George Mason Boulevard, the much discussed road that began in 1995, is moving forward, but Mayor Robert Lederer wants to look at a few other options as the project progresses. "I do feel that we are doing the right thing by moving forward," Lederer said.
However, he floated the idea that maybe George Mason Boulevard should not be opened to traffic at all. Lederer noted that neighbors had brought up the possibility during an outreach meeting about the new road last week.
The road is proposed as a way to connect George Mason University with downtown Fairfax. Once it is opened, the southern end of University Boulevard will be closed to traffic.
The rationale for the change is that while both roads pass through residential areas, the Crestmont neighborhood around George Mason Boulevard is better designed to handle the flow of traffic with less impact on the residents.
During last week’s outreach meeting, Lederer said that the idea had come along to close University and not open George Mason, which he said would really be the only "win-win" for both communities.
Lederer suggested that staff study the issue, and said he was unsure if the possibility had come up in the past. "It may be ridiculous," he said. But he pointed to the remodeling plan for City Hall and the police station when the original plan had been to move the police station. But further study had found it better to leave the police in place, however with a new building. "We may find that something will come out of it," he said.
IF BOTH roads were closed, north-south traffic would need to use either Chain Bridge or Roberts roads.
The council seemed apprehensive about the idea. "I would not be in favor of closing both roads," said Councilmember Joan Cross. She noted that part of the rationale for the new road was to connect the campus with downtown Fairfax.
Councilmember Patrice Winter also said she would have "great difficulty" with closing both roads.
Councilmember Gary Rasmussen said that he would be open to studying the idea, only if it could be done by city staff. "I couldn’t see hiring a consultant," he said.
Lederer said that any closing for George Mason would not proceed without discussions with both George Mason University and Fairfax County’s Braddock District Supervisor, Sharon Bulova (D).
Lederer also discussed the possibility of building a sound wall "of quality" along either side of George Mason Boulevard. The wall would likely be built of brick or stone. "It’s not going to come cheap," he said.
Rasmussen also expressed opposition to the sound wall. He said that the City Council had already made a significant compromise with the Crestmont community when it changed the road from four lanes to two. Building the sound wall, he said, would set a bad precedent. "I think it’s just taking us down a road we don’t want to go," he said.
Lederer noted that the people involved have changed dramatically since the project began 10 years ago. "We’ve got a whole new community there, and a whole new council there," he said.
Lederer said the neighbors would also like a traffic light at the intersection of George Mason Boulevard and School Street, primarily to make it easier for pedestrians to cross the road.
Councilmember Jeffery Greenfield pointed out that there will already be a light at the entrance to the university and that may have the traffic-calming effect that the neighbors want. He suggested that the council wait until the road is opened and then determine if a light is necessary.
Winter suggested the a four-way stop at the intersection might also achieve the objective, at a lower cost.
Any of these additional ideas, Lederer suggested, should proceed concurrently with the planning for the road, which he said should not be slowed. "We’ll do it quickly, and we’re not going to spend any money," he said.
Councilmember R. Scott Silverthorne brought up the plan to install wireless Internet service citywide. Silverthorne noted that the project, which had been estimated to cost several hundred thousand dollars, had been left out of this year’s budget, but he is still hoping to move forward with a pilot version of it.
He suggested putting in the system in a couple public places like City Hall and Van Dyck Park, which he said could be done at 10-20 percent of the initial cost estimates.
The council took no action on the proposal, but it would need to appropriate funds before it could start.