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Critics question frequently cited survey in Potomac crossing battle

The Point of Rocks bridge connecting Loudoun County to Maryland. Times-Mirror/Alexander Erkiletian
Diana Bendit of Broad Run Farms has watched the debate around a second Potomac River crossing come and go and come back again for more than two decades.

If a new Potomac River crossing were approved today, it would likely go through the 26-year Loudoun County resident’s backyard to connect Route 28 to Interstate-270 in Montgomery County, Md.

But Bendit says she has remained a vocal opponent of the bridge not just because the bridge would directly impact her, but because she thinks a new Potomac crossing will ultimately lead to more congestion.

So when the Potomac River crossing debate reignited at the Loudoun Board of Supervisors’ Transportation Summit last month, Bendit says she was surprised when she was told she could not speak at the event.

What upset her more, she said, was that the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance (NVTA) -- a business-citizen coalition that promotes regional transportation issues and projects -- gave a presentation to the full board to make its case for a new bridge, yet citizens were unable to have a voice at the summit.

The June 29 summit resulted in the board voting unanimously to add a statement in support of a new Potomac River crossing east of Goose Creek and Leesburg to its Countywide Transportation Plan. They also asked county staff to identify different corridors for a new bridge over the Potomac.

Bendit and others say they are concerned about the way Loudoun supervisors appeared to have relied only on the information from NVTA at the June summit before taking steps to explore a new bridge crossing.

Members of the 2017 NVTA Board of Directors include representatives from transportation contracting companies like Shirley Contracting Company and Superior Paving Corporation.

Other NVTA board members come from high-profile real estate development firms like Comstock Partners, The Peterson Companies, Buchanan Partners and Cityline Partners -- companies responsible for building major developments in the D.C. metropolitan and northern Virginia region.

“I'm not questioning [the Board of Supervisors] ethics or integrity at all, but when the only information you're getting is from developers, I don't know how you make a good decision,” Bendit said.

2015 survey, summit called into question

Opponents of the bridge also say they are upset that elected officials are constantly citing a poll sponsored by NVTA and the Suburban Transportation Alliance in 2015, which they describe as a “push poll.”

The NVTA survey spoke to 800 randomly-selected residents of the greater Washington region about a number of transportation issues and projects.

On the issue of a new bridge crossing north of American Legion Bridge, the survey found nearly 60 percent of respondents said they favored a new bridge, including 68 percent in favor in Montgomery County. The survey also found that
only about 11 percent were opposed to the idea and only 12 percent opposed in Montgomery County.

Recent commentary from the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce’s Tony Howard and the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commere’s Jim Corcoran also cited the Transportation Alliance’s 2015 survey when expressing their support for the new river crossing, which they say will reduce congestion and provide greater economic opportunity.

“I think when you're dealing with a controversial project like this you shouldn't cite a poll that was funded by one set of advocates for a particular point of view,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for Smarter Growth, a group that has been a staunch opponent of the NVTA’s survey.

Gem Bingol, a field representative for Clarke and Loudoun Counties, said she too was surprised when she found out the NVTA gave a presentation to the board about a Potomac River crossing at the June summit. She says she would have preferred county officials to have formally invited PEC and all other groups to the event.

Loudoun County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said she made the decision to not allow independent citizens to speak at the summit. But Randall added that citizens can speak on any issue at regular monthly public hearings and business meetings.

“One reason why I did that is because individuals can speak anytime and normally we often don’t hear from organizations. We often hear from individuals,” Randall said.

David Birtwistle, CEO of the NVTA, defended the survey. He said the organizations took “careful consideration” into selecting Annapolis-based OpinionWorks LLC to conduct the survey.

Birtwistle said the poll was open-ended, included 34 questions, was not automated and people were allowed to express their opinions without being prodded or even knowing it was a survey.

“It wasn't just about a single project,” Birtwistle said. “ … When people say [the survey was] for special interests, they need to look at who funds all the organizations, because even the people who are fighting against [the Potomac River crossing] … people should take a look at who's behind them too.”

