A variety of critics argue that the 'outer beltway' isn't needed, while state officials insist that it is.
Virginia Rep. Frank Wolf is adding his voice to Republicans questioning the McDonnell's administration's plan to construct a major north-south highway in Northern Virginia, a bi-county parkway running west of Dulles International Airport and Manassas Battlefield that critics call an "outer beltway."
Two weeks after a group of six conservative Republican state lawmakers publicly announced their opposition, Rep. Wolf has sent a letter to Gov. Bob McDonnell "expressing serious reservations" about developing the "north-south corridor of statewide significance" between I-95 in Prince William and Rt. 7 in Loudoun.
"I am fully aware of the unique transportation challenges facing northern Virginia and have worked hard to make improvements to the region's transportation network. That said, I am concerned this project now seems to be on a fast track and many of my constituents are frustrated that they are not getting a fair hearing," said Wolf in his letter to the governor.
The Republican congressman's notice comes as the influential, 17-member Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) is prepared to accept the McDonnell administration's study (located here in PDF format) in favor of the multi-lane, divided highway at its monthly meeting today in Richmond. Among six concerns listed in his letter, Wolf cites a "lack of transparency" with the process.
"No citizen ought to wake up and find out that a decision has been made by people who are appointed, and not elected," said Wolf in an interview with WAMU 88.5.
The CTB's members are appointed by the governor. The board's Northern Virginia representative, real estate developer Gary Garczynski, declined to comment until the McDonnell administration formally responds to Wolf's concerns. Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton did not return calls seeking comment.
The push to approve the north-south highway has raised a range of issues in the debate over how Northern Virginia should deal with future traffic congestion that may come with projected job and population growth in the D.C. suburbs.
The highway could potentially absorb several acres on the western fringe of Manassas National Battlefield Park and displace about 100 nearby homes. The vision of turning Dulles Airport in a major East Coast freight hub has alerted homeowners to the possibility of heavy truck traffic using the expanded lane capacity to rumble to and from the airport. And smart growth advocates and environmentalists have raised an alarm over the threat the highway - and land developers who follow in its wake - may pose to the "rural crescent" in western Prince William County.
"You need transportation improvements, but the question is, is this one of them, and the concern is it is being rushed through," said Wolf. "There are many people who have moved out there since this was ever decided or talked about, not only in Prince William County but also in Loudoun County. You can see subdivisions have been growing up at different spots. They come out, they buy a place and put their life savings into it, and then all of a sudden they find out that something like this is taking place and they know nothing about it."
In an interview before Wolf's concerns went public, Sec. Connaughton pointed to recent residential growth as a reason why the highway is necessary, disputing critics who claim a new road west of Dulles Airport is unnecessary for commerce.
"The studies clearly show that the traffic up there is bad and it's going to get dramatically worse," Connaughton said. "We have not built the transportation facilities to deal with that growth. We are really playing catch up here."
"Anyone who drives on 28, anyone who drives on 234 and 29 in the battlefield, or I-66, the growth and the economic development has occurred where we thought it was going to occur but we have not built the [road] facilities," he added.
Congressman Wolf to Governor May 2013 by Martin Austermuhle