The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority approved the project agreement with Prince William County to build the Route 28 bypass Thursday night, but members acknowledged that a lengthy process is still to come before the project and its impacts are fully understood.
Del. Danica Roem, D-13th, cast the board’s only vote against the agreement, saying she thought other alternatives for the project -- namely one that would have extended Well Street through Yorkshire and created the opportunity for bus rapid transit along Route 28 -- should have received further consideration.
The NVTA’s approval was needed to release the $89 million that the authority appropriated for the bypass in May, and it sets in motion the initial design phase of the project, which is expected to last until 2023. The next step will be a request for proposals from the county for firms to design the project. The design must be 60% complete before the project can receive approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Earlier on Thursday, a group of smart-growth and conservation groups in the region released a statement calling for the authority to deny approval, citing what they called a flawed process and negative environmental impacts of the project.
“We remain deeply frustrated and concerned that massive expenditures of tax dollars are being based on such flawed processes without full, fair, and transparent consideration of alternatives,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Washington-based Coalition for Smarter Growth. The release came on behalf of Active Prince William, the Prince William Conservation Alliance, the Southern Environmental Law Center and four other nearby advocacy groups.
Another concern raised in the letter was the potential effect on a number of homes near the project site, including the Bull Run Mobile Home community. According to county staff, the bypass could impact 72 homes, about half of which would need to be purchased by the county, with others seeing partial impacts.
Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chair Ann Wheeler, who also sits on NVTA board, said the full impact would not be known until the design phase is complete.
“Part of the reason we want to get going with the design of the road is to actually find out what the impacts will be,” Wheeler said at the meeting Thursday night. “There is no way not to impact the people in this area with this project at all. So there will be impacts to residents, I think we’ve always known that, and the goal is to mitigate that and design the road and see what the Army Corps of Engineers have to say, and see that and make sure that people who are there are taken care of as much as we can.”
The authority’s approval followed an about-face from the Board of Supervisors last month, after the board initially rejected the bypass in August and sought to use the NVTA money to widen existing Route 28 instead. Only after the authority informed the county board that it couldn’t simply redirect the money for another county project and that the $89 million could end up going to projects in other jurisdictions did the board approve the bypass.
Loudoun County Chair Phyllis Randall, who also chairs the authority, took some of the blame for the confusion Thursday, saying she hadn’t been able to help a relatively new Prince William board navigate the NVTA process enough.
“The Prince William board is a very new board; it’s eight members, six of them are new. And shortly after they took office, they went right into COVID,” Randall said. “And so … I know that I didn’t spend as much time with new authority members as I wish I had or could’ve. And so there was some real misunderstanding of how this money works.”
Several NVTA board members prefaced their vote for approval with caveats that there was plenty of public input on the project still to be received and a number of steps before any construction work begins.