Formal plans on a route and the scope of a new Potomac crossing have yet to be finalized, but the county and the regional National Capital Regional Transportation Planning Board (TPB) are further studying the idea.

Loudoun County Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) sits on the TPB’s Long Range Task Force. Meyer too has been widely criticized for consistently citing the NVTA survey.

Meyer said if another poll with new information to dispute the NVTA’s survey comes out, he is willing to consider it too.

“I've said that it was an NVTA poll. I haven't been hiding from the fact on who commissioned the poll – it was the Southern Maryland Transportation Alliance and the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, and they hired a reputable pollster to do a poll,” Meyer said. “ … If somebody has a problem with that poll, show me another poll that disputes it.”

For decades a new river crossing has been a divisive issue on both sides of the Potomac, with officials in Montgomery County leading most of the opposition to the project.

Maryland officials fear a bridge extension would harm Montgomery's 90,000-acre agricultural reserve. Others have also said a bridge would pit Maryland against northern Virginia economically and potentially cause the two sides to have to fight for jobs and workers.

Neither Loudoun County nor the commonwealth of Virginia on its own can move forward on a bridge plan without Maryland’s cooperation.


Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter at @sydneykashiwagi.

Comments


So,… the Trans Action Plan and the Loudoun’s Economic Development Advisory Commission are going to study the possibility of not one but TWO new bridges in Loudoun?  TWO?  OMG! 
Lets consider the costs involved in one alone.  Example: a Rt 28 extension thru Broad Run Farms to the Potomac River—probably the least costly route.  It would bulldoze 300 homes and displace 801 people.  At an average cost of $400,000 per home – a conservative estimate—that’s $120 million just to acquire the property needed for one small segment of the road.  And what about costs to its residents?  Displaced families would bear a disproportionately large burden – eminent domain is not a process famous for generous settlements.  Moreover, some of the families have been in Broad Run Farms for over fifty years. Some are second or even third generation residents. How do you put a price on that many memories?  And if you don’t choose Broad Run Farms as an example, then whatever community you choose will have to be bear similar costs. 
So where does the money come from?  Oh, Federal funding?  But wait, don’t we pay federal taxes too? Does it make any real difference whether the bridge is paid for by Federal, State, or local funding?  It’s all tax money, and we all pay taxes.
What’s that you say?  Charge a toll?  Wait.  Do the math.  If the bridge is to cost $11 billion – a figure that was cited in the Board of Supervisors discussion of the bridge – and the toll would be set at five dollars per vehicle, with 100,000 trips per day the daily revenue would be about $500,000.  At 365 days per year the annual take would run to about $180,000,000.  A substantial figure, but even at that rate it would take over 60 years to pay for the bridge. 
That’s not all.  What about lost County revenue?  Over the 60 years it would take to pay off the bridge, lost property taxes would be substantial.  Bridges don’t pay taxes.
Now we’re talking two bridges? 
The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors approached this issue having already made up its mind that a bridge is just what Loudoun needs.  It did not welcome arguments to the contrary.  Chairman Randall chose to listen to a pro-bridge presentation delivered by a business oriented group, but she refused to allow contrary comments from the public.  No other BoS meeting has had public comment blocked by the chairwoman.  Can we really trust the Board to treat this matter objectively?
Loudoun County has great natural beauty.  Dumping another 100,000 cars or more per day onto its already-overburdened road network will inevitably bring more commercial sprawl and environmental damage.  Eagles’ nests can now be seen along the stretch of the Potomac where these bridges would be built.  With another 100,000 cars and trucks belching pollutions over the side of a new bridge every day, it’s unlikely that the eagles will choose to remain. 


Anyone have any idea about how much all the previous studies have cost us never mind the biased surveys? Remember Buona said 2 bridges but oh no he did not mention the cost, ain’t that just like a democrat.


