A proposal by Leesburg's mayor Tuesday to officially oppose the North-South Corridor was met with what some Town Council members believed to be a threat by Loudoun County Chairman Scott York and Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance President Robert Chase to withhold transportation funding.
York's staff aide, Robin Bartok, during a Town Council meeting read a statement from the chairman that said opposition to the state's controversial corridor could mean the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority -- the group formed by the General Assembly to plan for long-range transportation projects -- would not consider Leesburg when allocating money from the recently passed transportation bill.
"The chairman asked me to ask you 'Do you support roads and that's a really important question because if you oppose this road it appears that you don't support roads and I think NVTA will keep that in mind when allocating its 30 percent.' They're going to be looking at the communities that are supporting roads and supporting what the county supports," Bartok said.
York sits on the authority's board, which is responsible for dividing 70 percent of $1.6 billion that will be given to Northern Virginia for transportation projects in the next six years. The remaining 30 percent will be given to localities and Loudoun will be responsible for allocating the funds to the county's towns.
Bartok's statement was not taken lightly by Leesburg Town Council members.
Mayor Kristen Umstattd urged council members to push forward with opposing the proposed, and controversial, state project.
"I think we should not buy into the argument that we're going to be blackmailed that if we stand up for our citizens other entities will take away all our transportation dollars," Umstattd said. " … I don't think we can honorably represent our citizens if we cower every time someone threatens us. I don't view that as an argument that I can abide by or put up with."
In addition to York's statement, Chase, the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance president, sent an email to state Del. Randy Minchew (R-10th) and Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce President Tony Howard that was read aloud in Tuesday's meeting by Vice Mayor Dave Butler.
"… Why would Leesburg want to bite the hands that feed them transportation funds? I would suggest that the most important thing for the mayor to consider is the likelihood of the unfunded projects listed below ever being funded if the Town Council comes out in opposition to the North-South Corridor. The CTB and VDOT do not lack for other projects in which to invest. The six-year plan contains no guarantees. The funds are shifted around every year. CTB can easily decide to "deprogram" funds for Edwards Ferry Road, etc. Message needs to be delivered by Leesburg residents. Got any candidates?" Butler read.
The vice mayor took issue with the idea that Leesburg was "anti road."
"When I hear that we're getting threatened from multiple directions, that's a big warning sign that the facts are not on the threatening people's side, so they're resorting to threats. To even imply for one minute that Leesburg is anti-road is completely disingenuous," he said.
Virginia's Commonwealth Transportation Board on May 15 delayed a vote to accept the North-South Corridor master plan that includes a proposal to more directly link Loudoun and Prince William's roadways.
The North-South plan includes several regional projects, including the so-called Bi-County Parkway, which extends Route 234 from I-66 in Prince William to Route 50 and Northstar Boulevard in Loudoun. The project is meant as a north-south alternative to U.S. 15 and Route 28 that would provide greater connectivity between the two counties.
Pro-business officials from both Loudoun and Prince Williams have been adamantly in favor of the plan, while environmentalists and more conservative-growth groups are doing their best to thwart the project.
Howard and Rob Clapper, president of the Prince William Chambers of Commerce favor the Bi-County proposal.
Town Council members ultimately agreed to defer the motion to oppose the North-South Corridor by a 4-2-1 vote until they can get more information.
While voting to defer the motion, council member Thomas Dunn, who voted to delay the motion, voiced strong opposition to York's statement.
"When it starts getting threatening I start wondering which political side is pushing which buttons. I look at things like this that are in an effort to get involved more as a political effort than a practical effort," Dunn said. "I normally don't go looking for trouble, but when it comes my way I just love it. I'm not going to back down from a fight. If you're going to show up in here to try and buttonhole me into going in another direction it might be a tougher fight than you thought."
– Staff Writer Trevor Baratko contributed to this report.
Editor's note: The story has been changed from an earlier version to clarify that Loudoun County Chairman Scott York (R-At Large) sits on the board of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.