Letter: Martha Polkey, Lucketts

Editor:  Loudoun’s new draft 2040 Countywide Transportation Plan contains a real shock for those of us who have presumed that the plans to improve Rt. 15 were not just to improve congestion (caused by queuing at the signals, more Loudoun development, and more Maryland traffic) and improve shoulders (to allow quick accident response), but to make it a model project for improving a National Scenic Byway in a way that celebrates entry into Loudoun’s beautiful rural area, with its vibrant and growing heritage tourism and agritourism-based economy (which brings $1.7 billion annually to the county in tourism revenue).

The county’s submission for $54 million to the NVTA last year (which the county only shared with citizens May 15) for the $81 million project to widen 3.5 miles of Rt. 15 contains a clue to what is really going on. It states that a goal of widening is to make the route “more attractive” to drivers currently using more eastern routes: “This benefit could be felt as far away as the American Legion Bridge carrying Interstate 495 over the Potomac River.”

So the county’s stated goal is not to solve congestion from current traffic but to attract even more traffic onto a newly four-laned, 3.5-mile section of Rt. 15 that will constrict into two lanes further north–with a two-lane bridge and road above it that Maryland will not widen (its priorities are more multimodal than Loudoun’s and its worst traffic issues are on I-270 and Rt. 15 north of Frederick).

Hold that thought, and read on. The draft 2040 CTP states that Rt. 15 is to become like Rt. 7: a “principal arterial expressway,” with access “only at major intersections.” (You can read it at http://envision-loudoun.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/CTP-FINAL-DRAFT-Loudoun-2040-Comp-Plan-2018.05.07.pdf)

This means no farm equipment, no roadside farm stands, no antiques markets, no school buses picking up children, no left-hand turns in and out of the three (soon to be four) parks, and certainly no left turns for mere property owners whose 120 roads, driveways, and entrances front the byway. This will mean the end of farming, the end of the scenic byway, and the beginning of the end of rural Loudoun–the goose that lays the $1.7 billion golden egg each year.

No farming equipment means no farms; no farms means thousands more houses. Bear in mind that the county’s staff wrote this chapter at the same time they were touting how closely they were listening to citizens’ concerns and desires for Loudoun’s future.

If this is not your vision of that future, you have until June 1 to comment on the draft Comp Plan. But don’t stop there. Be sure to send your comments to each supervisor and each planning commissioner.

Martha Polkey, Lucketts

Coordinator, Catoctin Coalition

6 thoughts on “Letter: Martha Polkey, Lucketts

  • 2018-05-29 at 4:11 pm
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    If any of this came as a surprise to anyone, they haven’t been paying attention for the last year. The go-ahead for getting something done, finally, despite decades of delay tactics by special interest groups like the Catoctin Coalition, has been one of the most visible and open processes I have ever seen, thanks to the support of Supervisor Higgins and Chair Randall.

    All the petition to the NVTA has done is recognized reality, which seems to be something that some people cannot do. The vast majority of stakeholders are for widening and the resistance of a small but vocal group of no-growth interests is finally getting drowned out. The last survey’s I saw showed more than 80% of respondents favored widening. Try getting 80% approval for anything nowadays…..

    It’s pretty disingenuous to say that widening this road will end $1.7 billion in agribusiness. I never realized that the entire county’s rural economy existed between Leesburg and Montressor Rd. Right now the 15 corridor is a pretty sad stretch of nothing that is prevented from actually becoming a huge agribusiness area by the massive daily traffic delays. Lets also not forget that there is a difference between infrastructure and zoning. Building a larger road to accommodate the traffic need does NOT mean that the whole corridor becomes a strip mall. The BOS could simply refuse to zone anything along the new road as high density which would protect the rural nature of the area while alleviating the delays and improving safety.

    • 2018-05-30 at 11:00 am
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      Mr. Locke correctly credits Supervisors Higgins and Randall for their efforts on behalf of congestion, access and safety improvements on Rt.15. And let’s not forget Supervisor Umstattd. The process by which this initiative is taking place is also unprecedented in its public engagement—but it’s far from perfect.

      I would counter Mr. Locke’s claim that contrary to decades of delaying tactics by so-called “special interest groups”, many of us concerned citizens have been involved in improving safety and access on this road for upwards of 35 years. Delaying progress is a misnomer and convenient fallacy used to mislead. To the contrary, we’ve been proactive. Reducing the posted speed to 45 from 55mph, advocating for a signalized Lucketts intersection, and reacting to recent fatalities by pressuring VDOT to complete rumble strips are several examples. If by special interest group, he’s referring to decades of community service, then I guess we’re all guilty. And, by the way, support for NVTA funding was ‘across the board’. We all want funding for critical infrastructure improvements.

      That said, wasting millions of those precious tax dollars to 4-lane 3.5 miles is NOT the answer. Monies would be better spent by improving safety, access and congestion to the entire 11-mile corridor.

