by Tara Slate Donaldson, Bull Run Observer

24 October 2007

“Tired commuters in Gainesville got a piece of good news on Tuesday – the Gainesville Interchange is now expected to start three years earlier than previously hoped.  Gov. Tim Kaine (D) announced on Tuesday that work on the intersection will begin in 2010, not 2013.

“Kaine said an agreement with the Federal Highway Administration will help with right-of-way acquisition, an expensive and time-consuming part of any road project.

“The interchange that links Interstate 66 with U.S. 29 has long been one of the region’s top congestion points. While the plan to reconstruct the interchange has been firm, funding has been on-again-off-again for years.

Brentswood and the interchange
“Funding for the project dried up several years ago, kicking construction into the far-distant future.   But in 2005, the Virginia Department of Transportation resurrected the idea by putting it back on its Six-Year Plan and partially funding construction.  Prince William officials at the time credited the controversial Brentswood proposal with embarrassing state authorities into funding the interchange construction.

“After VDOT had taken the interchange off its to-do list, developer Brookfield Homes approached county supervisors with a request to build 6,800 homes in Gainesville. In exchange, the developer proffered massive amounts of capital improvements, most notably, the completion of the Gainesville Interchange.  With no available funds for a construction project estimated at more than $180 million, supervisors were at least willing to listen.  Brookfield proposed that in exchange for the 6,800 homes, it would hand out hundreds of millions of dollars in proffers, including a promise to foot the bill for the interchange. With no interchange fix in sight, and traffic worsening by the month, supervisors agreed to let Brookfield proceed with its Comprehensive Plan amendment – the first stage in a long approval process.  But shortly thereafter, VDOT money began flowing in steadily, and that helped sink the Brentswood plan in 2006.

“At the time, several county officials credited the Brentswood proposal with bringing in VDOT money. One said the Brookfield plan had ‘essentially shamed the Commonwealth of Virginia’ into funding the Gainesville Interchange.   Brentsville Supervisor Wally Covington (R) also said at the time that without Brookfield’s high-profile offer to pay for the interchange, VDOT officials may never have funded it.  ‘I think really, the $100 million that came in (in 2005) was unprecedented by VDOT,’ he said.

Railroad crossing
“All of that put the interchange back on track for construction in 2013. The new agreement with the FHA cuts another three years off that timetable.

“The project is difficult and expensive, in part because it costs so much to buy the needed land in high-priced Gainesville, and in part because of the railroad tracks.  ‘The biggest challenge at the interchange has always been the railroad crossing,’ Coles Supervisor Marty Nohe (R) said Tuesday.  The railroad crossing has been the site of numerous crashes and derailments over the years and is the cause of regular traffic tie-ups as vehicles stop to wait while trains cross busy U.S. 29.   When the new interchange is complete, a flyover will allow vehicles to move over the tracks, so cars and trains no longer compete for passage.

” ‘I am pleased that federal, state and local officials have worked in a bipartisan way to bring additional transportation relief to commuters in Prince William County and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park,’ Kaine said in a written statement.  Sen. Colgan has been a tireless advocate for transportation improvements in this region, and these projects show we are making progress.’

“Western Prince William Sen. Chuck Colgan (D-29th), who is up for re-election next month, took partial credit for the speed-up, saying on Wednesday morning that he, Gainesville Supervisor John Stirrup (R), Del. Bob Marshall (R) and
Rep. Tom Davis (R) have all been working to find more funding for the interchange.

“Colgan said he wrote to Kaine last month, telling the governor that the 2007 budget compromise provides more funds for transportation, so the interchange should be moved up on the schedule.  ‘To me, that’s the number-one project in the state,’ he said. ‘To get that thing underway is going to be a big thing for us.’

“Colgan’s challenger, Republican Bob FitzSimmonds, issued a statement Wednesday morning accusing Colgan and Kaine of  ‘playing politics with transportation two weeks before an election.’

“But for others, the situation is nothing but positive.  ‘I’m delighted to see that we’re moving this forward three years,’ Stirrup said on Wednesday. ‘It clearly is the biggest choke point in Northern Virginia, if not in the whole metropolitan D.C. area.’ ”

Letter to Editor by PWCBG’s Ralph Stephenson

Potomac News, 6 November 2007

“It’s increasingly looking like last year’s controversial Prince William Board of County Supervisors performance ‘Brentswood’ may be coming again soon to a political theater near you — during the political sweeps after the Noovember 2007 elections.

“If Brentswood does return, expect one of last year’s main stars, Wally Covington, to reprise his role as political shill-in-chief for Brookfield Homes. Wally’s enthusiasm for this role is greatly strengthened by the fact that he’s a big landowner with lots of big landowner friends who hope to sell their land at a killing some day to big residential developers.

“If recent local news stories are any indication (see Oct. 24 Gainesville Times story on Gainesville Interchange), the biggest plot twist in the historically revised, delicately spun story line will be that Brentswood 2005-2006 was a good thing because it would have handed out ‘hundreds of millions of dollars in proffers, including a promise to foot the bill for the interchange,’ and the Brentswood plan’s very existence ‘shamed’ the state of Virginia into building the interchange.

“While this version of events is neither historically authentic nor logically feasible (adding 20,000 new residents and no new roads to an already heavily-congested two-square mile area cannot reduce congestion), it is appealing to Brookfield Homes, the financial backer of the performance.

“Go to the Web site, for more information. The information includes the following: Brookfield was not legally obligated to make any road improvements outside Brentswood, and even if it did do so, it was to be reimbursed by the Virginia Department of Transportation and county taxpayers.

“As George and Ira Gershwin might say: Wally Covington’s got starlight; he’s got sweet dreams.  Brookfield’s got their man. What [developer could ask for anything more]?”