Smart Growth Debate Flaring Anew in Fast-Growing Loudoun County, VA

Over the past decade, Virginia's Loudoun County has frequently ranked among the top 10 fastest-growing in the country -- a dubious honor for many local residents, who have watched their local elected officials veer from a full-speed-ahead rush of new development to an emphasis on smart growth and then back again, a dizzying back-and-forth that has revolved around competing visions for the future of an area often depicted as the quintessential exurb.

This month Loudoun officials are holding public meetings on the county's proposed long-term transportation plan, which includes a goal of transitioning to a "complete streets" strategy for transport planning but also proposes significant widening on no fewer than four local roads.

The privately owned Dulles Greenway as well as Route 7 and Route 28, both state roads would be expanded to eight lanes under the new county transport plan.

Leesburg Today, a Loudoun-area publication, attended a local hearing on the plan last night and reported that "the largest complaint[s]" came from residents who questioned why Route 606, a four-lane connector road that loops from Loudoun around the planned communities of Reston and Herndon, should be doubled in size:

“If I look outside my window I can see Rt. 606,” resident Vijay Doraiswamy said. “There is only a traffic build up during rush hour. There is a need for some expansion of this road, but not to eight lanes. I seriously question the data collected and the validity. These decisions affect us, and our families’ lives. So I think it’s fair to say that we too are experts when it comes to these issues.”

“My concern is the demand projections. We do need expansion, but eight lanes? That’s the beltway,” Chetna Lal said.

Residents who view the Loudoun plan as overly focused on adding lanes to major roads to the exclusion of smaller-scale community building have formed an advocacy group, Citizens for a Countywide Transportation Plan. An agenda outlined on the group's website cites the need for more street crosswalks, bicycling infrastructure, and "better bus service that provides alternatives to the massive east-west commuter nightmare of one person, one car."

As the battles over transportation and development in Loudoun start flaring anew, it will be worth watching the response from the administration of Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell (R). His attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, has publicly challenged the federal government's authority to regulate emissions and recently mocked the Environmental Protection Agency by telling a crowd of Tea Party protesters to "hold their breath" in an effort to reduce CO2.