After a long battle, it looks like the Virginia General Assembly will approve the Governor McDonnell’s borrow and spend transportation plan. Even before this plan has finally passed, state officials are poised to pull a bait and switch to add a controversial Outer Beltway project that wasn’t on the list of projects sold to legislators.

The Governor’s plan does not include an outer beltway. But behind the scenes it’s a different story.

In a meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) last week, the Governor’s Secretary of Transportation and two CTB members announced a renewed effort to prioritize a highway connecting I-95 in Prince William to Route 50 in Loudoun with an ultimate goal of connecting into Maryland.

This segment is known as the Tri-County Parkway — the latest name for the same road that has been rejected by the public every few years since the 1960s, sometimes called the Western Bypass.

This outer beltway would destroy the historic landscape on the western boundary of Manassas Battlefield — in the very year we are honoring the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas. Furthermore, this highway would not solve our traffic problems — it would actually make them worse.

If you live in Virginia, please email Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton and the CTB today telling them you oppose the Tri-County Parkway.

If you take action today, we can also let your legislators know ASAP — their session ends tomorrow!

The bait and switch

In public, the Governor has offered a list of some 900 road projects that might be funded by the new debt. This list does not include the controversial outer beltway project around DC. The public list played a key role in getting Delegates and Senators — who face reelection this year — to sign off on the risky borrowing)

But during last week’s CTB meeting, the Secretary of Transportation brought up an issue not on the published agenda, asking two of the CTB members, Gary Garzynski and Doug Koelemay, if they had a resolution to offer. After describing a new highway connection that follows the route of the proposed TriCounty Parkway/Western Bypass, they said that the resolution was not quite ready yet, but that they hoped it would be by the next CTB meeting in March.

Secretary Connaughton, who used to Chair the Prince William Board of Supervisors, then said, “You guys would never make it on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors; we live for bushwhacking people.”

Bushwhacked (ambushed) is exactly how we feel. It’s no way to conduct the public’s business. First the administration had the Secretary of Transportation hold out a list of projects that was a key to winning many legislators’ support for more debt and spending. Then, off the radar screen from the legislature, the media, and the public the administration is maneuvering the revival and addition of one of the most controversial highways in the state.

In fact, the inclusion of the Western Bypass and other outer loop roads was a key factor in the public’s strong rejection of the Northern Virginia sales tax increase in the public referendum of 2002.

More traffic, not less — and a waste of money

This massive road, often referred to as the “Outer Beltway” or “Western Transportation Corridor,” has been repeatedly rejected because it doesn’t relieve traffic on the Beltway, I-95, I-66 or local roads. In fact, it would make traffic worse by opening up thousands more acres to development and feeding more traffic from the west onto gridlocked east-west roads.

Construction of an Outer Beltway would encourage increased development in areas which lack the necessary support infrastructure (water, sewer, schools, services, roads, etc.) — making existing congestion, fiscal, and environmental problems worse. The real transportation need in western Prince William and Loudoun counties is for improved east-west connections, including transit.

On top of that, the project would siphon money away from projects that citizens of the Commonwealth actually need, like repair, maintenance, and enhancements for our aging bridges, roads, and transit systems, and addressing major bottlenecks within the already built up areas of Northern Virginia and other metro areas.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board must vote on where to spend the multi-billion dollar transportation bond package. Please take a minute to write to the CTB, and ask them not to waste limited funding on a project as destabilizing and wasteful as the Outer Beltway.

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Stewart Schwartz is Executive Director and a founder of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which he built into the leading smart growth organization in the Washington, DC region, addressing the interconnected issues of land use, transportation, urban design, housing, and energy. A retired Navy Captain with 24 years of active and reserve service, he earned a BA and JD from the University of Virginia and an MA from Georgetown University.