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Alborn: Connaughton Should Resign

Opinion

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton is going to the August 6 Prince William County Board of County Supervisors meeting.   I’ll give the man credit for guts.  (For full disclosure, I would have chosen another word, a part of the male anatomy that comes in pairs.  I suspect my Editor would have changed it to “guts.”)

I’ve been watching the local blogs and citizens groups prepare for his visit.  I still have my “No Bushwhacking” button from the Bi-County Parkway Public Hearing.  I remember capturing Delegate Bob Marshall on video when he stated that The Bi-County Parkway ‘Cannot Stand on its Own’.  I’m watching Northern Virginia elected officials line up with the folks who elected them against this project. 

What most of the citizen groups are asking for is reconsideration of the Bi-County Parkway.  They want the project stopped.  They plan to give Connaughton an earful.  It appears they are making headway as more politicians, local governing bodies, and decisions are breaking in their favor.  I think they are planning to ask for the wrong thing.

I suggest they should demand Secretary Connaughton to resign.  

Should he elect to pass on this suggestion, perhaps petitioning the governor to replace him would be an acceptable alternative.

The meeting on August 6 would be an appropriate venue for the announcement.  An apology for the “No Bushwhacking” remark and the egregious way the residents of Prince William County have been treated would be a nice touch.

That would really take a pair of…  well…  “guts.”

We were, to quote the Transportation Secretary, “bushwhacked.”  Such disrespect for residents of the Commonwealth is reason enough, in my opinion, for the Secretary to perhaps seek other career options.  

Any examination of the timeline surrounding the Bi-county Parkway, the misinformation, the shifting justifications, and the really bad attempts at public relations demonstrates , in my opinion, how perhaps one of the most important land use and transportation decisions in the history of Prince William County failed to consider the folks who will be most impacted by it:  the residents of Prince William County.

Let me be clear:  I am not necessarily against the idea of a Bi-County or Tri-County Parkway.  I was on the 2013-2017 Prince William Strategic Planning Team that included it in the Transportation Strategy.  As someone who spent years commuting to Tysons Corner, Reston, and other points north, I like roads.  What I object to is transportation planning conducted behind closed doors, apparently favoring business interests over local residents. 

I am one of the many Prince William County residents who are uncomfortable with the way execution is being handled.   I am now not as convinced it’s such a good idea.  Like many people, I need to be convinced. 

I suggest that the Commonwealth of Virginia needs a “reset” regarding plans for the Bi-County Parkway specifically, and perhaps Northern Virginia Transportation Planning in general.  The best way to do that is to simply replace the Transportation Secretary, and put a stop to the priority being given to something this important.  A few months won’t matter.  The Commonwealth can afford  to wait a few months for the next Administration to revisit the issue. 

This entire episode has significantly eroded the public trust in Transportation Planning.  To “fix” that, I suggest the Commonwealth take a look at the many fingers in this pie, and perhaps restructure the Commonwealth Transportation Board and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to eliminate any and all conflicts of interest. 

I’m not really fond of feeling like a pig at a County Fair, wondering which butcher is mentally “chopping me up” into tasty bits and pieces.  The idea of my County being similarly “butchered” doesn’t appeal to me.  I would suggest the Commonwealth look at the influence of the many business interests, and the groups they have formed, to advance the Bi-County Parkway to mitigate their influence on transportation planning.

It’s simple, really.  If you’re in it for the money, we simply don’t trust your influence.  We would rather hear from folks who are in it for their community.

Prince William County should not be looked upon as “pork” to be carved up for the favored few.  It is our home.

Business interests have put land use attorneys, public relations firms, campaign contributions, etc. behind their efforts to influence public policy decisions. The folks who represent them at various Boards, committees, or whatever are paid to be there.  It’s their job. 

The 700 or so folks who showed up at the Bi-County Parkway Public Hearing have jobs, families, school functions, and lives.  These folks are working on their own time to protect their community.  It’s their passion. 

 The only thing we have between business interests who wish to profit from public policy decisions and the folks who are affected by them are our elected officials.  The Bi-County parkway is perhaps the biggest test we’ve seen in a while to determine just who exactly those we elect to protect us really are protecting.  

I shall be paying very close attention to exactly who represents whom.

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