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VDOT Backs Away on Hunter Mill Alignment

Eight months ago, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) placed three concepts under serious consideration in a project to re-build the interchange at Dulles Toll Road and Hunter Mill Road.

But on Monday night, VDOT took a step back, and said that those three concepts are no longer necessarily preferred.

"The project staff is not locked in to any alignment," said VDOT project manager Jim Zeller. "We are very open to variations or changes."

Some local residents saw this decision as a betrayal. Bruce Bennett, member of the Hunter Mill Defense League, said VDOT’s actions are "unacceptable." Bennett said the three construction options that VDOT endorsed eight months ago represent the least impact on the surrounding community. Those options either leave Sunset Hills Road at its current alignment or re-align the road midway between the current alignment and Crowell Road, to the north. There is a swath of undeveloped land, a right-of-way, which would allow Sunset Hills Road to be connected to Crowell Road. Many residents are against this alignment because the right of way sits on the edge of their backyards.

But now, plans for that alignment are back on the table.

"We’ve spent time, money and effort," Bennett said. "Now they’ve dismissed everything we did."

ANOTHER CHANGE from eight months ago, when VDOT last met with members of the Hunter Mill Interchange Task Force, is that there have been significant cutbacks in funding. Although VDOT staff members were anticipating $37 to $40 million over the next four years, now there is just $4.6 million available. Construction of the interchange, before adding right-of-way costs, utility work costs or design costs, is estimated between $15.4 million and $22.3 million, depending on which construction option is chosen.

VDOT staff members now plan on meeting with a private consultant hired by the Hunter Mill Defense League. The thrust of that conversation will be over roundabouts, which the county said are not feasible with any alignment but the one linking Sunset Hills with Crowell. The Hunter Mill Defense League is in favor of installing roundabouts instead of traffic lights, in order to slow traffic. Then, in early 2003, VDOT hopes to hold a public hearing on the project.

But Thomson Hirst, who represents the nearby Lake Fairfax Business Center, said he would like to see more action on the project, instead of more planning.

"They’ve got $4.6 million," Hirst said. "Instead of putting that toward planning, they should put that toward something we can use. There shouldn’t be any more studies."

"All [$4.6 million] does is give us a design," said VDOT engineer Bill Cuttler. "Even though we don’t have the money to construct it, there still is a value to the community if we know what we are going to do. When the developers come in, the county will be able to definitely say whether they want to approve a development, depending on the road improvements."

A FEW PROPERTY owners are interested in developing some of the land that surrounds the interchange. Renaissance Homes has expressed an interest in building single family homes, by-right, on a nearby parcel of land. But some alignments of Sunset Hills place the road on Renaissance property. Renaissance recently asked the county to increase density at the parcel, in compensation for the homes that would be destroyed by those possible alignments. That request was denied by the county.

At Monday’s meeting, Chris Walker, the developer of Parkridge Center office park at the corner of Hunter Mill and Sunrise Valley Drive, expressed a desire to build mixed-use development at the center.

John Thoburn has also proposed mixed-use development at his Golf Park at Hunter Mill. Thoburn’s family owns land along Sunset Hills Road and would be negatively affected if VDOT sides with the Hunter Mill Defense League and decides not to align Sunset Hills along the designated right-of-way. Thoburn said option 8, the interchange option which keeps Sunset Hills at its current alignment and is favored by many nearby residents, would take out one of his family’s homes and would cut through his sister-in-law’s front yard.

"You’re saying, ‘We don’t want to take the right-of-way, but hey, let’s take out the shrub-man’s house,’" Thoburn said, in reference to last year’s dispute with the county, when he was thrown in jail for landscaping violations at the golf