Contrary to popular opinion the Kings Crossing redesign in the Route 1 corridor study is not off the table. It has just become more pedestrian and redevelopment-friendly.
That is one of the few positive results of the public opinion survey conducted on the proposed widening of Route 1. After three public hearings and various engineering design projections the citizenry has spoken. In one simple word, 'No.'
No to the widening of Richmond Highway from Telegraph Road to the Beltway. No to the VDOT version of the intersection at Kings Crossing. No to all the VDOT expansion concepts for the highway.
"The community indicated by their responses that they wanted specific improvements rather than an overall widening of Route 1," said Earl Flanagan, Mount Vernon Transportation Committee chairman and a member of the VDOT technical committee.
In tallying the responses from the public, VDOT found that answers to their two primary questions came back overwhelming negative —
* Question 1 — Do you support the overall project objective to widen and improve Route 1 in Prince William and Fairfax Counties? The response: 24 percent yes; 10 percent yes with modifications; and 66 percent no.
* Question 2 — Do you support widening the Study C corridor from Belvoir Woods Parkway (just north of Telegraph Road, Route 611) to the Capital Beltway Interchange? The response: 25 percent yes with modifications; eight percent yes; and 67 percent no.
YET, THE MOST controversial element of the entire stretch, the interchange at Kings Crossing, is not off the table. But the suggested design is far different than was originally proposed and could prove beneficial to all parties.
VDOT's original concept called for a grade-separated interchange. This brought forth objection from Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland and the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation [SEFDC]. They both contended this would stifle redevelopment in this area.
It appears that the proposed design of that intersection suggested by the SEFDC and Mount Vernon Council of Citizens' Associations [MVCCA] is the one that is most likely to become reality if anything is done, according to Flanagan.
That design creates a circle effect with Richmond Highway flowing beneath the circle and the north and south branches of Kings Highway flowing above. "This is considered far more pedestrian-friendly," Flanagan explained.
THE ARGUMENT is also put forth that this design would encourage redevelopment at the site rather than discourage it. "This design works in favor of the pedestrian not against them," Flanagan said. "Even though the vote was overwhelmingly negative and the study cost $7 million, it was worthwhile because we got smart," Flanagan insisted. He also predicted, "Once the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project is complete I think the new ramp will solve a lot of the problems."
He noted, "Right now traffic flows fairly well. If you go 45 miles per hour you can make it all the way from Woodlawn Plantation to the Beltway. But, improvements are needed at given intersections."
In analyzing the responses, the public wants improvements made along the corridor to enhance pedestrian safety but they are opposed to a massive redesign of the highway, according to Flanagan.
"There will be button signalization at various locations, such as the Post Office, where it does not exist now and other pedestrian- friendly improvements," he said. "And the bike path/sidewalk is still in."
According to Flanagan, "The community comments pointed to the fact they want specific improvements rather than an overall widening of Route 1. Primarily, they are asking for improvements at problem intersections."
ONE OF THE main objections to the reconstruction concept has been that by widening the corridor, primarily in the Study C area, many businesses would be adversely impacted with no realistic target date in site. Early on in the study Hyland had raised this point.
Following the Study C public hearing Hyland had expressed concern that the hint of taking property to extend the right-of-way with no construction target date even on the horizon could adversely affect both residential and commercial property values.
"This study is crucial to the development of both sides of the highway. It will have a dramatic effect on homes and businesses alike," he exclaimed at the time.
"We need to tell the people when this taking could occur with some reasonable amount of certainty. This could wipe out businesses or seriously damage property salability," Hyland said. "I would suspect that we are looking at a time frame of 20 to 25 years before anything really happens."
Hyland's argument was buttressed by a letter from the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce dated May 29, to Thomas F. Farley, VDOT district administrator. In it, Chamber Chairman Richard F. Neel, Jr., acknowledged the Chamber's support for improvements to Richmond Highway but raised concerns about the proposed plans.
"The Chamber strongly believes that the scope of improvements currently under consideration ... needs to be adjusted to take into account the community's revitalization goals and to reduce the adverse impact on existing businesses and residences ..." Neel emphasized.
He reiterated the Chamber's "longstanding position in support of three full traffic lanes in each direction. "The Chamber recommends elimination of the proposed seventh and eighth lanes because of the costly and substantial displacement of existing businesses and residences and the negative impact on economic revitalization efforts."
As for Kings Crossing, Neel urged VDOT to eliminate from consideration their Kings Highway Option 1, the grade-separated interchange. "This proposed interchange would cripple the county's ambitious Kings Crossing redevelopment vision for this intersection," he emphasized.
THIS OBJECTION TO widening the corridor in the Study C area has also led to an unusual philosophical split between Hyland and Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman, who has pushed for widening the highway to eight lanes in preparation for increased mass transit.
At the time of the public hearing on Study C, Kauffman had noted, "The other important element of the long term effect of this study is to gain better mass transit for the corridor." The results of the public opinion poll would indicate that option, an eight lane thoroughfare from Telegraph Road to the Beltway, to be dead on arrival at the VDOT planning office.
At a recent meeting of the Route 1 Location Study Steering Committee meeting Kauffman expressed his frustration with the opinion results to make no major improvements in the right-of-way stating, "If you don't have dedicated right-of-way in place, how can you have transit in the future?"
Kauffman also finds himself at odds with the Chamber's analysis of a wider Route 1 corridor. Following the Study C presentation at Mount Vernon High School, he said "this is the first corridor study that enhances economic development." He based that assessment on his view that it is a means to "gain better mass transit capabilities for the area."
IT IS NOW UP to VDOT to analyze the results of the opinion survey before they go to the Commonwealth Transportation Board this fall as was originally scheduled. But as Thomas K. Folse, senior transportation engineer and VDOT project manager stated at the outset, "We are not talking about building anything right now. This is just a study. There is no money for anything else at this time."