan recommendations to the State.

Better Alternatives

PEC staff have crafted an alternative plan to the Outer Beltway, and we welcome your feedback. Our proposal focuses on fixing the current east-west routes for commuters, and it provides lower impact fixes on local roads as well as additional connections to help local residents. It would preserve Prince William’s Rural Crescent and Loudoun’s Rural Transition Area, and it would improve access to Dulles. Our proposal prioritizes long-promised, but much-delayed improvements like:

  • Improving the interchange at Braddock Road and Rt. 28
  • Expanding the interchange at I-66 and Rt. 28
  • Extending VRE to Gainesville and Metrorail to Centreville
  • Targeted use of roundabouts to keep people from sitting at key intersections in Loudoun and Prince William. This set of connections would improve traffic movement throughout the area quickly— benefitting more travelers and creating a greater variety of trip types. You can see more of our alternative list at our website: www.pecva.org/outerbeltway

So Why is the Outer Beltway Getting Prioritized?

VDOT is not proposing a road that would make sense to most residents of Northern Virginia. They aren’t even claiming it’s the best solution for traffic. They are emphasizing the potential for additional north-south traffic in the future, and for an expansion of cargo shipping at Dulles Air-portbut those claims don’t hold up much under scrutiny. In fact, Congressman Wolf was told by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority that proponents “should not claim the project will lead to an increase in cargo being handled at the airport.”

The real reason this project is being pushed seems much simpler and fairly classic: a major road would bring major profits to the developers who have purchased land along the route.

It’s PEC’s job to help you stay on top of projects that will impact your lives and your environment. It is only with an informed and engaged citizenry that we can keep publicly funded infrastructure and eminent domain from being used for needless, damaging projects. We hope you’ll weigh in with your local, state and national officials about the need to take this project off the priority list. Add Your Voice We’ve created an email campaign for your federal and state elected officials. Take a moment to write by visiting our webpage: http://pecva.org/outerbeltway
 


This article was featured in our Summer 2013 Member Newsletter, The Piedmont View.  You can read more of the articles online or view a PDF of the summer issue if you prefer.