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Ground Is Broken For Westfields Interchange

Under a bright, blue sky in the April sunshine, ceremonial shovelsful of earth were turned over last Thursday to mark the groundbreaking for the full-cloverleaf interchange at Westfields Boulevard and Route 28 in Chantilly.

"Today is truly a glorious day," said Tom Farley, VDOT's Northern Virginia district administrator. "It's been a long time coming," added Bill Keech, one of the original developers of the Westfields Corporate Center.

The project is one of six interchanges being constructed along Route 28 courtesy of a public/private partnership agreement between Shirley Contracting Corp. and The Clark Construction Group and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

The first one, leading to the National Air and Space Museum Annex in Chantilly, was completed and opened in early December. Two others — Route 28 at Waxpool Road (Route 625), and Route 28 at Old Ox Road (Route 606) — are under construction.

Route 28 and Westfields Boulevard is the fourth of the interchanges to get underway, and the fifth and sixth — at Route 28's intersections with McLearen Road and Sterling Boulevard — will start construction in summer 2005.

The $26.7 million project in Chantilly consists of a four-lane bridge of Westfields Boulevard traffic crossing Route 28, plus two auxiliary lanes, with a trail on one side and a sidewalk on the other. The bridge won't touch Route 28, and traffic on both Westfields and Route 28 will be free-flowing.

The first step is to construct a detour interchange. Jon Harmon, project manager representing Shirley/Clark, expects it to take four or five months and be completed by fall.

Then work can begin on the bridge. East and west, it'll tie into Park Meadow Drive — where the groundbreaking took place — and Stonecroft Boulevard. Estimated completion date is fall 2005 or possibly earlier.

BESIDES FARLEY, Keech and Harmon, participants and attendees at the April 15 ceremony included Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), the keynote speaker; plus Capt. Bill Gulsby of the Sully District Police Station; Mike Post and Garry Palleschi with Shirley; Susan Shaw and Renee Hamilton with VDOT; Jim Larsen with DATA (Dulles Area Transportation Association); and Laurey Millspaugh and John DeBell of the Route 28 Tax District Advisory Board.

"Bill Keech and I go back to the days when Route 28 was a two-lane road and we were negotiating the locations of the interchanges," said Farley. "And now [we're] here to see the Westfields interchange being started, and we'll be here to see it completed and with traffic on it."

Farley praised Keech for his commitment to the area and for long ago "having the vision to donate [his land for] the right-of-way for the interchange." And Mike Post, president of Shirley Contracting, said the Route 28 interchange projects are "true public/private partnerships" to improve transportation in Northern Virginia — "and this interchange typifies it."

After Virginia passed a law in 1987 allowing localities to create special tax districts to finance transportation improvements, Fairfax and Loudoun counties took advantage of it, a year later. Together, they teamed with landowners along the Route 28 Corridor to establish the Route 28 Tax District, and Post acknowledged their years of work preceding this interchange.

"The Route 28 Tax District was the first of its type created in the commonwealth of Virginia and was the model for others to come on line," said Farley. "So the landowners also deserve credit for their commitment and vision." He also recognized the late Myron Smith of DATA and "how much he supported these efforts."

KEECH EXPLAINED how it came about. "In 1983-84, my partner Henry Long and I purchased 1,100 acres on both sides of Westfields Boulevard to create the largest, world-class, corporate office center in Northern Virginia, " he said. "We then put together a transportation plan that looked to the future growth on Route 28."

This blueprint made Route 28 a limited-access road and allowed for interchanges at Westfields, Willard Road and Route 50. Then Keech and Long got all the land zoned industrial or commercial, between I-66 and Route 6, to become the Route 28 Tax District.

It meant that 20 cents per $100 of assessed value would be added to the property taxes of those landowners. This money was used for debt service for the Virginia revenue bonds for widening Route 28 to six lanes and for building the interchanges.

"In 1987, we entered an agreement with Fairfax County and VDOT for an at-grade intersection for Westfields Boulevard — completed in 1988 — and to someday have a full-cloverleaf interchange at Westfields," said Keech. He then thanked all those in VDOT, Fairfax and Loudoun counties who "worked so hard to bring this to fruition."

He also expressed his gratitude to Shirley/Clark for its public/private initiative and to the Route 28 Tax District landowners "who'll pay for over 75 percent of these improvements." VDOT will fund the rest.

"It's appropriate that we're having a groundbreaking on tax day [April 15]," said Laurey Millspaugh, chairman of the Route 28 Tax District Advisory Board. "But we're happy to pay this tax because ... it shows how everybody can profit when we all work together." He also tipped his hat to Hobie Mitchell — "our cheerleader on the CTB [Commonwealth Transportation Board]."

Introducing Supervisor Frey, Farley said he's been "a real champion of the tax district and gave the landowners Fairfax County's support." Frey praised those who "saw the potential of this area and what Dulles Airport would mean for its growth."

FORTUNATELY, said Frey, in the 1970s and early '80s, "The Fairfax County leaders realized they couldn't grow the county only on the backs of the homeowners — business owners would also have to [do their share]. This is the future. If we can someday bring rail to Dulles, this area could emulate what's going on at Tysons."

Calling the new interchange an exciting project, he said he's happy to be part of it. "While the demand for services doesn't diminish, the ability of government to pay is restricted," he said. "But luckily, we've had a great private sector that's helped us change the course of history."

After having watched the Routes 28/29 interchange being built, Frey said he knows "what good work Shirley/Clark does, so I know this project will turn out fine. So in a little less than 15 months, we'll be back to cut the ribbon and see traffic on the [Westfields] interchange."