A time line for Loudoun County to give a recommendation on the alignment of the proposed Dulles Access Road has been delayed until at least mid-2015, leaving more time for already-passionate views on the planned road to intensify.
The postponement was announced at the onset of a June 2 public hearing on the roadway formally called the Dulles Air Cargo, Passenger, and Metro Access Highway. Heading into the meeting, the county was expected to make its recommendation late this summer or in the fall.
According to a Virginia Department of Transportation representative, the delay comes because of legislation passed out of the General Assembly earlier this year, HB 2, which "provides for the development of a prioritization process for projects funded by the Commonwealth Transportation Board." Until the prioritization mechanism is in place, state-funded projects have basically been put on hold, the VDOT official said.
The Dulles Access Road, a limited-access thoroughfare west of the Dulles airport, is intended to enhance transportation options for local residents and air cargo traffic to Dulles airport. The road will also provide a link to the planned Bi-County Parkway connecting Loudoun and Prince William counties.
VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration have offered several specific routes for the project, two of which have emerged as the front-runners and pitted local and state lawmakers against each other.
The leading plans include Alternative 2, which involves construction of a new road from the future segment of Northstar Boulevard north of Route 50 directly to Route 606; and Alternative 3C, which calls for reconstructing Route 50 between Northstar Boulevard and Loudoun County Parkway to build limited access express lanes in the median, essentially “express lanes."
Cost estimates for the two options show Alternative 3C coming in between $228-$244 million and Alternative 2 costing $240 million.
VDOT has endorsed Alternative 3C, as have Loudoun state Dels. Tag Greason (R-32nd) and Randy Minchew (R-10th) and state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-33rd). Supervisor Janet Clarke (R-Broad Run), whose district spans a portion of the area for Alternative 3C and all the land for Alternative 2, also favors Alternative 3C.
But state Dels. David Ramadan (R-87th) and Jim LeMunyon (R-67th) and county Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), all of whom represent the Dulles and South Riding areas, endorse Alternative 2 and oppose Alternative 3C. They say VDOT has identified at least 10 existing businesses that would be significantly impacted or relocated completely because of construction associated with 3C.
Despite the pushed-back time line, more than 40 members of the public addressed the Board of Supervisors at the June 2 public hearing held at Briar Woods High School in Ashburn. Continuing the dialogue of recent weeks, Loudouners were divided over the two plans, with South Riding and nearby Route 50 communities voicing discontent over the prospect of years-long construction on Route 50, while Brambleton residents were at odds with a new road cutting near their neighborhood.
“What is obvious to me is that Alternative 2 does negatively affect the Brambleton community and its future development,” said one Brambleton resident. “Anyone attempting to say otherwise is either purposefully or negligently misleading the audience.”
Moreover, proponents of Alternative 3C underscored that Alternative 2 does not adhere to the county's long-term transportation plan.
On the other side, Alternative 3C opponents questioned why the county would recommend reconstructing Route 50 at nearly the same cost of building the new road included in Alternative 2.
Gem Bingol, a representative from the Piedmont Environmental Council, pushed a third option, one that isn't reliant on the Bi-County Parkway plans, which she said disrupts neighborhoods and will increase congestion in the county.
“We are here today to encourage you to consider a different approach – not 2, not 3C,” Bingol said. “ … Instead, let's address and prioritize, get the state to help us, with funding the countywide transportation projects that will reduce congestion, that eliminate bottlenecks and missing links.”
Loudoun County is not the final decision-maker on the Dulles Access Road plans. Like VDOT, the county simply recommends its preferred alternative, after which the Commonwealth Transportation Board will consider the recommendation. Finally, the Federal Highway Administration will make a final decision based on all the study.