Our View: Daylight for Va. 37?

Posted: March 2, 2013

Sit a spell and talk about Va. 37 with John Bishop, and you’ll get the distinct impression Frederick County’s deputy planning director for transportation would love to say the long-proposed, and sorely needed, eastern bypass will be built in your lifetime.

But Mr. Bishop is a realist. That’s part and parcel of his job, and he knows what it takes to get a project funded.

“It’s all about positioning,” he told us Thursday. “And politics, yes, but it’s really about who’s ready, and what projects are most ripe for funding.”

To the local motorist’s perspective, the 37 bypass — which last saw the planner’s drawing board in 1992 — is so beyond “ripe” it’s almost gone to seed. But it does remain on the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s six-year study plan, and thus is a candidate for funding. Eventually.

That said money — the cost for the road has been pegged at $350 million, but that, Mr. Bishop said, is a “loosey-goosey” planning figure — will come sooner rather than later was the intent behind Frederick County’s request that VDOT do an updated corridor study of the proposed 1512-mile four-lane highway.

Not only does such a study — a draft version of which was presented to county officials last week — account for new development and roads (e.g., Warrior Drive and Snowden Bridge Boulevard) and apply current road-building standards to the 1992 plan, but it also gives the county a revised planning tool as it continues the arduous task of piecing together the artery’s right-of-way. More importantly, in the eyes of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, it underscores — and, in a sense, reestablishes — Frederick’s intent to see the road built.

“First priority goes to projects contemplated in the six-year plan,” Mr. Bishop said. “This study keeps our project on the six-year plan. That’s pretty critical.”

So what might the future hold? That, Mr. Bishop said, “is impossible to predict . . . The next General Assembly could change things.”

And, speaking of the legislature, when asked if the Assembly’s recently approved roads plan might spring some money loose for the bypass project, Mr. Bishop said, “Theoretically, more money means more potential.” But he noted that Va. 37 did not appear on Gov. McDonnell’s list of road initiatives likely to benefit from passage of the legislation — even though the governor had, in days past, spoken warmly of the need for the road, most notably in this newspaper.

The county, though, will continue to “push” the project with local lawmakers, and it will exercise due diligence in offering commentary on the draft of VDOT’s million-dollar study. For instance, Mr. Bishop envisions taking issue — though not in a “pugilistic” way — with VDOT’s proposed footprint near the road’s southern terminus, which “impacts too heavily” on the anticipated Crosspointe development.

The final draft of the study is due this summer. Comprehensive traffic projections and complete engineering of the road still await.

And further than that? Pressed for a starting date for the first phase of construction — slated for that section between U.S. 522 South and Exit 310 on I-81 — Mr. Bishop said, albeit tentatively, “five years.”

But, he stressed, “we’ll be able to move the project in two to three years.” And therein may lie the key in this competitive arena where the “hardest part” is determining which road-building endeavors get the coveted state cash.

“Getting funded is easier, though, when you can move the project,” Mr. Bishop said.

And so the waiting game persists — and a lifetime hangs in the balance.

On Monday: Cobbling together a right-of-way “piece by piece, bit by bit.”