Don’t be fooled, MD lawmakers have been making excuses for years about why they can’t widen or create new roads over the Potomac, but we all know it has to do with Tyson’s, Reston, Herndon, and Dulles, they are afraid of the competition. There is no farmland around the American legion Bridge and yet they come up with excuse after excuse for why they won’t widen it. I mean come on, they don’t mind a four lane highway through western Frederick RT340, into WV or a four lane highway north of Frederick, RT15, into PA, but they can’t 4 lane a 6 mile stretch of 15 into VA, that tells it all.

Think about it, you have 4 County’s with roughly 2.7 million people connected by a total of 10 lanes of road, just ridiculous.


~Everett

The issues affecting metro are both complicated and costly. The last mile between a person’s home and mass transit, in theory, should be traveled via walking, bus riding, or biking; therefore saving you the costs of parking.

The trade off with mass transit is being subjected to a myriad of things like “dirty” trains. But let’s be honest, no one’s car is pristine. I have 2 kids and i’m sure there a goldfish and french fries lurking in the dark. But the benefit is no road rage, no accidents to avert, and no sitting in traffic. All thing’s I’d gladly accept to avoid my blood boiling to and from work each day.

Heavy rail like Amtrak, light rail like the VRE/MARC, and subway/metro all play a role in getting the highest % of workers into the city’s center. If you want to talk affordability, DC parking garages should charge the same amount of our sister cities in LA, SF, Chicago, and NYC. Paying $40 a day to park your car inside the beltway is far to cheap.


Everett is a hoot, comparing PGH to Loudoun. Most commuters would spend more time with family, not spend money. Very few in Loudoun would benefit. It would be filled with vacationers bypassing beltway traffic and truck traffic. Which businesses would gain from this bridge? I guess we could add a big ole truck stop along 28 for truckers to pull over and spend the night…...


This so called bride adds to the congestion just ask Ralph Buona. He supports this boondoggle as a economic engine not a traffic relief structure.


Mass transit just isn’t practical this far outside the beltway.  It takes too long and costs too much.  Maybe if the Silver Line didn’t have so many superfluous stations…

And they’re never going to build this bridge.  The state of MD, Montgomery county, the NIMBY crowd, and a significant percentage of the eastern Loudoun population all oppose it.

Loudoun developers and those who commute in and out of Montgomery county are the only supporters.


Anybody who commutes and doesn’t like using RT.15 or the Legion bridge, I have a solution for you— Move to the other side of the river. 

Don’t tell us we should all deal with the impact of adding another bridge crossing because you decided to work and live on opposite sides of the bridge. Your choice isn’t my problem.


Pacerguy - I agree with you about going with Mass Transit over cars, and if there was an option to get to work in roughly the same amount of time and same amount of cost compared to car I would. However, Metro is a joke—-It would take me 2 hours to get to work (it takes 1 hour by car) and parking at metro and riding metro will cost at least $20, where by car the gas is about $7. I understand cars have other costs associated with them, but americans love their cars way too much. There is independence, you can run errands on the way home, you can leave whenever you want. It is hard to change that mentality in many people. And quite honestly, there are some (not I) that feel public transportation is “beneath them” or just plain dirty. Metro is a broken system and that is why ridership is actually decreasing.


Is this more censoring by Ms. Randall?  I guess Ms Randall doesn’t want to hear what the “stupid” people have to say.  What a disappointment.


Cowbell-

That is great you get in early and leave early, but my employer has a different set of expectations (i.e. work normal hours 9 to 5:30).

In reference to your comment “how does building a bridge help Loudoun economically”. In reality we need multiple more bridges as Andrew pointed out with his comparison of DC VS Pittsburgh. People sitting in traffic is wasting millions of dollars economically b/c they can be doing something productive and stimulating the economy (like spending money at a local business, taking on part time job, list goes on). Forget about economically for a second, how about coming home at a reasonable time to spend time with family and spouse (i.e. the intangibles). It takes me 1 hour to get to work in normal traffic, and if there is no traffic it takes 45 minutes. I would love to have an extra
30 minutes a day to do other things that is why I would like to have these bridges built. 

