Another study is underway to replace Woodlawn Road, the terrorist attack casualty. Introduced to Mount Vernon and Lee district citizens last Thursday night by the Federal Highway Administration, it was one more example of a seemingly endless process to many in attendance.
"The process is still open. It's not a done deal or this meeting wouldn't be needed. Often, although the solution seems obvious, we discover some changes. We are searching for input," said Jack Van Dop, project director, FHWA.
That input did not wait for the comment sheets to be completed. It centered around two themes voiced by the audience. One was skepticism of whether citizen input was truly desired. The other was why FHWA was pursuing alternative routes when several were already deemed unacceptable by the U.S. Army and Fort Belvoir.
"This has been an exceedingly painful process so far. And, it doesn't look like it's going to get any easier. The county's preference from the start would have been to reopen Woodlawn Road. But, we couldn't get there," said Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman.
"Why are you looking at four potential replacement routes when the Army has already said that three of those are not acceptable. Can't this process be shortened by eliminating those three routes? We now seem to be back where we started," said Frank Cohn, chair, Transportation Committee, Mount Vernon Council.
This was echoed by Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland. "I would strongly suggest that those routes unacceptable to the Army be excluded. No matter where we go [with the replacement road] we should not have a perpetual easement and run the risk of being back in a similar situation in the future," he said.
"If there's no chance of the Army supporting a particular option, we shouldn't spend a lot of time spinning our wheels," Hyland said.
THREE OF THE ROUTES to be studied by FHWA go through critical portions of the base. The fourth, Old Mill Road, skirts the northern edge of the base and is only contiguous to a small segment of military housing.
On the subject of citizen input, Van Dop was questioned as to why the community was not listed as one of the stakeholders by FHWA. "Nowhere in the documents on file do they discuss the public input," said Robert Brubaker, executive director, MetroPed.
Several in the audience, assembled in the cafeteria of Mount Vernon High School for the Woodlawn Road replacement scoping session, complained that they had sent in comments during previous sessions and never heard anything further. They questioned FHWA's sincerity in asking for input.
Hyland pointed out that Van Dop had represented FHWA during the discussions concerning traffic flow and parking relating to Mount Vernon Estate and the George Washington Memorial Parkway. He asked why the citizen representatives were not among the stakeholders listed.
"You [Van Dop] were very instrumental in making sure the community had a stakeholder role then and that problem worked out well for everyone. I would strongly suggest the community be included as a stakeholder in this study as well," Hyland said.
"We are all for them being a stakeholder," Van Dop said. "As long as no one objects."
THE PRESENT LIST of stakeholders includes, in addition to FHWA, four elements of the U.S.Army, Fairfax County Department of Transportation, and the Virginia Department of Transportation.
The announcement for the Feb. 17 "Public Information Meeting" listed five objectives:
* Allow the public to review alternative ways for Fort Belvoir to replace access previously provided by Beulah Street and Woodlawn Road.
* Satisfy requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act.
* Allow an exchange of information among the public, FHWA, and key project stakeholders.
* Review and expand upon the findings of a preliminary feasibility study conducted by the U.S.Army Corps of Engineers.
* Update the project mailing list, consider comments, and determine if the proposed scope of study should be modified.
As listed on one of the charts, the project schedule following last week's information session is as follows: NEPA document - late summer 05; next public information meeting - late summer 05; decision document - Fall 05; design 2006-07; right-of-way secured and permits 2007-08; construction 2008-09; opening 2009.
IN DISCUSSING the road design, FHWA consultant William J. Novak, office manager, HDR, said, "Right now we are studying for a four-lane road to replace the prior two lane Woodlawn Road. And, we are looking at a variety of roadway types."
The study is to be based on a potential 150-feet four-lane roadway with sidewalk, bike lane and a center median, according to Novak. "Originally, the Army said they would pay for replacing two lanes with two lanes. But, our congressional delegation said four lanes and promised they would get the money," Kauffman said.
"When this process [the NEPA study] is done, the government picks a solution and the design starts," Van Dop said.