Bi-County Parkway faces obstacles, debate heats up

A sign posted along Pageland Road in Prince William County Tuesday protests against state plans to build a parkway connecting Internet 66 with Belmont Ridge Road in Loudoun County. Residents would loose access to other local roads because of the project. (WTOP/Hank Silverberg)

MANASSAS, Va. – The Prince William County Board of Supervisors is withdrawing its support for the controversial Bi-County Parkway project unless a bypass north of Manassas National Battlefield is built as well.

The parkway would run just 10 miles connecting the current end of the Route 234 bypass at Interstate 66 in Prince William County to Belmont Ridge Road in Loudoun County. Current state plans do not include the second part of the project known as the Battlefield Bypass.

The board voted Tuesday as the debate over the parkway and the fate of a commuter road that traverses the Civil War-era battlefield ramps up. The area being considered for the Bi-County Parkway between Prince William and Loudoun counties is also home to hundreds of people — and the disparate concerns and varied stakeholders are complicating efforts to build consensus for the state-backed project.

Mary Ann Gahdban lives on Pageland Lane next to Manassas National Battlefield Park. She says the plan includes closing off routes 234 and 29 plus her road, which would cut off her farm and the homes of her neighbors from a direct route to nearby Gainesville.

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This map shows the proposed Bi-County Parkway in pink connecting Interstate 66 with U.S. Route 50 and the possible route of the Battlefield Bypass in yellow. (Virginia Department of Transportation)

“We want to see results, we don’t want money thrown down a rat hole,” she says. “That is what this is, a billon-dollar rat hole.”

“The goal for (Route) 29 is to get commuters (off) of 29,” she says of the state’s plans, which would add speed bumps to the two-lane road. Pointing to maps and charts on her dining room table, she outlines how the road leading to Chestnut Hill Farm where she lives, would be cut off.

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors has previously supported the concept of building the Bi-County Parkway and the bypass including relocating Routes 234 and 29 around the battlefield. But board Chair Corey Stewart says if the bypass is not included, they might reconsider.

“No way you can close off that commuter by-way until an alternative is built,” Stewart says of Route 29, which drivers use as an alternate route to avoid I-66.

But Stewart says ultimately, it is a state project and all the county can do is express opposition.

“If the state were to try and close down 29 prior to building an alternate route, we would obviously be in opposition to that,” he said prior to the board’s vote.

Despite concerns about the bypass, the Bi-County Parkway, a north-south route, is still vital to the region’s economic development, he says.

The decision by the board came just one day before a new report questions whether the parkway is even needed.

A coalition of environmental groups has used VDOT data to create a different solution to growing traffic congestion around the Manassas Battlefield and western Prince William County.

“In their single-minded focus on this particular highway, we believe they are ignoring much more important needs,” says Stuart Schwartz, from the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

Schwartz says the Bi-County Parkway would actually increase traffic on I-66, going east and west.

The group’s solution includes local fixes on Route 28 and Route 50 and an increase in mass transit that would included a short term extension of Virginia Railway Express to Gainsville and a long-term extension of Metro Rail to Centreville.

The groups detailing what they call “Substitute Solution” are The Coalition for Smarter Growth, The Piedmont Environmental Council and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

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