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.

  • stacey2545

    I grew up in Loudoun, currently live in Loudoun, and have watched the massive change in the county, thrown in relief by my infrequent visits home while I was away at college. It’s been awful. Several new schools opening each year only to be overcapacity two years later. Townhouse developments sprouting up like mushrooms. The growth has been exponential and yet the Board has tried to continue treating the county like it’s still small-town, while bragging that the county was the fastest growing in the country.

    A recent article (a few months ago?) in the Loudoun Independent talked about the horrible problem we have here in my neighborhood with people (often teens) trying to cross Rt. 7 with no pedestrian crossings. No crosswalks, no signals at the traffic lights. With the mall & apartment buildings on one side of 7 and huge neighborhoods and the movie theater on the other, there should have been pedestrian under-/overpasses put in when the mall was built 10+ years ago. Even bike lanes on the roads that cross 7 would have been a huge help.

    From what I’ve read on the local cyclist group’s website, there is a pedestrian/cyclist plan that was approved 10-15 years ago, but most of it hasn’t been implemented. Thank goodness the Board of Supervisors is finally starting to pay attention. Let’s cross our fingers that the widening of major arteries will include some cycling infrastructure (preferably a parallel bikepath like Fairfax has along Fairfax County Parkway).

  • Carleton

    Stacey,

    I am the staff aide to Loudoun County Supervisor Andrea McGimsey. She is the Supervisor for the Potomac District, and I know that she would love to hear from you about a crossing and bike lanes on Rt. 7. She can be reached at Andrea.McGimsey@loudoun.gov.

    On May 11, we are holding a community meeting to discuss bicycle-pedestrian access and safety throughout the Potomac District including a crossing on Rt. 7. Here are the meeting details:

    Date: Tuesday, May 11, 2010
    Time: 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
    Location: 21641 Ridgetop Circle, Suite 100, Sterling, VA 20166

    Directions to the Sterling office are available at http://www.loudoun.gov/directions/.

    Please feel free to call our office if you have any questions at 703-777-0205.

    Carleton

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