Oh, and I will live where I chose to live. This whole notion of moving where you work is nonsense. I have had 6 jobs in 10 years all over the DC area. It is impossible to know where I will be working next year. Should I have moved 6 times along with my job? That is near impossible if you own a house and have kids and spouse (which I do), but might be possible if your single and rent although I doubt any sane person would move that many times over a 0 to 40 mile stretch geographically.


LOL.

Reading these comments makes one wonder how the nation’s highway system ever got built…

However, if some comments are to be believed, had we not built highways, there’d be no traffic problems.

Loudoun roads should be for Loudoun residents only.  That would solve the traffic problem. 

Now that I’ve moved here, that’s enough - nobody else should be allowed in.


If anyone is interested in reducing traffic you have to take cars OFF the road. Building more roads only causes attracts more vehicles. It’s called induced demand. Folks get a false sense thinking there will be less traffic when more roads are build, in reality the opposite happens and more people will drive thinking there will be less traffic.

Building/widening roads only make traffic worse and never actually solve the problem. The greatest cause of congestion are single occupant vehicles. Mass transit does more to remove single occupant vehicles from roads than all other infrastructure solutions.


Everett & RH, I’ve lived in Loudoun for almost 30 years. I’ve commuted from Loudoun to Baltimore, Rockville, Bethesda, DC, Arlington and Fairfax.  I leave the house at 4:30-5am to get into work early and beat traffic and leave by 3PM. You’re thinking is we should build the bridge so the extra traffic on Am Legion Bridge and Route 15 will get better…. How does that help Loudoun Economically? It doesn’t, it’s just extra pass through traffic. A vast majority of those commuting on Route 15 live in MD, just like WV on Route 9. I suggest to Everett, move to Montgomery county. Maybe you all can get Great Falls to agree to build a bridge off 193 or Fairfax county parkway….


I live off Route 15 north of Leesburg also known as Road Kill Alley which has major accidents all the time due to too much traffic on this road.  Marylanders use Rt 15 as an alternative commuter road but do not want to expand the Point of Rock bridge nor put in another bridge.  I say put a toll booth in on southbound 15 right over the Point of Rock bridge for say $5. No toll northbound.  Let all the traffic build up on the bridge and in Maryland.  Then lets see how much Marylanders oppose improvements or another bridge.  Push the Marylander traffic back onto the Legion Bridge.


Finger, interesting article from the NYT, July 1994 on that Greenway.
(Final para kind of funny:  “there is no development on route 50 between Dulles Airport and Middleburg”, so they told the great grey lady.  Nevermind that South Riding was already approved, and would welcome its first residents a few months later in 1995)


TheMovingFinger, yes, the Greenway was built by developers, but the “good” kind:  the hunt country billionaires who wanted to create a spine on which to hang inevitable growth far away from the private driveway that is route 50.
And they still have relatives who sit on the board of the PAC masquerading as an environmental group, which opposes any and all improvements to any road in the county.
(What is opposed at any given moment depends what is on the table at the time.)


I have to agree with RH. more cowbell must “work from home”. Currently I work in Montgomery County and the only way I know is to cross the American Legion which is basically a disaster traffic weekdays from 6AM to 8PM on both loops (basically tysons to 270). Some days its so bad when I look at my Waze app I just take 28 West in MD all the way to 15 and come down 15 since I live in Leesburg. Its definately more miles but the time can be the same if the beltway is a mess and you keep your sanity on 28W in MD b/c its mostly farms and your going the speed limit even in rush hour.

Another bridge crossing would take so much traffic off the beltway. I believe sterling and poolsville are a couple miles part by a river? Why can they not build a bridge there? Or extend 28 like the article says. I am open to any ideas at this point. To go from Loudoun to Montgomery county is no fun….


