The future road network of PW County

Across the country, local officials in expanding communities have been trapped in a never-ending game.  Every time roads are widened, traffic jams are reduced… until new houses are built at the periphery of the road system, creating more congestion. 

Look at I-66.  After widening it to Gainesville, we just moved the traffic jam west from the “old” Route 234/Sudley Road interchange to the “new” Route 234 interchange, and then again to the Route 29 interchange.

Where does it stop?  There’s an answer staring us in the face.

After every surge of subdivisions, there’s a new clot of congestion.  That’s when county officials blame Richmond for not funding the new road capacity needed by those new residents, and then propose a new county bond issue so local taxpayers can build new roads for those new residents.    

It’s obvious that we can’t afford to keep building new roads, more new roads, and even more new roads forever.  The cost to make it possible for residents in Culpeper or Front Royal to drive at 55mph  (or even 35mph) to Tyson’s Corner is unrealistic.   

However, don’t expect county officials to give you an honest assessment or plan for the future road network of PW County.  The Planning Commission and Board of County Supervisors will tell us that we can keep building and building and building… and by 2030, PW County will have added 700 more lanemiles.  

While that may be hyper-unrealistic, I don’t expect a PW County politician seeking future votes to cut any project from the $3 billion road plan in the Transportation Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan.   Candidates feel obliged to make those oldie-but-goodie “elect me, I will fix transportation” promises every year.

So what is realistic?  The question we may be able to answer is not where, but when will new road construction stop.   

VDOT predicts costs for infrastructure (especially bridge) maintainance will consume all transportation tax revenues starting in FY2010.   To build the road network to support the “mixed use designation areas” proposed in the latest drafts of the 2030 Comprehensive Plan, we’ll have to increase taxes – or cut existing services and redirect funding to transportation. 

Listen closely in the campaigns for state offices this Fall, and you won’t hear what taxes will be increased.  You won’t hear what services will be cut.  Everyone we elect will fix transportation by fiscal magic. 

Planning transportation may be a game of political theater and musical chairs, but the music is about to stop.  Even if Virginia gets $800 million in one-time Obama stimulus money for transportation improvements, major new construction stops very soon. 

Whatever road network exists in 2010 – get used to it.  Those roads, plus a few new lanemiles funded by the 2006 road bond, define the shape of PW County’s future highway system.

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