Zombie roads, bridges, and wasted tax dollars – oh my!

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    (Mark Warner is totally misguided on this one, give him a call and let him know! – promoted by lowkell)

    If you live in the vicinity of Northern Virginia (and even if you don’t, this still concerns you), you may have heard Senator Mark Warner on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU, reacting to developer John "Til" Hazel's push for Potomac river bridges beyond the Beltway. It wasn’t good news: Senator Warner, who often pushes for common sense and practical solutions, appears to have endorsed the idea of building new Potomac River bridges without studying the facts.  

    In 2001, Congressman Frank Wolf rejected the bridges after he commissioned a study of potential routes and realized the bridges and connecting roads couldn't be built without massive disruption of communities on both sides of the river. Then, a 2004 VDOT study revealed that few commuters would gain any benefit from these new bridges, and certainly not nearly enough to justify the cost.  

    Potomac bridges are a key part of building an Outer Beltway, a project revived by Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton. At the Coalition for Smarter Growth we like to call the Outer Beltway the “Zombie Highway” because it just won’t die – thanks in part to Mr. Hazel, who made a load of money buying up land before construction of major highway projects. The idea for an Outer Beltway was conceived in the 1960s, studied and rejected in 1989, then studied but stopped by huge opposition in 1997.  In fact, public opposition to the Outer Beltway was also a significant factor in the defeat of then-Governor Warner's 2002 Sales Tax, which included portions of the Outer Beltway in the package.

    Despite clear opposition, the Outer Beltway is back, but this time Til Hazel has VDOT Secretary Sean Connaughton on his side fighting for the highway. And here’s the kicker — besides costing billions of dollars, the Outer Beltway and bridges would do nothing to solve our current traffic problems. Instead, an Outer Beltway would open new land to sprawling development, adding yet more traffic to existing commuter routes. It would take money away from fixing the most congested areas in Virginia, as well as from the most pressing repairs needed for our road, bridge, and mass transit systems.  

    Meanwhile, Dulles Rail, which is critical to the economy of northern Virginia, is being drastically underfunded by the state. So far Virginia has contributed only about $250 million out of $2.7 billion to Phase 1 (from the Orange Line through Tysons Corner to the eastern edge of Reston) and nothing to Phase 2 (through to the Dulles airport). Secretary Connaughton recently rejected contributing $500 million to Phase 2, even as Fairfax and Loudoun volunteered to contribute more and toll payers are facing further toll increases.

    Back to Senator Warner. He has taken a deliberative approach in working for consensus solutions for fixing our federal budget and debt problems. So why endorse costly bridges (easily $1 billion each) and highways that will offer no traffic relief? With everything else Virginia is facing, this cost can’t be justified. If you’ve got two minutes, please give Senator Warner a call and let him know you oppose the wasteful Outer Beltway and outer Potomac bridges. We need to fix existing infrastructure, finish Dulles Rail, and invest in projects that link transit and development to reduce the choking traffic we have today.

    –Laura DeSantis is the Communications Manager for the Coalition for Smarter Growth