Loudoun County supervisors have narrowed their target location for a new Potomac River crossing—likely a bridge—to connections on Rt. 7 from the interchanges at Rt. 28 or Loudoun County Parkway.
The move was opposed by Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) and supervisors Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) and Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian), whose district includes the entire range of routes suggested by the board.
County supervisors last year voted unanimously to put a new river crossing in Loudoun’s Countywide Transportation Plan, at that time specifying that it should be east of Goose Creek. They also directed county staff members to evaluate possible routes for that bridge and the road to it.
On Thursday, Sept. 20, after a report by county consultants, they narrowed down their preferences for a southern terminus. As described by consulting firm Kimley Horn, the Rt. 28 connection could run northwest, generally following the path of the Broad Run and Bles Park Drive between University Center and Broad Run Farms to Bles Park at the Potomac River. The Loudoun County Parkway connection would continue the road north of its Rt. 7 intersection between Potomac Farms and University Center, again to Bles Park. However, those are corridors; no specific route is set out, and while supervisors have expressed a preference, the county is not limited to those areas.
Volpe and Randall tried at first to cut off work on a future bridge until attitudes change across the river. The Montgomery County Council in Maryland has consistently and unanimously opposed a new bridge.
“I am not going to tell our staff to keep using their time and effort to investigate something that isn’t going to happen,” Randall said, suggesting suspending bridge talks “until such time as there’s a reason to talk about it again.”
“I’d like to actually hope that we could work on things that we could have a chance of actually improving and having benefit and helping our residents, than a pie-in-the-sky situation when real analysis hasn’t been done,” Volpe said. She has expressed concern—as have some Loudouners—about a bridge’s possible impact on the people living along its route.
But other supervisors said Loudoun has to lead, or no bridge will ever be built.
“It’s elected officials’ job to try to set a long-term vision for our region,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run). “And yes, this road has been on the fifty-year plan for more than fifty years, but by golly those folks on Rt. 15 who were in this room could have used that road 50 years ago.” He referred to an earlier debate on plans to widen Rt. 15 to relieve intense congestion on the route of another river crossing, the Point of Rocks bridge.
And while Randall argued Maryland legislators show no sign of budging on a bridge, other supervisors disagreed. Board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) and Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said with Maryland elections in a few months, things could change.
“I’m not content to say we’re just going to sit back, because Maryland will never come to the table if they don’t think Virginia wants to do it, and they won’t know where Loudoun County is on this,” Letourneau said.
And Buona said bringing a new bridge in Loudoun—like bringing Metrorail to Loudoun—is about economic development. He said it would create a corridor to Dulles Airport “with tremendous economic opportunity.”
“You have to think big. You have to have a BHAG—a big hairy audacious goal,” Buona said. “… I believe that when the November elections are over, you will see—based on where I think those elections are going—you will see some impetus from some of the leadership in Maryland to take a look at this.”
Last year, Maryland localities showed a divided face on the prospect of a new bridge. At a meeting of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board in July 2017, representatives from three Maryland cities—Gaithersburg, Rockville and Takoma Park—voted in favor of plans to study the idea of a new bridge.
That study, contrary to previous studies on the topic, found a new bridge would bring small or no improvement to issues like road congestion, transit crowding, and housing. It also found a bridge would be harmful to the environment and roadway maintenance budgets. That study assumed a toll road connecting the Rt. 28 interchange with Rt. 7 to the Interstate 270-Interstate 370 junction in Maryland.
Previous studies have found a bridge could provide region-wide traffic relief, improve road network safety, and support economic development.
A bridge on any route is still a long way from reality. That project would require regional and federal consensus and money. That will likely be decades-long process.
“As far as vision goes, we have to get beyond data centers,” Meyer said.