Below are some of the issues, arguments, and tactics used by the special interest groups in their quest to block or minimize improvements to Route 15 and why each of them is misleading or downright false.
Argument: “A roundabout at White’s Ferry Road, with no additional widening, will solve the problem of vehicles backing up on the Leesburg Bypass.”
Fact: This has already been disproven by half a dozen studies. Two lanes can simply not handle the volume of traffic regardless of what type of intersection is there. In addition, adding a roundabout in this location would mean a solid, gap-less line of vehicles heading south in the morning and north in the afternoon.
Argument: “The public is not in favor of widening Route 15 and demands alternative methods to be considered.”
Fact: In every single community or corridor survey, which includes Loudoun County surveys and HOA surveys, more than 70% of the public has demanded that the road be widened in order to reduce congestion and improve safety. Even with hard numbers against them, the special interest groups continue to attempt to say that their ideas have vast public support. This is simply not true.
Argument: “What the corridor really needs is a series of roundabouts and other “traffic calming” devices. These will solve the congestion problem without widening.”
Fact: Roundabouts and traffic circles are two different types of intersections. A traffic circle is meant to allow entry speeds of 40+mph. A roundabout is designed to slow vehicles down to an entry speed of 15mph. Other traffic calming measures include speed bumps, trees, and sight line reductions. Slowing vehicles and giving them obstacles to get around REDUCES capacity which is the very problem we need to solve. Ask yourself this question – do you think that the problem on Route 15 is that vehicles need to be slowed down? To us it seems like vehicles are stopped for up to 7 hours per day. The last thing we need is to make traffic more “calm”.
Argument: “We need to do additional studies before making a decision. We have hired our own expert to present a plan and it is being ignored by the county and VDOT.
Fact: The situation on Route 15 has been studied at taxpayer expense 6 times since 1998 by a variety of qualified, non-partisan entities including VDOT, Loudoun County, and independent engineering consulting companies. Although each of these studies has suggested some differing ways of improving traffic flow, the one thing that they ALL agree on is that the road is horribly over capacity and the ONLY way to efficiently handle the volume is to widen the road. Adding roundabouts can in some ways help but ONLY if the road is also widened. In fact, the final study completed in 2017 made the case that roundabouts or lights generally handle the same number of cars in a 4-lane situation. However, a traffic light intersection costs roughly $700,000 and roundabouts cost $8 million dollars each.
The ONLY “qualified” person who has been on record saying that widening is not needed is an engineer hired by the special interest groups. Although he has designed numerous urban corridors, these have a completely different traffic pattern and much less volume than what we experience on Route 15. Even though he was hired by the special interests at the last minute as a last resort to slow down the process, the BOS has given him a month to complete his recommendation and present it to the board at the end of August.
Argument: “VDOT and the consulting companies hired by the county to study the road are biased towards widening and don’t listen to alternative plans”
Fact: The only thing biased towards widening is the cold hard math that proves 2 lanes cannot handle the volume in place now or after future increases. Contrary to these groups statements, VDOT is not some evil ogre out to pave over everything in sight if a less expensive alternative is viable. The consulting company hired by the county for the 2017 report spoke ONLY with the various special interest groups about what they wanted the road to look like. The logos of the special interests were even included in the executive summary of their report. They never even consulted the HOA’s or general public about their needs and STILL came back with 4-lanes as the only viable solution. This same consulting company was previously hired by and recommended to the county by the special interests. It was only after the results of the study went against their views that the special interests began trying to discredit them.
Argument: “All residents in the Route 15 corridor were not included in the process. Nothing should be done until these residents have been heard.”
Fact: For the last 15 months, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has been leading a public outreach campaign and facilitating a Route 15 Stakeholder Committee consisting of representatives from HOAs, businesses and special interest groups in the corridor representing numerous viewpoints. Residents not in an HOA have received direct mailers from Supervisor Higgins’ office letting them know what is going on and asking for feedback. The special interest groups, who are universally against significant improvements, have been included in every step of the process. In order to get a seat at the Route 15 Stakeholder Committee table, these groups claimed to represent the views of citizens in the area who are concerned about improvements. It is only after the plans for improvements were moved forward that they began arguing that some people were not represented. If this is true, who exactly were these special interest groups representing during the entire process?
Argument: “The HOA representatives are not asking their own residents what they want and are merely using their own opinions to shape the future of Route 15.”
Fact: The HOA rep’s have surveyed their communities multiple times over the last 15 months and have shared the feedback received in an honest and straightforward manner. In each and every one of these surveys, at least 80% and in some cases 90% of HOA community residents were in favor of widening. Most of the anti-widening opinions come from residents who are actively involved with the various special interest groups. Name another public issue today that gets 90% approval. I bet you can’t and neither can the groups opposed.
Argument: “We are not blocking improvements and have been working for 30 years at fixing Route 15. There is simply no money available to fix it”
Fact: We find this argument rather amusing given the current state of the road. If the results of 30 years of effort are the massive delays and safety issues we see today, then that effort at improvement has either been incompetent or disingenuous. Either way, the special interests have had their time to influence this road. Out of their effort, we have gotten a lower speed limit, “mumble strips” on the line, and very little else other than delays and death.
As far as available money is concerned, the special interests are very well educated in the process required to obtain that money. In short, in order to obtain funding a project must be finalized and shovel ready. In order to be shovel ready, the studies must be complete and concerns of the residents addressed. The tactics of the special interests to date mainly involve demanding mutually exclusive results like increasing capacity and maintaining 120 direct access points(driveways, parking lots, etc). They also demand that studies be done until all of their concerns are addressed. This is really a very ingenious way of blocking improvements while acting like they want those improvements to happen.
