This Purcell Road work session spurred the question- what will this Tri-County Parkway (or Bi-County, or whatever it's known as now) mean for the rest of mid-county? If the Tri-County Parkway will bring such a huge increase in traffic to Purcell Road and therefore to the rest of our area, do we really want to build it and funnel all that traffic thru mid-county? Originally, years ago, this Tri-County Parkway route was one possibility out of many studied routes for a planned outer beltway that would provide an alternate route around Washington, D.C. Other corridors that were studied included one following the Route 301 corridor in Maryland that made a lot of sense. It would have split from Rt. 95 below Richmond and re-connected north of Baltimore if I remember correctly. It would have removed a lot of truck and thru traffic from Rt. 495, but folks living in the Rt. 301 area killed it. The bypass idea is also no longer viable in the 234 corridor for various reasons, but part of the road plan lives on. So we're left with a "back door" entrance to Dulles Airport that may end up just being a driver for development and a lot more traffic in mid-county.
The recent Planning Commission work session on Purcell Road brought out some important points that could prove to be instructive as we move forward in this process and in future planning in general.
The main driver for this project is not local community traffic. The total new housing possible from undeveloped land in the area under current county recommendations is approximately 300 homes, certainly not enough to require a new four lane highway when the Parkway already serves most of the undeveloped parcels. The driver is projected long term regional traffic increases.
There is already cut-through traffic on Purcell Road between Route 234 and Hoadly Road. Common sense dictates that four-laning Purcell and connecting it directly to the Parkway will only increase this cut-through situation, since faster speeds and a more direct path between Route 234 and the Parkway will be the result. Basically, build this road and they will come.
There has to be some consideration in the Comprehensive Plan for the quality of life of the existing neighborhoods that surround highway corridors. If a four-lane highway was built through an area such as the Purcell corridor between Route 234 and the Parkway, it might ease movement of traffic through Prince William from outlying counties, but at what cost to the local community that already exists? Should the “coming thru” trump the “we live here?”
Some examples of planned roads that thankfully weren’t built:
· An expressway along Rock Creek in Northwest DC. This road, which was well along in the planning stages at the time, was halted due to citizen involvement. The road, if built, would have no doubt provided faster north-south travel times. Few would argue today that the expressway would be more desirable than the alternative: Rock Creek Park, which is a jewel of a swath of vital green space in the nation’s capital.
· Whitehurst Freeway/Interstate 395 in DC. This planned extension of I-395 through DC, which was also stopped by local residents, would undoubtedly have improved flow through and around the District. The fact that it would have come at the cost of destroying neighborhoods that today are some of the most vibrant in the city eventually caused wiser heads to prevail.
These are just a couple of local examples, there are many more across the country. The point is that we need a balance. We need to move vehicles, but we also need to protect our land assets and take advantage of alternatives to building ever more lane miles of asphalt. We need to concentrate on public transportation, telecommuting, working from home, classified buildings, and land use patterns that utilize existing transportation capacity. In this way, our county can prosper by relying on all our strengths- our rural crescent; our large-lot, higher end housing; our bucolic, mid county area; and our more dense, transportation oriented east and west hubs. Only by maximizing and protecting all of these will we get where we need to be.
I think one important aspect of the whole process initiated by Supervisor Nohe this week of taking a second look at both the 234/Purcell intersection improvements and at the long-range planned new connection to the Prince William Parkway is how each component affects the other. In other words, when the Department of Transportation and VDOT were deciding on design requirements for this intersection, was the Purcell connection to the parkway included in the long range plan for the county, and if so was that taken into consideration for the design? It would seem that the expanded highway would result in higher expected traffic volumes and cause more capacity to be built into the intersection. If, after the public process, a decision is made to remove the extension and four-laning of Purcell from the plan, would the 234/Purcell intersection design requirements change (be downgraded)? These are questions that I think should be answered before we go much further on finalizing and moving forward on the 234/Purcell intersection design.
I think it's important to note that, although it may seem that MIDCO is often opposing projects or specific aspects of projects, we aren't against growth or development. We just want to see the growth happen where it makes sense and helps the county to prosper. Our county is blessed, in that although we have areas of intense density such as the Route 1 corridor and the Manassas area, we still have green havens such as mid-county and the rural crescent. We feel that it's important that we preserve this dichotomy as the county grows. There are plenty of places in need of revitalization that also have the transportation and service support readily available that we should steer new office and intense residential development to. This isn't a NIMBY situation, it's just good policy for the county, and especially for taxpayers.
While raw undeveloped land in the SRR area may be a good value (relatively cheap!) for the developer, it's not such a great deal for the taxpayer. When that office building or housing development on 1/2 acre lots is built in the SRR, the taxpayer picks up the tab for much of the road, school, environmental, etc., costs. The proffers simply don't cover all the costs incurred, particularly long-term costs. Revitalizing the more downtrodden areas can be a net gain for taxpayers, as the road and service costs are lower and taxes are higher on the newer, more opulent buildings. Not to mention the benefits of a revitalized area where each new project will encourage others to jump in with their best effort.
It all works together as pieces of a puzzle. We need the green areas and the concrete areas. If we do this thing right, we can keep taxes low, quality of life high, and this county can be the jewel of the Washington, D.C. area.