      The writer is in error in referencing $1.7B in agribusiness income for the corridor. What Ms. Polkey was making reference to was a ‘portion’ of the $1.7B the county receives in tourism dollars that could be threatened. In addition, the claim of 80% of stakeholders being in support of a four-lane “solution” is unsubstantiated and dubious at best.

      A better way to improve Route 15 is through a traffic calming solution. Improved and widened shoulders, roundabouts at select major intersections, realignments of side roads at two critical junctures would greatly increase safety and flow while improving access. Maintaining a 2-lane, free-flowing rural arterial avoids the increased costs, environmental risks and induced demand that a widened roadway would necessitate.

  • 2018-05-30 at 12:27 pm
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    Oh, I agree that the whole 11 mile corridor should be improved. We need 4 lanes all the way to the bridge, some sort of bypass or massive roundabout around the whole town of Lucketts, as well as paved shoulders and better aligned/limited access points. Widening to Montressor is a decent 1st step since the money will never be available to do the whole thing at once. We have to start somewhere to fix the problem. This road will be widened eventually. The real waste would be spending millions of tax dollars on half-hearted temporary improvements that would have to be torn up in a few years anyway when additional lanes are added.

    And the 80% number is conservative. The outreach sessions I attended were full of people fed up with the delay tactics experienced over the years. My neighborhood of several hundred homes along 15 voted more than 90% in favor of widening. The vocal opposition seems to consist of a dozen or so landowners along the road and people from various regional environmental and historical groups who don’t want a single blade of grass touched anywhere for any reason.

    Lastly, I still haven’t heard a rational explanation as to how improving access for people to come into the county will hurt tourism……

  • 2018-05-30 at 1:24 pm
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    I suppose that I admire folks like Gus who continue to cling to the idea that US-15 is a “rural arterial”. It is in fact a major north-south route for local traffic, tourists, commuters, and commercial vehicles. According to the latest VDOT Traffic Data 2017, there are between 20,000 and 26,000 vehicles that travel the highway each day. Some of the things that Gus mentions seem basic to a roadway with this level of traffic (e.g. improved and widened shoulders, realignment of side roads). I suggest that making the road wider with a turn lane as a middle lane might encourage tourists and Loudoun County citizens to frequent the farmers’ stands along the road. Seems to me that potential shoppers would welcome a turn lane if coming from the north and trying to turn into Farmer John’s and other places of business. I imagine that many of these customers just keep going when faced with the north-bound line of traffic.

    To be honest, I don’t know which groups have tried to help, or which ones have just tried everything in their power to stop any improvements to US-15 north of Leesburg. My impression has been that it’s mostly people who don’t want anything done to the road who speak the loudest. My opinion is that these are the groups that the Board hears the most, and that has delayed proper budgeting for needed improvements. The traffic is here now, and much of it we have little control over, since it originates from places other than Loudoun. To ignore this in the name of protection of scenic beauty is short sighted, in my opinion. I suspect that people traveling through the area are less impressed by the scenery than they are the traffic challenges that they face going through the area.

    For me, I’m glad that we are finally getting funding dedicated to making the highway safer for all of us.

  • 2018-06-01 at 11:23 am
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    Good to see residents in Lucketts speak out because the Polkeys of the world are the ones who have delayed this for years and people have died and been injured and delayed. But this Higgins-Umstattd approach is not going to last long. The county needs to build a new bridge to parallel Route 15. Is anyone talking to Maryland? Why are Maryland drivers so brain dead and unwilling to pressure their own politicians? Maybe there are a lot of Martha Polkey types in Frederick County.

  • 2018-06-04 at 2:26 pm
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    Almost as long as the Lucketts-area citizens who make up the Catoctin Coalition have been working for improvements to safety, access, and flow on Route 15, detractors have been presenting the straw man logical fallacy (substituting a person’s actual position or argument with a distorted, exaggerated, or misrepresented version of the position of the argument) in response. Some of those same detractors worked to prevent the award-winning Route 50 traffic calming project, which improved safety, drastically reduced congestion, and helped promote the local small-business economies along that U.S. highway–at a fraction of the cost of 4-laning. The battles that the Coalition has had with the local VDOT office have been over that bureaucracy’s refusal to incorporate less intrusive, more effective, and less costly designs, which are supported not only by state VDOT policy (especially regarding roundabouts), but by the Federal Highway Administration, the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Institute, and by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The state has intervened at least three times in Loudoun because of local VDOT staff’s resistance to better designs. Eventually, I predict the state will take a stronger hand in directing the Northern District VDOT office to follow state policy. For those interested, here’s a study showing the additional accidents and injuries Northern Virginia citizens have suffered because of our local VDOT’s backward policies: http://www.iihs.org/frontend/iihs/documents/masterfiledocs.ashx?id=1848

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