Editor: I’ve just read the article in Loudoun Now (“Route 15 Four-Lane Plans Draw Protest”), and wanted to correct some of the statistics Supervisor Geary Higgins presents.
He states that “Rt. 50 then had about 6,000 or 7,000 cars a day, today it’s about 8,000 or 9,000 a day in that area.”
In fact, Rt. 50 west of the Rt. 15/Rt. 50 intersection (Gilbert’s Corner) “then”—in the 1990s—had 15,000 vehicles per day in Aldie, and 11,000 per day in Middleburg (according to VDOT’s traffic volumes archives). VDOT claimed “then” that in 20 years it would have 30,000 vehicles per day—and that is why VDOT told citizens they must add bypasses around Aldie, Middleburg, and Paris (what they didn’t tell citizens was that they actually secretly planned multi-lane parallel highways both north and south of the existing roadway, which a VDOT employee leaked). Citizens didn’t buy VDOT’s public line, and called in Ian Lockwood to design a traffic calming plan.
What are the traffic volumes on Rt. 50 about 20 years later, after Lockwood’s design is on the ground? In Aldie, there are now 18,000, and in Middleburg there are 9,700, say VDOT’s latest (2017) records. Why? Either because VDOT’s projections were wrong, or because the road was never widened. Citizens chose a traffic calming design that preserved their communities and chose local small business and agricultural prosperity over the encouragement of more sprawl development.
Rt. 15’s volumes today are 26,000 in north Leesburg at the bypass split (largely due to the construction of 500 new homes just north of Leesburg at Raspberry Falls, Selma Estates, and Big Spring). After the Lucketts Road intersection, where occupants of 300 more homes at Village Green peel off, the volume is down to 19,000. Roundabouts have been built by VDOT—in Virginia—that serve many more cars than currently use or are projected to use Rt. 15.
Once again, VDOT and Loudoun County claim that there will be 37,000 vehicles per day on Rt. 15 north of Leesburg in 2040, and that is why we absolutely must four-lane the road. Indeed, past traffic engineers hired by the county predicted that, if Rt. 15 were four-laned, traffic congestion would be just as bad in four to five years as it is today only on four lanes instead of two; widening the road attracts traffic.
It would mean the end of the rural and small business economy that prospers because of this National Scenic Byway’s heritage tourism and agricultural vitality. Scenic byways are attractive, yes, but their reason for existing is the economic vitality they bring to a region. For the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area in Loudoun, that adds up to $703 million in heritage tourism alone. Farming (including vineyards, equine operations, farm markets, direct-marketing producers) brings in millions more.
The $87 million that it will cost to four-lane 3.5 miles of Rt. 15 up to Montresor Road—pushing the congestion out of Leesburg to points north, and encouraging more drivers to choose Rt. 15—is just the tip of the iceberg of the costs the county and its citizens will pay in the future with this monumental decision.
In September, the Board of Supervisors’ vote on the widening of Rt. 15 will be making a much more fundamental choice about the future of Loudoun County.
Gladys S. Lewis, Lucketts