Despite what they would lead you to believe, the leaders of these groups are really “no-growthers” who want to ensure that the 15 corridor remains unchanged forever. They are fighting a zoning issue by blocking infrastructure. They are willing to go to great lengths and harm thousands of other residents in order to get what they want. They maintain that improving roads merely leads to more traffic and thus should not be done since it would merely waste money and lead to the same situation as today. Carried out logically, this would suggest that the interstates should not have been built, every US highway should still be a dirt path, and roads like the GW parkway should not have been built. It is simply an illogical argument that would cripple our economy if allowed to win the day.
Why don't they build a new bridge over the Potomac between Point of Rocks Bridge and American Legion Bridge?
Argument: “The real solution to the problem on Route 15 is for Maryland to build a new Potomac crossing (between Point of Rocks Bridge and the American Legion Bridge) that would connect Virginia’s Route 28 to Maryland’s I-270. Therefore, we should not make any improvements to Route 15.”
Fact: We at fixroute15now.com are in agreement with the special interests that a new Potomac crossing extending Route 28 into MD would be a great win for the region and take pressure off of both the American Legion bridge as well as Route 15. However, there are a few issues that will prevent this from becoming a reality any time soon. First, Montgomery County has its own groups of no-growth, NIMBY special interests who will fight tooth and nail to prevent this from happening, just like what has been done with Route 15 for the last 30 years. Second, in the last year, leadership from both the state of Maryland and Montgomery County in particular have made it clear that such a crossing is not in their 30-year infrastructure plan. This means that at minimum, there will be no extension of Route 28 and no new large-scale crossing before at least 2050.
All of this means that if we in Virginia want a solution to the massive delays and safety issues in our lifetimes, it is up to us to fix our own problem and expand Route 15 to handle the volume that uses it today and that will continue to use it for the foreseeable future. Contrary to what the special interests are portraying, this does NOT mean that we or anyone else favors turning Route 15 into a massive expressway to serve as the outer beltway. We are simply demanding that the road be expanded into the true regional interstate commerce corridor that it is, not the “rural arterial” byway fantasy that some are trying to hold onto. Route 15 has not been a rural arterial road for several decades and it is time to recognize reality rather than cling to the past.
Argument: “Expanding Route 15 is pointless since it will always end at a 2 lane bridge at Point of Rocks (POR).”
Fact: This is an argument that you will hear very often and it is designed to create a Chicken or the Egg scenario which results in nothing being done. Maryland is well aware that the POR bridge is in need of extensive repairs and expansion, however, their argument is why build a 4 lane bridge that ends at a 2 lane road. While this stalemate continues, the traffic and safety issues are all on the Virginia side of the river. Expanding Route 15 will accomplish several things in this regard. First, we all agree that Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania commuters comprise a large percentage of the daily traffic on Route 15 (10,000+ commuters = 20,000+ trips). The further north that we can push the gridlock, the less Virginians will be affected. Pushing the choke point all the way to the river would mean that the bridge becomes the last bottleneck, which would then drive Maryland to make improvements once their own citizens demand that action be taken. Meanwhile, by expanding Route 15 to 4 lanes all the way to the river and placing a signal at Lovettsville Road that stops southbound traffic so that vehicles can turn left from Route 15, we have effectively created a situation that eliminates gridlock for the vast majority of the Virginia corridor.
Argument: “Expanding Route 15 would destroy the rural economy and historic nature of the area.”
Fact: Lets break this argument into two parts. First, the rural economy – the no-growth special interests love pointing to a dubious statistic that they have created which states that improving infrastructure in the corridor would lead to a $700 million dollar loss of economic activity. Think about that logically for a minute. How would expanding infrastructure and making it easier for people to get to the vineyards, breweries, and rural entertainment, all of which is set well back from the road and not directly affected by expansion, going to HURT the economy? Bluemont, Great Country Farms, and the breweries/wineries in that area are flourishing since Route 7 was expanded. The same could happen in the 15 corridor. The only place where numerous significant buildings, not historical ones but buildings nonetheless, could be in jeopardy is in downtown Lucketts, which in itself could be avoided if the special interests weren’t also against a bypass around the village.
Second, the history of the area – A perusing of the Loudoun Country Historic Landmark directory as well as a careful examination of satellite imagery of the area, shows exactly ZERO historic structures or buildings that would be affected in any way given proper road design. Keep in mind that “old” does not equal “historic”. This argument simply does not hold water once the facts are examined.
Argument: “Expanding the road will cause developers to turn the entire corridor into one giant tract home neighborhood or strip mall.”
Fact: When you hear this, you can rest assured that you are dealing with a no-growther. No argument fully encapsulates their true intentions more than this one. They simply do not want more people here because more people would ruin what they like about the area. The problem with this argument is that developing the land is a zoning issue, fully controlled by the Board of Supervisors, and completely separate from the state of the road. The special interests are attempting to fight even the possibility of a zoning change by blocking needed and unrelated infrastructure improvements demanded by thousands of residents and commuters. We respect their wishes to not “Fairfaxify” Loudoun County, however this is a fight that needs to be had against future zoning changes, NOT during development of crucial public infrastructure.
Argument: “Expanding the road will cut off access to the residents and farms along the road.”
Fact: One of the favorite demands of the special interests is that in any expansion of Route 15, all 120 current direct access points – driveways, dirt roads, parking lots, etc – be maintained as direct access points. They will state that we who favor a true fix to Route 15 want to “cut off access” to many of these people. This is simply not true. We at fixroute15now.com want consolidated access points which funnel many of the side streets and driveways into a much smaller number of intersections. Reducing “direct” access is not the same as cutting access off. Consolidated access points will make the road safer and allow for greater capacity.
These are just some of the arguments that the special interest groups are making. They don’t want to acknowledge the basic science of road engineering. The County has created a website where many Route 15 documents can be found http://loudoun.gov/route15