More than 300 citizens filled the Little Theater of Mount Vernon High School Tuesday night to hear and view Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) proposals to widen Richmond Highway from Fort Belvoir to the Capital Beltway. And while plans may seem ambitious and on target, the reality is that actual improvement to the highway is still years away.
The occasion was billed as Study C of the Route 1 Relocation Study, and attendees were presented with charts, graphs, and highway plans that formed three rows from one end of the school cafeteria to the other. As Jeff Gordon, one of many in attendance, said, "It's a bit overwhelming, and it's going to take some studying."
VDOT officials gave an in-depth explanation of all the elements that are going into the undertaking known as the "Centerline Study." It calls for widening Route 1 from the Stafford County line to the Beltway.
Its three primary elements are creation of a sidewalk and bike trail on both sides of an expanded roadway, establishment of a median strip that would provide a safety island for pedestrians, and widening the roadway to as much as eight lanes in some areas.
"VDOT was directed to do this by the General Assembly, and it is supported by the Fairfax County comprehensive plan," said William C. Cuttler, P.E., Northern Virginia District location and design engineer. "What you see tonight is not cast in stone. We remain flexible."
Among those in attendance were state Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-36th), state Del. Kristen J. Amundson (D-44th), and Fairfax County supervisors Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) and Dana Kauffman (D-Lee).
CUTTLER POINTED OUT that each serves as a member of the project's steering committee, which is composed of "key state and local officials from Fairfax and Prince William counties.," Its purpose is "to ensure the study team is responsive to the needs and concerns of citizens along the corridor."
Both Hyland and Kauffman have supported the study. "Clearly, Richmond Highway needs improvement, and this study is a step toward that end," Hyland acknowledged.
Kauffman views the study as "the first corridor study that enhances economic development." He also sees it as a means to "gain better mass transit capabilities for the area."
The overall study has been divided into three elements:
* Study A covers the area from the Stafford County line to Route 123 (Gordon Boulevard) interchange in Prince William County, a distance of approximately 11.4 miles;
* Study B, the shortest of the three at 3.3 miles, covers from Route 123 to Armistead Road, Prince William and Fairfax counties;
* Study C focuses on the deadliest segment of the highway from Belvoir Woods Parkway to the I-95 Interchange, Fairfax County, a distance of approximately 10.5 miles.
In total the project encompasses 27.3 miles. But due to all the variables in each segment and the uncertainty of if and when it will ever be undertaken, no total cost has been estimated.
AS PART OF HIS presentation Tuesday night, Cuttler estimated that Study C alone would range between $206 and $278 million in 2003 dollars. But, as Hyland has pointed out, "I would suspect that we are looking at a time frame of 20 to 25 years before anything really happens."
Even Cuttler admitted, "We have not done any detailed design. We have not even addressed many of the issues such as the impact on properties along the right-of-way."
But he assured the audience, "We are serious about public outreach. We mailed out 37,159 post cards for this meeting alone."
Thomas K. Folse, VDOT project manager, said, "All options have equal standing at this point in the process. We need to prioritized the areas that will be built."
Folse noted, "Today, this highway carries between 35,000 and 70,000 vehicles per day. By the year 2025 that is expected to increase to 56,000 to 92,000 per day. Without improvement there will be a lower level of service in the future."
The next steps in the process will be: Location Study Report - Spring 2003; Steering Committee Report - Summer 2003; Consideration by County Boards of Supervisors - Fall 2003; Commonwealth Transportation Board Action - Fall 2003; and Final Environmental Assessment - Fall 2003.