Dispute on new parkway sparks conflict on sustainable transit

The proposed bi-county parkway between Loudoun and Prince William counties is dividing area officials who believe the highway will ease traffic and advocates of sustainable transit.

The parkway, which is planned to connect Loudoun County Parkway and the Route 324 bypass in Prince William County, will allegedly ease traffic in the west of Fairfax and will be one of the only major north-south highways in the region.

The parkway has become a politicized issue, dividing community leaders and county officials alike. President Cabrera recently expressed his support for the parkway, stating that it will have a positive impact on Mason.

This statement drew a critical response from Stewart Schwartz, the director of “Coalition for Smarter Growth,” an organization located in Washington D.C. dedicated to promote transit-oriented communities.

“We have been opposed to the highway,” Schwartz said. “We have long promoted a better way to grow in the Washington D.C. region. Our policy has been to focus on transit and transit-oriented communities.”

Transit-oriented refers to communities with more transportation options as opposed to standard auto-oriented communities. These options may include both public transportation as well as organizing communities in such a way that walking is a viable option. According to Schwartz, the best examples of these communities are Old Town Alexandria, the new Mosaic district in Merrifield, Reston Town Center and the new plan for Tysons Corner.

“These areas have high capacity transit within easy walking distance,” Schwartz said. “They have been shown to vastly decrease the amount of driving.”

However, Supervisor Michael Frey of Fairfax County believes that the parkway is the only solution to the inevitable growth the region will soon face.

“It’s absurd to think that we can have all of the growth in that area and not provide a north-south corridor for it,” Frey said. “We have Route 28 as a regional highway, and if you look at a map and start moving west and look for any other similar road, you won’t find it until you hit I-81.”

In addition to providing a much needed north-south route, Frey also believes that the highway will ease congestion in the west of Fairfax.

“If you look at Pleasant Valley Road in Centerville, the traffic is moving east while trying to find a way north,” Frey said. “There are folks trying to get to I-66 too. But all these people are trying to get to work, but we haven’t improved any of the roads in this area and we wonder why there’s so much congestion.”

However, Schwartz has a different idea of what contributes to the congested roads of Fairfax. In an open letter to President Cabrera criticizing his decision to support the parkway, he stated that Mason’s “isolated, suburban campuses without good transit access magnify our traffic problems.” He also said that the parkway would propagate auto-oriented development, which would worsen the traffic situation.

In Schwartz’s view, the younger generation has a tendency to gravitate towards cities with transit-oriented communities, and he calls upon Mason to embrace this future.

“If GMU is looking towards the future, we need to be looking at a more sustainable way to grow,” Schwartz said. “We strongly encourage major institutions such as GMU that are located next to high capacity transit to be a part of a mixed-use walk-able community and not contribute to making the situation worse.”

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