And once again, an article on building/growth/improvements and all the people that never leave their home flood the comments section and grab their pitchforks. For anyone that ever needs to get to points north, this is badly needed and the opposition to it is nothing short of ridiculous for anyone that’s ever looked at a map. How a metro area of over 6 million people that is bisected by a river could not have a crossing on said river for roughly 25 miles is absurd.

For comparison, the city of Pittsburgh is a tiny fraction of our size, with just 300k people, and 2 million in its entire metro area, which is similarly cut by rivers. It has 29 bridges crossing rivers just WITHIN the city. We shouldn’t be talking about 1 more river crossing between the beltway and 15, we should be talking about a half dozen crossings.


I think this is a very smart move and construction should be done immediately.    There are no negatives to this happening.  I promise.


more cowbell…... Whey would you need a third???  Do you not live in the area?  Have you not driven on RT15 at any time of the day, have you not driven over the American Legion bridge.  For those of you that want to bury your head in the ground and pretend it is not an issue, wake up, get out of your house and see what’s going on.  With what’s going on with 15 and the uproar from people that finally want something done, you can see that the not in my backyard people are in the minority here.


Roger Berliner made it clear, he does not want Virginia rif raf in Montgomery County. He is the very embodiment of the Liberal Elite.


They have a second bridge, route 15. Why would they need a third? Oh, so big trucks could bypass the American Legion Bridge, Drive on 28 and cross over that bridge because some big trucks aren’t allowed on 15(but still travel). I own several businesses and think this is a horrible idea, just like metro to Loudoun(should have stopped at Dulles Airport). Their claim to economic growth is false. Just what we need, more heavy truck traffic on 28. I doubt anyone that drives 28 was polled.


NVTA, as the reporter notes, is a lobbying group funded by development interests—just as the housing study by the George Mason CRA is endowed by the development industry (with huge interests in Loudoun). The NVTA poll, like the housing study and the Comprehensive Plan “Goals and Objectives” put forth by Loudoun’s Planning Department, are unconstrained and aspirational rather than attempts to focus on the huge constraints and current critical needs that should be guiding policy and planning. If somehow, against their own interests, Maryland agrees to spend $3 billion to ruin their rural area and seize a vast number of private properties to help Virginia’s sprawl problem, limited transportation funds will be sucked away from projects to fix roads we already have.


This bridge, like the Greenway before it, is a developer’s project…opening up new areas to build ever more houses.  Used to be called “the western bypass” and there have been a number of attempts to ram this through in the 30+ years I’ve lived in Loudoun. 

Let’s all hope it fails this time as well.  It will make money for some and stick the rest of us with ever higher taxes, traffic and reduced quality of life.


If the NVTA wants a crossing, they ought to stick it in Fairfax and connect it to the Fairfax County Parkway.

The vast majority of commuters would be heading to Reston and Herndon, not Sterling and Ashburn. So the burden of traffic and destroyed backyards should be in Fairfax.

Regardless, this debate is moot because Montgomery County, MD is even more opposed to a crossing than is Northern VA.


Ralph Buona says this is economic engine on steroids not a traffic congestion relief infrastructure. Numbers cited include 100,000 cars added to route 7 and 28 on work days, holy moly! That should be enough to stop this fantasy of developers but the 11 billion dollar price tag for the bridge has them drooling about their piece of the pie. The cost in 1980 was 4 billion adjusted for inflation it is 11 billion today. Just like the Silver line is going over 35% so will this bridge which increases the cost to $14,350,000,000.00, talk about a boondoggle! This is the bridge only cost nothing about the localities needing off-ramps that the local taxpayer will have to fund. Don’t forget the lost revenue from property taxes, the extra air and noise pollution induced, the increased air traffic and truck traffic out of Dulles Airport which adds to congestion. Expect tolls, first they take federal funds to pay for it then toll the drivers 5 dollars a trip, sounds good? That is 2870, million trips which would take 90 years! Just say no to this boondoggle on steroids!

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