Nearly 100 regional business groups signed off on a letter Sept. 5 urging state lawmakers from Northern Virginia to refrain from taking a firm position on the heavily-publicized Bi-County Parkway project until all “relevant information and data is available.”
The parkway, a proposed north-south thoroughfare to connect fast-growing Loudoun and Prince William counties, has drawn sharp divides and unexpected alliances among local residents and politicians in recent months.
Tony Howard, president of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce and an author of the letter, said his organization backs the parkway in principle, but is still waiting for all the facts – including environmental impact studies and specific route planning – to be known. And that, Howard said, is the purpose of the correspondence sent to the region's lawmakers.
The Loudoun chamber was joined in endorsing the letter by chambers of commerce in Prince William County, Reston, Springfield and Fairfax County and groups like Inova Loudoun Hospital, the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association, Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance and the Virginia Association of Realtors.
The letter praises the General Assembly for the 2013 transportation funding reform measure, but states there's more work to be done to smooth out the region's famously congested roads.
“We must continue working together to advance those transportation projects and solutions that are most critical to improving mobility and sustaining economic development and job creation efforts. As leaders of the Virginia business community, we can tell you that one such project is the proposed Bi-County Parkway.
This project has been included in both Loudoun and Prince William county transportation plans for years, as well as the Metropolitan Washington Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan.”
Howard stressed that the letter isn't specifically asking for lawmakers to endorse the project – though Howard said "that would be nice."
“At this time,” the letter reads, “we are not asking you to support or endorse the project; we are simply requesting that you reserve judgment until VDOT, the Federal Highway Administration, the National Park Service, and the other public and private sector stakeholders, complete the necessary environmental process. Completing the Environmental Impact Statement process will ensure that all the relevant information and data is available to make an informed and rational decision on the viability and utility of the Bi-County Parkway.”
The Loudoun Chamber president said he's confident a Bi-County Parkway will be constructed eventually, after residents in the region “calm down” and “all the facts are known.”
“It's like rail,” Howard said, referring to Metro's Silver Line extension, which was approved in Loudoun in 2012 after months of contentious debate. “Eventually, people are going to realize the project makes too much sense to not do it.”
Earlier last week, several Northern Virginia members of the House of Delegates rallied in Manassas to call for Gov. Bob McDonnell, a parkway proponent, to hit the breaks on the project and reevaluate.
Among those in Manassas was Del. David Ramadan (R-87th), who represents portions of Loudoun and Prince William counties. In late August, Ramadan urged McDonnell to start fresh on the Bi-County Parkway plans – essentially calling for him to hand off the issue to the next governor.
Ramadan, in a letter to the governor, wrote that he supports “efforts to improve both east-west and north-south connections and believe[s] that it is not an either/or discussion.”
“I also appreciate this administration's attempt to begin the planning process for north-south corridors so that we do not find ourselves in a position years from now where we are once again trying to play catch up,” Ramadan states. “However, it has become abundantly clear that a complete and accurate analysis of the best way to proceed with a north-south connection is not going to be possible to complete during your administration.”
Ramadan believes months have been wasted on a “flawed process that created more questions than it answered,” he wrote.
“A fresh start is needed under a new process. The process must be transparent and allow stakeholders to receive complete, clear and consistent information.”