Proposed alignments. Image by VDOT.

Zombies are notoriously hard to get rid of. They keep coming back. The same is true of a 1950s concept for an outer beltway that has been revived by Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton.

In response, the Coalition for Smarter Growth has launched a petition campaign arguing that the outer beltway would waste scarce taxpayer resources, intrude upon Manassas National Battlefield, and induce more traffic congestion than it solves.

If we don’t act now to call for different solutions, Secretary Connaughton will force the outer beltway through with minimal public involvement or analysis of alternatives, as he did recently for another questionable highway near Charlottesville.

A little history:  The zombie outer beltway has had many names and a colorful past. In the late 1980s it was the Washington Bypass, a controversial and costly proposal for a complete outer loop highway through Maryland and Virginia. That proposal was eventually dropped.

In the late 1990s two individual segments of the original loop plan were pursued, the InterCounty Connector (ICC) in Maryland, and the Western Transportation Corridor (WTC) in Virginia. The proposed WTC would have run between I-95 in Stafford and Route 7 in Leesburg.

In 2001 highway proponents pushed for a new northern Potomac River bridge between Virginia and Montgomery County that would be part of a proposed road called the Techway. Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) halted that effort after concluding the new bridge would harm communities on both sides of the river.

In 2002 voters in Northern Virginia rejected a proposal for a dedicated transportation sales tax in a public referendum, in part because the tax would have funded multiple segments of the outer beltway.

Finally, in 2005 and again in 2011, VDOT has proposed what they call the Tri-County Parkway, a new highway to run between I-66 in Prince William and Route 50 in Loudoun. Their preferred alignment for the Tri-County Parkway runs along the western boundary of Manassas National Battlefield. It is the same alignment studied in 1997 as the Western Transportation Corridor.

It is this highway that Secretary Connaughton has made a top priority, by designating it as a new Corridor of Statewide Significance. It is this highway that the Coalition for Smarter Growth opposes today.

Instead of building yet another wasteful highway that induces more traffic and more sprawl, VDOT should focus our tax dollars on more important transportation needs. They should also avoid harming the historic Manassas Battlefield, which would be impacted by the Tri-County Parkway.

The Coalition has performed an exhaustive study of the parkway / outer beltway, and found that the major traffic problems in its vicinity are on radial east-west commuter routes, not on north-south roads. The parkway won’t relieve any congestion because it doesn’t serve travel paths that are congested.

This table, based on information from VDOT traffic counts, compares traffic volumes on roads in the vicinity of the Tri-County Parkway. It clearly demonstrates that radial corridors have dramatically higher volumes than any north-south routes.

Only Route 28, which connects to the strong job centers on the east side of Dulles Airport, carries significant north-south traffic. Among north-south roads west of the airport and in the vicinity of the proposed Tri-County Parkway, Route 659 carries just 9,100 vehicles per day (VPD) from Prince William to Loudoun, and Route 15 carries just 15,000. In contrast, I-66 carries up to 63,000 VPD in Prince William, and Route 50 carries up to 40,000 VPD between Loudoun and Route 28.

In 2005 the Coalition for Smarter Growth commissioned a national traffic modeling expert, Norm Marshall of Smart Mobility, Inc., to analyze VDOT’s Tri-County Parkway study. He demonstrated significant flaws in that study, finding that the new highway would induce new development and traffic, but not reduce congestion. Marshall recommended a more efficient set of solutions focusing on land use, conservation, transit, and demand management.

A more recent review of the Loudoun County Transportation plan by Lucy Gibson of Smart Mobility found that transportation engineers were overestimating north-south traffic compared to east-west traffic volumes.

Overall it is clear that the push for the new outer beltway is driven at least in part by those seeking to spark more development in western Prince William and Loudoun Counties, rather than focusing our scarce transportation funds on existing congestion problems. The Tri-County Parkway is an unnecessary and costly diversion from more rational transportation planning. We urge you to sign the petition against it.