Op-Ed: A Better Balance Needed to Improve, Protect Rt. 15

By William Sellers

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, which stretches from Rt. 15 in Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, through Maryland and down to Monticello in Virginia. Loudoun’s segment of the 180-mile long corridor is one of the most beautiful and best preserved.

What is the purpose and value of a National Heritage Area and a National Scenic Byway? It of course is to preserve its intrinsic qualities—scenic and historic—that the National Park Service, Congress, and the President agreed in 2008 are important assets to the United States. The vehicle used to accomplish this goal is the JTHG Corridor Management Plan, which provides the structure for encouraging economic development and tourism marketing and supporting necessary road improvements. The resulting prosperity along the corridor provides a strong impetus for preserving its unique qualities.

Few sections of the corridor have surpassed Loudoun’s in building on these historic and scenic qualities to promote economic vitality, and the 12-mile-long section of Rt. 15 north of Leesburg has the most concentrated cluster of small businesses that showcase this success.  Tourists and day-trippers coming to visit the historic crossroads villages of Lucketts, Waterford and Taylorstown, National Register properties such as Morven Park, Temple Hall, and Rockland also enjoy this agricultural area’s farm stands, nurseries, cafes and fine restaurants offering local food and locally produced crafts, antiques markets, vineyards, wineries, breweries, pick-your-own farms, and equestrian facilities on Loudoun’s historic rural road network. This area’s three parks (with the new Springdale Park being added soon) and two boat ramps into the Potomac River provide a number of recreational opportunities.

Recent state tourism figures reflect that vitality, with a 4.6 percent increase in visitor spending, and a 4.8 percent increase in jobs and wages last year. The economic impact of the four-state Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area is $703 million annually, with $460 million of that coming to Virginia.

It is vital for Rt. 15 to be safely and easily accessed by visitors in order for that economic benefit to continue, and its current problems must be addressed. Like all who use Rt. 15, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership looks forward to a safer, less congested road north of Leesburg. Improved function of the highway meets the goals of historic preservation and heritage tourism as well as of commuters and residents. We support efforts by elected officials as well as county and state transportation staff to develop corridor-long improvements that improve its function as they preserve and enhance its qualities.

We have grown increasingly concerned, however, that the designs proposed by the county’s transportation planners, which do not follow the guidelines of the existing Corridor Management Plan, will result in the degradation or destruction of a number of historic and economic assets along the corridor—whose owners have relied on the plan in investing millions of dollars in businesses that depend on maintaining the historic and scenic features that draw their visitors and customers. Moreover, the county’s recent congestion report acknowledges that the currently proposed improvements will merely push congestion farther north, and that the concepts proposed will sharply reduce access to businesses and sites along the corridor.

The streetscape and road design improvements in the county’s proposals would destroy many existing natural and historic features and structures, such as fences and tree lines, instead of preserving and enhancing the natural landscape and built environment. The proposed improvements would also seriously impinge on several of the area’s historic properties of national significance, whose faithful stewards have requested our assistance in preserving them.

We presented to the Board of Supervisors and county planners on Aug. 31 the first steps toward a better approach to congestion relief and safety improvements. It will relieve the problems, preserve scenic and historic assets and property values, and promote the increased economic growth of Loudoun’s rural economy.

To create that alternative approach we engaged nationally known transportation engineer Ian Lockwood, the designer many successful highway projects across the nation and of two rural highway projects in Loudoun—the award-winning Route 50 Project and the new Hillsboro Traffic Calming Project, which broke ground this summer.

His approach will best balance the needs of residents, commuters, and visitors, and can be built more quickly and for much less money than the current alternatives being considered. We encourage Loudoun’s citizens and all who value Loudoun’s scenic and historic beauty as well as its rural economic vitality to support this effort.

If Loudoun County adopts this approach, we can look forward to a safer, less congested, beautiful Rt. 15 that residents, visitors, and future generations can enjoy.

[William Sellers is president and CEO of the The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership.]

