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Virginia Residents Weigh In Against Proposed 'Outer Beltway'

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Opposition to the proposed "outer beltway" dominated Wednesday evening's public hearing in Fairfax on Virginia's transportation plan.
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Opposition to the proposed "outer beltway" dominated Wednesday evening's public hearing in Fairfax on Virginia's transportation plan.

A public hearing on Virginia's six-year, $15 billion program to fund road and rail projects turned into a marathon indictment of one project in particular, the so-called "outer beltway," that has pitted homeowners and state Republican lawmakers against a McDonnell administration seeking approval of the highway plan in its final year in office.

Talk of the "north-south corridor of statewide significance" dominated the hearing at Virginia Department of Transportation headquarters in Fairfax Wednesday night, as one speaker after another stood at a podium a few feet from state officials and condemned the plan.

"I double dog dare you to try to put this kind of a road through Loudoun County's non-development area. They would have you all tarred and feathered," said Mary Ann Ghadban, a resident of Gainesville, where 100 homes could potentially be condemned in the highway corridor. "We are not going to stand for this in Prince William County. It's our rural crescent. It's our historic district."

The north-south corridor connecting western Prince William to eastern Loudoun, a concept that state officials have considered for years, runs between 1-95 in the south and Rt. 7 in the north. The proposed path arcs west of Dulles Airport and would potentially pave over 12 acres on the western fringe of Manassas Battlefield. VDOT officials have stressed the project remains in the early planning stages, but dozens of homeowners who flooded the public hearing claimed VDOT was ramming through the approval process as soon as possible without proper transparency.

"It's amazing how this road morphs. Its purpose changes and the name of the road changes," said Philomena Hefter, another Gainesville resident. 

Once called the Tri-County Parkway in planning documents, only two counties remain involved, Prince William and Loudoun. The counties have the additional lane capacity in their long-range master plans.

Residents of Pageland Lane in Gainesville showed up in force. They attacked the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) for allegedly proposing to close two roads (Rts. 234 and 29) cutting through Manassas battlefield before planned improvements to I-66 and the construction of a battlefield bypass will be completed, a step that would snarl traffic on already congested roadways. 

"People in the homeowners association that I live in... recognize the disaster this would be," said Mac Haddow, the president of the Western Prince William Homeowners Alliance. "When I described your plan to a member of our HOA in a public meeting, his response was someone is smoking the wacky weed. I don't know which of you it is. But the time has come to fess up."

Although state officials did not respond to the public comments Wednesday as they patiently sat in front of about 200 mostly unhappy attendees, CTB members and Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton have stated Rts. 234 and 29 will remain open as long as necessary to accommodate traffic.

Opponents raised a range of issues during the three-hour hearing: the north-south highway would cost too much, condemn too many homes, open rural land to development, and introduce more tolled lanes to Northern Virginia. They contend a four- or six-lane limited access, divided highway would benefit truckers and real estate developers at the expense of commuters seeking east-west, not north-south, congestion relief.

"These projects should be ranked by the reduction in congestion for the funds spent, and under that criteria alone the north-south corridor should not get a dime of taxpayer funds," said Prince William County resident Martha Henley.

VDOT will hold a "citizen information" meeting about the north-south highway on Monday in Manassas. State Del. Tim Hugo, one of several conservative Republicans who have publicly come out against the McDonnell administration's plan, said he sent out 9,000 invitations to local homeowners to attend the 6 p.m. meeting at the Hylton Performing Arts Center.

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