By Renss Greene
Supervisors have voted to begin the first phase of improvements on Loudoun’s famously congested and accident-prone Rt. 15 north of Leesburg, starting with the complicated triangle intersection of Rt. 15, North King Street and the Leesburg Bypass.
To start, the county will modify the pavement already there to add another northbound lane between King Street and Tutt Lane. That work is expected to finish next spring.
The county will also work with the Virginia Department of Transportation to find an engineer to design improvements to the rest of Rt. 15, and with Supervisors Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) and Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) to continue gathering public input. The county will also ask the Town of Leesburg to help fund those improvements.
People living along Rt. 15 packed the boardroom last week to plead with supervisors to fix the road. Alfred McCusker talked about moving into the corridor and watching traffic get out of control.
“We’re talking about shattered lives here, and the growth is something that we had no control over,” McCusker said.
The latest push for Rt. 15 improvements came after a study of congestion gave the road failing marks. The consulting firm that prepared the study recommended a flyover ramp at King Street, a roundabout at Whites Ferry Road, and widening Rt. 15 to four lanes.
“This is a problem that’s been going on for a long time, so I think we’ve made incredible progress in a short period of time, quite frankly,” Higgins said.
The board previously also expanded the first congestion study all the way to the Maryland state line; that study is expected back by winter of 2018.
Supervisors Call Out Black, LaRock on Transportation Funding
Two members of the General Assembly also approached the board as advocates for improving Rt. 15: Sen. Richard H. Black (R-13) and Del. Dave A. LaRock (R-33).
“I won’t repeat the accident stats, but I will remind us all that these involve parents, children, and families,” LaRock said. “Let’s look at this from the perspective of residents who live near and travel Rt. 15. They want no more than any of us.” He pointed out that a functional road network was important for everything from home values to timely response by fire and rescue crews. “How did it get this bad? Obviously, the roads have not kept pace with population growth.” He urged the board to prioritize the project for funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.
Black pointed to work he did in 1998 to help construct turn lanes and other improvements on Rt. 15.
“I do stand with all of the concerned citizens on Rt. 15, and encourage you to do everything within your power to reduce the congestion and improve the safety on Rt. 15,” Black said.
But those remarks stood in contrast to their voting and campaign records—both Black and LaRock had campaigned against the funding Loudoun leaders sought to improve Rt. 15 and other county roads.
“In 2013, there was a transportation bill that actually started funding [the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority] for the first time,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “Some of the folks who spoke to us tonight didn’t support that bill or any of that funding, but they are now asking us to fund some of these things through NVTA. My point being with all this, the Commonwealth of Virginia has a heck of a lot more money than the County of Loudoun does, and has been here all the time with the responsibility of building roads.”
Letourneau was referring to 2013’s House Bill 2313, which for the first time created significant transportation funding for the authority by creating a dedicated stream of tax revenue from Northern Virginia. Today, the NVTA funds hundreds of millions in transportation projects every year through a competitive process—including, supervisors hope, Rt. 15. That project is expected to cost $85.8 million overall, $57.1 million of which could come from the NVTA.
Black voted against HB 2313 in 2013, and LaRock campaigned against it later that year in his successful bid to unseat one of its supporters, former Republican Del. Joe T. May. Another Loudoun delegate, Thomas A. “Tag” Greason (R-32), was one of the bill’s co-patrons, and others among Loudoun’s General Assembly delegation also supported the bill.
Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) concurred with Letourneau. Loudoun is one of few counties that build roads, and Buona pointed out that this year, transportation projects make up the largest share of Loudoun’s six-year, $2 billion capital improvement program, with $804 million set aside and planned for road projects. That leads schools at $640 million.
County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) was more direct.
“I think it’s rich, just rich, for a politician who campaigned against House Bill 2313 passing, who drives around a pink no-tax pig, to come here today and talk about money through NVTA which he fought hard not to have,” Randall said. “That is rich.”
She was referring to LaRock’s infamous giant pink “Tax Pig,” which he built and pulled around on a flatbed trailer to protest transportation funding such as for Metrorail or HB 2313.