4 thoughts on “Op-Ed: A Better Balance Needed to Improve, Protect Rt. 15

  • 2018-09-10 at 10:33 pm

    Sorry, Mr. Sellers, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have a historic byway and keep it the “way it was” and ignore the fact some 20,000 vehicles use it daily, and ignore the deaths and injuries on this road, and the inability of residents to get out of their communities. Perhaps you should do some research and you will find a great preservationist named B. Powell Harrison, who died around the time I moved to Loudoun in 2002. He fought to preserve 15, but supported the Western Bypass (Transportation Corridor) to get the heavy traffic off the road because he was a realist. He KNEW Loudoun was going to grow and 15 could not handle the traffic, and the number of accidents and congestion levels proves that. A number of Lucketts Ruritan folks supported this, too, as did I as a Maryland resident who co-chaired a group that advocated for new crossings, and backed them when I moved to Leesburg Unfortunately, your PEC allies and Maryland politicians killed this, and we’re stuck with 15 being the only road that connects us to Maryland other than the Legion Bridge. In addition, in 2000-01, when I lived in Maryland, former Rep Wolf secured an FHWA study and the PEc alarmed Frank’s constituents using phony alignments, so they breathed down his neck and he pulled the study.
    As a result, any time the WTC or Techway was discussed again, it was too hot of a potato for the politicians in either state to deal with. So, now, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors has stepped up to the plate to widen the road to just north of White’s Ferry and possibly put roundabouts further north. and, it’s examining a Lucketts Bypass, too. In addition the residents of Leesburg and Lucketts area are FINALLY speaking louder than the head-in-the-sand crowd who want to kill this idea in the cradle, like they did with the WTC and Techway. Shame that the realistic preservationists like Harrison, Andy Pittas and, Helen Casey are no longer alive to see this happening, and I hope your group won’t use your political connections with the Governor to kill it. Instead, you should be working with your Maryland friends to SUPPORT a new river crossing and express highway so we do not have to widen 15 further. But sorry sir, you can’t have it both ways any more. Something has to be done – -and fast

  • 2018-09-11 at 9:53 am

    My, my! Talking about wanting it both ways. Ken Reid, while on the Board of Supervisors, did absolutely nothing to make Route 15 North safe. It was not until Supervisor Umstattd took her seat on the Board of Supervisors for the Leesburg District, that action began to make the improvements necessary to make Route 15 North safer. Ken Reid, by doing nothing for the four years he sat on the Board of Supervisors, representing the Leesburg District, must take substantial blame for his refusal to act. So, what is worse, obstructionists who do not want to see necessary improvements to make Route 15 North safer, or a past supervisor, Ken Reid, doing nothing for four years when he had the chance to do something that would have made a difference? In my opinion, it is worse that Ken Reid did nothing during his four years on the Board of Supervisors. So, that is why I hope we never again see Ken Reid in an elected position. The Town of Leesburg and the County of Loudoun cannot afford to ever see him back. And it is why is was such a good thing for the Town of Leesburg and the County of Loudoun that Supervisor Umstattd was elected to the Board.

  • 2018-09-11 at 4:23 pm

    Another day another letter from the special interest groups trying to block Route 15 improvements. We have heard these lines before (over and over). Meanwhile, the under-designed Route 15 corridor continues to put our families in jeopardy. The traffic on Route 15 continues negatively impacting everyone’s quality of life and it is negatively impacting the entire region (both the local rural economy and Loudoun’s Dulles Corridor economy).

    Let’s put the risk that the JTHG speaks of in perspective:
    The few remaining historic fences (and buildings) can be relocated if necessary;
    The consultants, Kimley-Horn, have gone to great length to design a grade separated road preserving the historic landscape and adding certain features to enhance the beautification of the local streetscapes.

    Here a few links to:

    Overhead utilities would be put underground thereby IMPROVING the scenery of the corridor.
    How would improving Route 15 be a negative impact on towns like Waterford that are over 5 miles away and are drowning in cut through traffic?
    How would improving access to the area destroy Morven Park and Temple Hall or a boat ramp on the river?

    These special interest groups keep stating that improving the road in a meaningful way will destroy the economy of the area, yet they provide no specifics on how it would be destroyed. It seems to rational citizens that improving the road to allow for a safe and delay free transit of the area would mean MORE tourism, not less. As far as Mr. Lockwood’s “plan” goes, it doesn’t actually exist yet – the special interest groups want the BOS to delay improvements at least another 3 months so he can proceed with creating it after having 14 years to do so and producing nothing. For more information visit: http://fixroute15now.com/ian-lockwood-roundabout-gun-and-cartoonist-for-hire/ and http://fixroute15now.com/half-truths-and-continued-delay-tactics/.

    For the real story of what is going on here, visit our website, fixroute15now.com and follow us on Facebook.

  • 2018-09-13 at 7:48 am

    Mr. Reid (who is also posting as FixRoute15Now) has been working for the development industry since before he moved to Loudoun County, and has opposed every effort to build low-cost alternatives to the highway widenings that bring new housing development. He worked for developer Chris Walker to kill the Route 15 traffic calming project (side by side with Eugene Delgaudio), and in that case too created a Route 50 Project-lookalike website (like with the FixRoute15Now site) on which he railed against speed traps and “special interest groups” (which consisted of a majority of citizens supported by U.S. Senators, Congressman Frank Wolf, mayors, and supervisors). He also has been a dedicated opponent of public transit (with the strange exception of his vote for Metro), and of any efforts at historic preservation. Rep. Wolf invited Mr. Reid to attend a presentation on traffic calming at the Turner-Fairbank HIghway Research Center in 2007 after he had claimed that the Catoctin Coalition was responsible for the deaths of two siblings who died for lack of a guardrail south of the bypass split (which earned him a rebuke from the Leesburg Town Council). Mr. Reid declined.

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