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Residents rally as Bi-County Parkway comes under fire in 2013

So many subplots in the battle of the Bi-County Parkway developed throughout 2013, it became hard to keep track of all of them after a while -- from GOP infighting over the road to the Virginia Department of Transportation hiring an outside public relations firm to smooth over tensions with the western Prince William County community.

However, a town hall meeting at Bull Run Middle School in Gainesville hosted by state Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th) and Gainesville District Supervisor Pete Candland (R) changed the dynamics of the fight and directly affected legislators' policies.

On a night chilly enough to warrant winter jackets and breath clouds rising in the air from the line of people waiting in line to enter the school, politicians and transportation officials alike heard an earful from hundreds local residents with one common message: don't build this road.

Sensing a sea-change of public opinions, local politicians lined up their complaints about the road.

At the same time, proponents of the parkway secured a major victory of their own with the landmark new transportation bill signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) including $10 million to fund further studies of the road.

In early December, WAMU-Washington reported that VDOT, the National Park Service and other agencies appeared likely to agree to deal that would allow for the 10-mile road connecting Interstate 66 between Gainesville and Manassas to Dulles International Airport in Loudoun County to be built on along the perimeter of the Manassas National Battlefield Park.

Part of the deal would including closing Route 234 inside the park "to all but visitor and local traffic," WAMU reported.

Meanwhile, almost every state and local elected official whose district included part of the parkway's proposed path in western Prince William came out against the core of the pathway suggested by VDOT with one noticeable holdout: Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart (R).

Perhaps the ultimate irony of the situation is Stewart's top ally on the roadway is the VDOT secretary Sean Connaughton, the former county chairman Stewart fought as a freshman supervisor from Occoquan over residential growth.

However, the Bi-County Parkway served as a catalyst for Stewart to have a freshman foe from his own party in Candland trying to block his own agenda.

That's led some of Stewart's former donors to call on Candland to challenge Stewart for the county chairmanship in 2015.

Opponents for the Bi-County Parkway can be broken down to three sets of major players: Candland, state Dels. Tim Hugo and Bob Marshall (R-13th), and the Say No! to the Tri-County Parkway group led by Pageland Lane residents Mary Ann Ghadban, Page Snyder and Philomena Hefter.

There are, of course, several other big-name opponents across party lines, including U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th) and a bevy of state senators, delegates, supervisors and school board members, along with local bloggers.

During his failed gubernatorial run, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) also spoke at a rally hosted by Snyder at her farm in Gainesville along with several other local politicians.

The man that defeated Cuccinelli for governor, former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe (D), declined to take a stance on the road during a forum in Manasas, saying he'd rather hear from stakeholders together in a room together.

Hugo though became the de facto leader of the opposition movement among legislators with Marshall also pursuing an end game strategy for the road.

With opponents quickly out-organizing proponents of the road, Connaughton, Stewart and the parkway in general received a boost of support from the regional Chambers of Commerce groups, the Northern Virginia Transportation Association and other business groups.

Those groups held their own information meetings and sent letters to legislators asking them to reconsider their opposition. Opponents charged those groups were backed by land developers who would want to build up properties along the parkway's pathway.

While the pro-parkway groups waged their own persuasion campaign, VDOT held a series of public hearings touting what transportation officials claimed were potential benefits of the roadway, such as decreased traffic on Route 28 and U.S. 15.

The big problem for VDOT though is that its advertising campaign backfired and became the news instead of influencing the news.

First, a Freedom of Information Act request by Marshall revealed in October that VDOT hired Stratacomm, a public relations group based in Washington, D.C., to sell the road to both journalists and the community at large.

The group's nearly $290,000 price tag upset activists enraged over a state agency using taxpayer money to persuade public opinion in a non-neutral manner. Connaughton argued that VDOT needed the extra manpower to deal with the road, which didn't exist in-house.

Second, door hangers promoting the road began showing up at homes in the county, indicating VDOT had a campaign-style ground game in order to build support.

Third, a cable television advertisement promoting the road on ESPN drew backlash from Hugo and state Del. Michael Webert (R-18th), leading to talks about the legislature scrutinizing the agency's budget more carefully.

Once the 2014 General Assembly begins on Jan. 8, Hugo and others have promised to push bills designed either to strike funding for the roadway or otherwise jeopardize the project.

McAuliffe announced his pick of Commonwealth Transportation Board member Aubrey Layne, Jr. of Hampton Roads to replace Connaughton at the helm of VDOT, meaning someone from outside the area would be able to take a new look at it.

Meanwhile, the Board of County Supervisors decided in December to set aside $100,000 to study the effects of removing the roadway from its comprehensive plan, suggesting there is plenty more to come in the latest battle for Manassas.


Seems like a lot of money set aside to do a study on a road that the majority doesn’t want….. To the BOS: I thought you represented us, the Loudoun taxpayers???? You guys/gals are no different then the previous BOS. Stop wasting our money…..

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