Some Republican candidates for Prince William Board of County Supervisors say they have a practical solution to area traffic problems.
Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, R-at-large, Gainesville Republican candidate John Stirrup and Brentsville Republican candidate Wally Covington, held a press conference yesterday at the Giant Food store in Gainesville. They explained their plan to ask developers to release or relocate proffer funds earlier in the new home construction process, in an effort to build or expand roads before new residents arrive.
“By the time we get the per-house amounts, the problem already exists because people are moving in,” Connaughton said.
As a result of recent meetings, the candidates have concluded that developers are receptive to their ideas, Connaughton said.
“There is an understanding that its in their best interest to help our citizens, who are also their customers,” he said.
Linton Hall area residents enjoy their new homes, Connaughton said, but have trouble driving on the surrounding roads. He said motorists’ frustration encourages developers to relinquish proffers so roads can be fixed to accommodate the massive influx of residents.
“The problems are so severe, that it’s affecting their ability to sell and retain people,” Connaughton said.
But Democrat Gary Friedman, Stirrup’s opponent in Gainesville, questions the validity of their statements.
“They would have to demonstrate that developers are willing to pay out proffers before they begin the process,” Freidman said. “I’d be interested to see if they can do that. It think the proposal is just being put out there for campaign purposes.”
Edgar S. Wilbourn III, I-Gainesville, said proffer dollars are already in place for the necessary road projects, although additional funds needed are temporarily being held up by the Virginia Department of Transportation.
He said along with Supervisor L. Ben Thompson, R-Brentsville, he negotiated with developers in special circumstances, such as on Glenkirk Road where five developers front one street. But he said for the most part, the Republican group’s plan may not work.
“They may not want to give up proffer dollars and jeopardize improvements in front of their own projects,” Wilbourn said.
Covington said the county could take out low-interest loans if developers can promise proffers on a time schedule, as opposed to when a “trigger” occurs, such as when a set amount of homes are built. In addition, funds for other projects on hold for various reasons could be reassigned to road improvements.
“We’re just trying to speed things up,” Covington said.
Whether or not the Republicans can mange to sway developers, Friedman also said their proposal would have only marginal affect.
“It doesn’t address the underlying problem,” Friedman said. “The problem is we don’t have a formal link between transportation planning and land-use planning, and until we do, none of these little Band-Aid fixes are really going to have any significant impact.”
Connaughton said if developers were hesitant to cooperate, the County could seek help from state legislators. Expanding roads and alleviating traffic as soon as possible was the main priority.
“This is a very viable plan, and it gets roads built much quicker than normal processes,” Stirrup said.
The tri-candidate proposal also included expanding the Virginia Railway Express parking lot at the Broad Run station and extending VRE service to Nokesville and Gainesville.
Dale Zehner, acting VRE Chief Operating Officer, said he agrees the project would be feasible with money for changes to the railroad, new stations, parking lots and new equipment. And although a study is in the works, he said no source for those funds have been obtained yet.
The three candidates focused mainly on the Linton Hall area, which is particularly congested and in need of attention, but with potential to become a model for other places.
But Connaughton’s opponent, Democrat Rick Coplen, echoed the words of Friedman, and he wondered why these proposals have come up only a few weeks before Nov. 4, rather than in the last four years during Connaughton’s term.
“It looks like an attempt to divert attention from my opponent’s abysmal failure to ensure that the construction of public facilities keeps up with the construction of houses,” Coplen said.