The proposed Bi-County Parkway is but one of the many transportation projects approved by the little-known Commonwealth Transportation Board.
In Virginia, a major transportation project goes nowhere unless it receives the support of the Commonwealth Transportation Board. This influential, 17-member panel holds its monthly public meetings in Richmond and is responsible for picking the winners from the state’s long wish list of road improvements. Despite its importance, however, the CTB receives little attention outside political and planning circles, its members—appointed by the governor—largely unknown to the general public.
But now the push to build the Bi-County Parkway in Loudoun and Prince William Counties is raising questions about who is making the most important transportation decisions in Virginia. The CTB’s support of the controversial, ten-mile highway plan is drawing attention to the makeup of the board, especially its Northern Virginia representative Gary Garczynski, a prodigious home builder, as critics contend the parkway would serve as a boon to real estate developers instead of providing congestion relief for commuters.
In the view of smart growth and transit advocates and environmentalists, the Bi-County Parkway is just the latest in a long line of costly highway projects the McDonnell administration has either started or seen through to completion, including Rt. 460 in Southern Virginia, the Charlottesville Bypass, and the Coalfields Expressway.
Who is on the CTB?
In an interview with WAMU 88.5, Garczynski attempted to refute critics’ claims that the CTB serves as rubber stamp for the McDonnell administration, its members disproportionately drawn from the financial/banking and real estate development sectors instead of transportation policy experts and engineers. Among its members are three businessmen, one accountant, two representatives of real estate development/management firms, three bankers/financiers, and the head of a company that builds truck rest stops.
“I would like to think that my appointment was a reflection of the fact that for 35 years I’ve been in Northern Virginia developing properties. So I have a fairly extensive knowledge in operating in the counties and cities and towns in Northern Virginia and am aware of where the choke points are and where the real challenges are for transportation,” said Garczynski, who said he would not stand to benefit personally from the construction of the Bi-County Parkway.
“So it’s not so much a formal schooling in transportation; we leave that to the experts, but the experience of working in the Northern Virginia district and having to deal with the impact of our [development] jobs on the region or the locality,” he added.
When it comes to home building, the Woodbridge-based Garczynski, the CEO of National Capital Land and Development Company, has few peers. He was elected to the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Homebuilders. But he does not see the Bi-County Parkway as a tool to open new land to development in Prince William's rural crescent and near Manassas Battlefield.
“I see very little, if any, development taking place in the majority of the area of the Bi-County Parkway section of the north-south corridor. Right now, the rural crescent exists, low density exists, the battlefield exists, and all I see is a flow of traffic going north and south that really needs to be addressed,” he said.
Earlier this year the Commonwealth Transportation Board accepted but did not endorse the findings in the Virginia Department of Transportation’s study of the 45-mile “north-south corridor of statewide significance” of which the Bi-County Parkway is one segment. After months of ferocious public opposition, VDOT decided to shelve the corridor study while simultaneously launching a public relations campaign to cultivate support for the Bi-County Parkway. Opponents argue VDOT’s rationale for backing the project continues to change, but Garczynski believes the justification has been consistently stated: the highway will help commuters in the coming decades reach emerging job centers west of Dulles Airport.
“I wouldn’t be an advocate for the north-south corridor and the Bi-County Parkway if I didn’t believe the job creation and the traffic numbers that we received from the [Metropolitan Washington] Council of Governments aren’t true. This road is going to be needed… in the next five to ten years,” Garczynski said. “If it is not built I believe you will see secondary roads continue to increase in volume to where it will continue to affect quality of life for people who have to make that north-south commute.”
“I am not going to deny I am in business to make a profit, but I’d like to think that whether as a homebuilder or a developer, we created the housing, we created opportunities for employment that are important to the whole fabric of what we’re about as a country,” he added.
Garczynski and McDonnell relationship
Since 1993 Garczynski has donated $58,338 to political campaigns; ninety-eight percent has been given to Republican candidates, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. The largest recipient of Garczynski’s donations is Corey Stewart ($19,000), the chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and supporter of the Bi-County Parkway. In 2008-2009, Garczynski donated $10,500 to Bob McDonnell’s gubernatorial campaign. In January 2010 the new governor appointed Garczynski to the Commonwealth Transportation Board.
“The last time I looked on my passport I was a citizen of the United States, and that gives me the right to contribute to whomever I want to,” said Garczynski, who said his relationship with Governor McDonnell does not bias his view of the Bi-County Parkway, a priority project of the administration and Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton.
“I could turn around and say the same thing of the opponents of the Bi-County Parkway. Where are those dollars coming from? Am I sitting here denying someone the opportunity of giving to the Piedmont Environmental Council or the Coalition for Smarter Growth. That’s their right just as it is my right,” he said.
CTB “lacks diversity”
One critic of the CTB’s current makeup says the board would be wise to include voices from the engineering profession as well as the smart growth/transit advocacy community.
“It needs to be more diverse and it needs to have, frankly, oversight from residents,” said Navid Roshan, a civil engineer who performs consulting work for the federal government. Roshan is the blogger at TheTysonsCorner.com, his own website, where he published a critique of the CTB for its lack of engineers and transportation experts.
“This particular project is a sort of a beacon light that is allowing people to see there are bad decisions sometimes made by people who are in a supposed field of transportation expertise,” he said.
Roshan says if the Bi-County Parkway is necessary, construction should be paid for by those who will benefit from it, similar to the special tax district established around future Silver Line stations in Tysons Corner.