Taxpayer’s Dollars, Developers’ Dream Road

This May – without any technical justification, without public input and without a recommendation from VDOT — an unelected body, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), approved a potential north-south highway between Leesburg and I-95 as a Corridor of Statewide Significance. This action brings back a long-cherished dream road for developers – a vast Outer Beltway around Northern Virgina that has been shot down time and time again, when subject to community input and expert review.

This designation places the sprawl-inducing Outer Beltway above real transportation solutions that would relieve traffic problems in Northern Virginia if constructed. The cost of building this segment of the Outer Beltway would run in the billions of dollars, depending on whether the road is four, six, or eight lanes wide. This past General Assembly Session, Governor McDonnell introduced a bill that gives VDOT access to extraordinary amounts of funding for new transportation projects. This legislation allows the state to borrow up to $4 billion for new construction.

While there are transportation projects worth spending money on, the Outer Beltway is decidedly not one of them. This counterproductive road would suck money away from transportation priorities like Metro line expansions, roadway solutions to east-west traffic on I-66, and high-speed rail along the I-95 corridor. In Northern Virginia, east-west traffic is as much as eight times heavier than north-south traffic. So, building a new north-south highway won’t fix the region’s traffic problems.

Another beltway around DC would encourage fiscally irresponsible, scattered development throughout the northern half of the state. It would drastically increase development pressure in areas that are planned for rural uses or low-density residential, including Loudoun County’s Rural Area and Transition Zone, and the Rural Crescent in Prince William. It would threaten the Rte. 50 corridor in Loudoun and Fauquier, where preservation efforts have resulted in a successful traffic calming project and a soon-to-be regional park at Gilberts Corner — a gateway to the rural Piedmont. It would intensify efforts to turn Catlett and other villages in southern Fauquier into heavily developed bedroom communities. And its impacts would be felt as far south as Spotsylvania, Orange, Culpeper and Madison.

The CTB approved this potential highway without consulting with local governments and over the express opposition of elected officials in counties that will be impacted. Before the CTB’s vote, Loudoun County — which already decided three times to exclude the Outer Beltway from its transportation plan, in 2001, 2004 and 2010 — passed a resolution opposing the corridor designation. Clarke County and Fauquier County also passed resolutions of opposition.

By declaring the route a Corridor of Statewide Significance, the CTB preempts local communities’ ability to make their own choices about transportation and development. Localities will now be forced to incorporate this route into their transportation plans, whether it makes sense or not.

Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton has claimed that this new highway is a priority for Gov. McDonnell. We hope that doesn’t prove to be the case. PEC has launched an online advocacy campaign, urging the Governor to focus on more important investments.