– By Valerie Cury
Recent emails between Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser and Supervisor Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge) reflect competing philosophies on how to address Purcellville’s traffic congestion. Buffington has reached out to the Town of Purcellville with an offer to do a traffic study “designed to identify solutions for reducing traffic congestion and improving safety on Main Street throughout the town.” He offered to seek County funding for an internal transportation study in 2020, as part of the FY20 Capital Investment Program or CIP.
In Fraser’s answer to Buffington, he said that there is an urgent need for an updated Town Transportation Plan. Fraser said that Purcellville is already working on a plan with the Community Development department for an updated Transportation Plan with related traffic studies, to get quotes from vendors for first quarter 2018 for funding in FY2019. Fraser asked Buffington to accelerate plans for the Rt. 690/Rt. 7 interchange and the improvements at the Rt. 287 North/Rt. 7 West ramp. Fraser noted that these solutions have already been studied, and shown to significantly reduce Purcellville’s traffic congestion.
The proposed Rt. 690 interchange is located approximately two miles west of the Rt.7/Rt. 287 interchange, and would provide a more direct route to the northern and northeastern access points to Rt. 7. This would include traffic flow near Mountain View Elementary School, Woodgrove High School, parts of Purcellville’s downtown areas, and select neighborhoods.
Already in the works is a traffic signal at Main and South 32nd Streets, currently in the Town CIP. For this project, the Town has applied for VDOT Revenue Sharing Funds. The Town has been working on improvements at Main and Maple Streets, focusing on improving pedestrian safety, left turn signal phase, and drainage systems.
As part of the gateway to Purcellville, the Town Council has also been working on a roundabout at the intersection of South 32nd Street and A Street. The Town has also partnered with VDOT to make improvements to the intersection at Hirst Road and Berlin Turnpike (Rt. 287), as a way of taking traffic off Main Street. The Virginia Regional Transit park and ride’s commuter parking lot has been moved from Main Street to Hirst Road, reducing the number of buses on Main Street.
The traffic-relief measures that Fraser is advocating constitute measures that would relieve traffic without creating opportunities for additional growth. By contrast, it is unclear that the Northern Collector Road that Buffington is advocating would ever provide long term traffic relief, because it would spur additional growth and development, which would lead to further congestion, since it would go through currently vacant farm land.
The Northern Collector Road
On Sept. 12, 2017, the Purcellville Town Council voted to initiate a Comprehensive Plan Amendment to the Purcellville Transportation Plan, to remove the Northern Collector Road from the plan. The Town also requested the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors remove the NCR from the County Transportation Plan. Although Council Member Chris Bledsoe was absent, he sent an email stating opposition to the vote to remove the NCR from the Plan, feeling that the vote was rushed. Vice Mayor Nedim Ogelman strongly disagreed, and said that the issue has been discussed for a decade and was part of the political discourse during the last election. Ogelman added that Loudoun County citizens in and around Purcellville should make a clear statement to the Board of Supervisors that the traffic relief efforts should focus on the 690 interchange not the NCR. The motion made by Council Member Karen Jimmerson stated, “I move that the Town Council direct staff to initiate a Comprehensive Plan Amendment to the Purcellville Transportation Plan to remove the NCR. I further move that a request be sent to the Board of Supervisors to remove the NCR from the County Transportation Plan.” The vote was unanimous, with Bledsoe absent.
One of the reasons given for the NCR, as provided in a study directed by the Board of Supervisors, is that it is needed “for inter-parcel connection and future access, and should be constructed before 2040 … if and when significant development occurs on the north side of the Town of Purcellville.”
In a late December email to Rachael E. Holmes, the legislative aide for Buffington, Town Council Member Ryan Cool asked about the mention of the NCR being needed for inter-parcel connection. “Can you provide further detail about the parcels? I am assuming that you are talking about the Warner property, but I would like you to tell me the parcels in question,” he wrote. Cool also said that when the study was done, it had used the term “when” development north of Town occurred, and then was changed to “if.” Cool also said that, “Any argument from the County that is based on the belief that this road is needed because it has been on a map for years has no validity with myself and many others.”
The Warner annexation proposal will be coming to the Purcellville Town Council soon for a vote. The property is 131.3 acres, is on County land, and is zoned as JLMA-3. This means it can currently be developed at one house per three acres – approximately 40 homes. If annexed into the Town, the property owners will have access to Town utilities, and can build at a much higher density. If annexed into the Town, the property owners are asking for the following:
Up to 165 homes on 65 acres;
70,000-sq. ft. of Mixed-Use Commercial (a town center) on 11 acres;
Recreational uses on 22 acres – outdoor sports fields that will be used until market demands call for another use;
A 12,000-sq. ft. indoor sportsplex on 9 acres; and, 150,000-sq. ft. of industrial use on 24 acres.
Many residents think this is the reason why the County is pushing the NCR, as the study, dated October 2015, states that the NCR is needed for “inter-parcel connection,” and the proposed NCR would go right through the Warner property.
In an email in late November 2017, Buffington’s legislative aide Holmes said, “… Supervisor Buffington does not believe it is a good idea to begin removing long term transportation alternatives that have the potential of providing much needed future relief.”
Dr. Owen Brown, a resident of the Wright Farm subdivision north of Rt. 7, took a great interest in the NCR study by Kimley-Horn. Checking detailed model results found in the appendix of the study, Brown discovered that of the approximately two dozen Purcellville Road segments analyzed, nearly half of them show an increase in traffic if the NCR is built according to scenarios 5 or 6. In the other scenarios, the decrease in traffic is just a few percentage points, he said. “It is incredibly disappointing to me that the County is utilizing such a poor and unprofessional approach to transportation planning. I’m left to conclude that the NCR has nothing to do with easing traffic, but has everything to do with providing access to potential future mixed-use development north of Rt. 7,” said Brown.
In a phone call, Mayor Fraser said, “Looking at a GIS layered map, the proposed location for the NCR Scenario 5/6 will cut through floodplains, hydric soils, wetlands, drainfields, and forest to connect between Purcellville Road and Rt. 287, with no data showing significant current or future reduction in traffic congestion. The greatest impact on our traffic reduction would definitely be the Rt. 690/Rt. 7 interchange, as it would give our residents another exit off of Rt. 7. The residents of western Loudoun should not have to wait until 2022. I am looking forward to working with Supervisor Buffington to accelerate the Rt. 690/Rt. 7 interchange.”