In a 180-degree turn from the usual complaints about traffic congestion, a proposal to bring about "an 80 percent improvement" for traffic flow ran into stiff opposition last week as a result of action by the Board of Supervisors. Residents in the Huntington Avenue corridor cried foul over the board's approval of the proposed Telegraph Road flyover.
They received the support of Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland, the only supervisor to vote against endorsing of the VDOT/Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project proposal initially requested by the Board of Supervisors. "The Huntington community has taken a strong position against this proposal and I've supported their position," Hyland said after the vote on July 25.
In a letter to Hyland that same day, Mack B. Rhoads, Jr., president of the Huntington Community Association, the umbrella organization for several neighborhood groups in the Huntington Avenue area, stated, "There remains overwhelming opposition from the community" to the flyover design for the Telegraph Road/Huntington Avenue intersection.
Rhoads stated, in reference to VDOT's June 15 public meeting at Cameron Elementary School unveiling the new concept, as reported in the June 23 edition of the Gazette, that Huntington area home owners who attended that meeting "had nothing but negative comments ... written and verbal." He accused VDOT of misrepresenting the results of that meeting by stating, "The report says that the comments were mostly positive."
John R. Undeland, public affairs director for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project, had a different take on the June 15 public meeting. "What we heard at that meeting was support for the new plan. We did hear some concern about speed onto Huntington Avenue and we will develop concepts to deal with that," Undeland said.
"Various concerns are being listened to and the engineering design will be tweaked to address the speed issue. But, there is nothing to indicate that this design will increase the volume onto Huntington Avenue," he said.
THE MAJORITY of those attending the June 15 public meeting expressed support for the change in design which would replace the at-grade intersection with one that would encompass a flyover grade separation for both Telegraph Road and North Kings Highway, according to VDOT and Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman. This new grade separation design would provide access to Huntington Avenue and North Kings Highway from the Beltway outer loop and southbound Telegraph Road via elevated ramps.
Traffic signals would still be utilized to control northbound traffic on Telegraph road as well as westbound traffic on Huntington Avenue and North Kings Highway to northbound or southbound Telegraph Road, according to VDOT. The new design is "being recommended to substantially improve traffic flow, while reducing conflicts with pedestrians," said Ronaldo "Nick" Nicholson, VDOT's Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project manager, at the June 15 public session.
The design change was instituted as a result of a 2004 request from the Board of Supervisors to "reconsider the at-grade design for one that would encompass a flyover," according to Undeland. "We received a letter from [Board of Supervisors chairman] Gerry Connolly asking us to look at this possibility. We have worked with Fairfax County and the surrounding communities to make sure this interchange is safe," Udeland said at the time of the meeting, nearly six weeks before Rhoads raised HCA's complaints.
"This is the first time I've ever heard of an organization out to defend gridlock," said Kauffman who made the motion at the supervisors' meeting to support the flyover concept and in whose district the vast majority of the Telegraph Road Interchange exists.
"I don't know who Mack [Rhoads] has spoken to, but at the public meeting which was attended by folks from all over the area there was overwhelming support. This is a great opportunity and we'd be fools not to take advantage of what is in the comprehensive plan while getting the state to pay for getting it done now rather than wait another dozen years or so," Kauffman said.
He maintained that all the other members of the board agreed with him except Hyland "who had been convinced by the folks from Huntington otherwise." He compared the Huntington residents' objections to what he faced at the commencement of the Springfield Interchange project.
"Years ago I could have taken the same position on the Mixing Bowl Project not to fix Franconia Road. Not only did I support the Franconia Road project, I pushed them to fix it so we would have a road to move people during the interchange construction," he said.
"We have in our hands the one best shot at fixing this problem. It's a long-term viable solution. And, with the federal dollars we'd be foolish not to take advantage of it. I'm committed to it and we'll find a way to make it happen. Folks objecting to traffic moving too quickly is easy enough to solve compared to solving gridlock," Kauffman said.
THE PRIMARY CONCERN of the citizenry is that traffic coming off the flyover ramps onto Huntington Avenue will do so at a higher rate of speed than if it were forced to deal with signalization at the Telegraph Road/Huntington Avenue intersection. Rhoads, in his letter to Hyland, maintained that VDOT's only answer to this concern was "signage."
Rhoads' letter was buttressed by a July 22 memorandum to Hyland from Richard S. Hartman, Bershire Home Owners Association, Huntington Community Association, and former member, Telegraph Road Stakeholder's Participation Panel. In it he raised the specter of a conspiracy to "benefit only ... Lee District residents" in the supervisors' consideration of the flyover proposal.
"The fact that the design as presented at the public meeting [June 15] was only recently and partly developed [30 percent] lends some credence to the suggestion that the present concept of reference (a) to include Huntington Avenue, did not originate within the WWB organization," he stated.
He also raised several other charges, among them:
* Grade separation at Huntington Avenue was never considered appropriate by the stakeholder panel.
* Appropriate Environmental Impact Studies were not performed or provided.
* "There has been no apparent Mount Vernon District resident participation to date ..."
* The staff evaluation report of the June 15 meeting was vague as to pro and con comments and the positive and negative impacts resulting from the planned flyover design.
* The lack of any engineering design features to deal with the speed issue of those leaving the Beltway and exiting onto Huntington Avenue.
Undeland disputed the latter by stating that VDOT engineers were looking at various methodologies to slow traffic at or before the point of entry. "We will probably come back to another public input hearing early next year to address those concerns," he said.