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Neighbors Oppose Popes Head Road Project

On the map, the stretch of Popes Head Road between Ox Road and the Fairfax County Parkway looks like a straight shot. In reality, it's a twisty, narrow road with blind curves, dips, and trees growing within inches of the pavement. In recent years several fatal accidents have occurred on the road, prompting the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to designate it for a realignment, under the federal Hazard Elimination and Safety Program (HES).

According to Anne Buellesbach, children from all over the neighborhood come and play in her back yard. Since no playgrounds or parks exist nearby for the children to play in, she welcomes them. However, the project would eliminate the back yard because it borders the road.

"It's the spot for playing," Buellesbach said. "They're not going to be able to play in the back yard anymore."

Paul Buellesbach thought the road improvement would attract cars cutting through from Ox Road to the Parkway.

"It's going to increase traffic," Paul Buellesbach said. "They've already admitted that."

The Buellesbachs' solution was to add speed bumps and signs, while others in the community had plans for drainage improvements, rumble strips or lower speed limits. All sides of the issue gathered at Bonnie Brae Elementary School on Monday, April 11, as VDOT presented its plan.

LEONARD SIEGEL is VDOT's program manager for the project, which initially went on the books in 1998 and was re-examined in December 2001. At that time, the price tag on the project was $650,000. That figure has now risen to $1.8 million. Federal HES funds account for $1 million of that, with $800,000 coming from the county.

According to VDOT, 3,200 vehicles travel on that stretch of road every day, and it estimates that number will grow to 4,000 cars a day in 2015. There were 15 recorded accidents between Lewisham Road and O'Faly Road, where the Buellesbachs live. The audience didn't question the danger on the road but pointed to the speed limit and individual responsibility of the motorists.

"It's 30 miles per hour, but you have a hard time finding the signs," said Kathleen Maupin, whose property faces Popes Head.

Through the years, Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) has heard the safety concerns at Popes Head. She's been pushing for the road improvement for years.

"One of them had a 16-year-old die in their arms," McConnell said.

McConnell has encountered opposition with almost every road project in the Springfield District, she claims. When the Fairfax County Parkway went in, McConnell said she faced a lot of opposition for that road as well. The federal funding available for this project is not transferable to another county road project, she said.

"Any road you improve will increase the traffic," McConnell said. "If it's near their houses, they don't want it. With the situation as bad as it is in Fairfax County, we don't want to lose transportation money."

TO GEORGE STAPLES, Burke Station Road is an example of what he thinks would work on Popes Head. Burke Station Road runs between Little River Turnpike and Braddock Road and was used as a cut-through as well. Speed humps were put in, and the traffic numbers dropped, Staples said.

"There's a cheaper way to do it. The money could be spent better elsewhere," Staples said.

On a major road like Popes Head, McConnell doesn't think speed humps are the answer.

"I don't think VDOT would consider those for that road. We leave it up to the experts," McConnell said.

Gloria McCloud liked the proposal [to straighten the road] because it improved the drainage as well. In February, McCloud remembered when a car flipped after hitting a sheet of ice on that stretch of Popes Head.

"It's a very bad drainage problem," McCloud said. "It's a sheet of ice. There's just nowhere for the water to go."

The Green Team landscaping company is located on Popes Head as well. Green Team employee Scott Wilbur remembers an accident years ago, pointing to a spot on the side of the road where a tree was removed.

"There's been a number of fatal accidents. About 15 years ago, a teenager went into that tree and got killed," Wilbur said.

The proposed time frame for the project is to present the plan to the public and collect comments this spring, begin right-of-way acquisition in the winter of 2004, and advertise for construction in early 2006.