Fraser and Buffington Present Competing Visions for Traffic Solutions

– 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.”

3 Comments

  • Supervisor Tony Buffington January 11, 2018 11:03 pm

    LOL! This story is exactly why your paper has earned the nickname “Blue Ridge Misleader”

    Maybe one day you’ll start printing facts without slant and let the people come to their own conclusions. But, that is doubtful given your track record…

    I’m the one who pushed for and received full funding for the Rt 7/Rt 690 Interchange and who had the $11 million dollar Rt 7/Rt 287 Interchange Improvement project added to the County’s CIP Program.

    And my only interest in the PNCR is to keep it on the books for future consideration at a future point in time after the 690 Interchange has been constructed. That way, if it’s needed we won’t have to go back and start from scratch which would result in a huge delay.

    And your fictitious storyline – based on zero facts and a clear misunderstanding of my strong record of support for protecting the rural, historic and scenic character of western Loudoun – that I somehow want to upzone and build out the land around the PNCR is completely false. And I know you know that…

    Again, this is why you’ve earned the nickname, “Blue Ridge Misleader”. Maybe next time you’ll call or email for my input before going to print. But, I doubt it.

    Grow up…

    Sincerely,

    Tony Buffington
    Blue Ridge District Supervisor
    Loudoun County

  • Gail Legaspi-Gaull January 12, 2018 2:58 pm

    It seems the headline to this article is quite misleading. When you look at what Mayor Fraser is requesting and what Supervisor Buffington has proposed (since at least 2016 according to his past newsletters) they are actually aligned. From the article, “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.” From his June 2016 newsletter, Buffington reported “The Rt 7/Rt 690 Interchange needs to be accelerated and the Rt 7/Rt 287 Interchange needs to be improved.” That is even the motion that was approved by the Board of Supervisors. So where is the conflict or disconnect? There really isn’t one, so there is no need to create unfounded divisiveness between what the town is asking for and what is happening at the BOS level. If it’s about the PNCR, Supervisor Buffington has not pushed for it. He has only stated that it be kept as a long-term transportation alternative, but agrees that it is not currently needed. One of the challenges of growth and evolution (whether at the county or national level) is balancing short-term needs with long-term ramifications. It is incumbent upon our leaders to manage that balance and that is exactly what Supervisor Buffington and his colleagues on the Board are doing. We have to look longer term and be prepared to best manage what will happen down the line versus only considering what is happening today.

  • Chris Bledsoe, Purcellville Town Council January 12, 2018 3:50 pm

    To clarify my position on the NCR: My email sent to Council prior to the Sep 12 meeting, when I was ill, was not simply that the decision was “rushed.” It was about transparency, that valuable term that is so often referenced by many on Council. Here are my relevant comments from that email to Council and staff:

    “There is an Action Item on the agenda for tonight that reads simply: “13.h. Northern Collector Road.””

    There are no supporting documents within the agenda packet and no supplemental agenda, therefore it would seem that no information regarding this agenda item has been publicized through official channels. I know we have received numerous emails supporting removal of this road from the Purcellville Transportation Plan; I don’t believe I have seen any emails or communication in support of keeping the road on The Plan. I am not sure how Wright Farm residents have surmised that the action item is to consider removing the road, given the lack of any documentation and that the entire item consists of only three words.”

    In principle, I do support the removal of the road for a number of reasons. Having said that, is there a deadline by which this decision has to be made? The County has indicated nothing would be done with this road prior to the planned 7/690 interchange and I believe that is years down the road.”

    More importantly, why was the public not properly informed? This Council has made a commitment to be fully transparent, yet the public has no information on this pending item. So, while I do support the removal of the road, we should not be hasty in doing so without providing all members of the public a chance to be heard.”

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