It isn’t going away. For residents of the Crestmont community off Chain Bridge Road in Fairfax, the City Council’s vote to hold off building a sound wall until additional funds are procured doesn’t mean they will stop fighting for it.
"We're in dialogue with the mayor and City Council," said Ann Muse, president of the Crestmont Homeowners Association. "We'll continue to work with them to identify state and local funding issues."
In the early 1990s, the City of Fairfax decided to build a road through the newly developed Crestmont neighborhood, and reserved a 70-foot right-of-way through the middle of the property.
This road, called George Mason Boulevard, was designed to divert traffic coming from the city and George Mason University away from residential University Drive — in other words, to be able to close University Drive to through traffic. But University Drive can be a busy road, and Crestmont residents opposed the idea of a wide, high-traffic road through their neighborhood.
To ameliorate the situation, the City Council proposed to reduce the road from four lanes to two, and recently offered to build a sound barrier along the road. But the brick wall's price tag of $540,000 made some councilmembers hesitate.
"The city had already reduced the size of the road from four to two lanes," said Councilmember Gary Rasmussen. "My feeling was, that was sufficient and the city would not have to pay over half a million dollars more to accommodate the community there."
"There are priorities of what the city can and should spend money on," said Rasmussen.
But residents of the Crestmont community were not pleased by the outcome of the vote.
"You don't close one road and move all that traffic to another road," said resident Mark Murphy.
BUILDING NEW ROADS is a necessity, said Mayor Rob Lederer, but it should be done with caution. "When you close one road and open up another road, you have an obligation to create as much of a win-win situation as possible," said Lederer.
Members of the city government are not forgetting about the wall, either.
"This is not going away. I would be willing to bet you that wall's going to go up, now or sometime later," said Lederer. "I'll bring it back to the council until we find a council that supports it."
How the City Council handles this project has ramifications for future communities, said Councilmember Scott Silverthorne. He worried that other communities might not then be as willing to come forward and ask for help from the council.
"We can't do everything, but we do prioritize and ensure that once projects are in the queue, that we try to fund them," said Silverthorne. "This is a project that has been on the books for 14 years, and I think we've had other projects less important that the council funded."
But several other communities are out there that did not get special considerations like the sound wall, said Rasmussen.
"At this point, to spend so much money, strictly city money, on a project is not justified in my opinion," he said.
THE CRITICAL ISSUE is whether or not the project is eligible for Virginia Department of Transportation funds. The city has been asking for funding from VDOT since the summer, said city manager Bob Sisson.
"It's never easy to get funds, but I think in the overall scheme of things, if it is an eligible expense we will be able to find funds somewhere," said John Veneziano, director of public works.
Based on various studies, both old and new, some sort of sound barrier is necessary on George Mason Boulevard, said Veneziano. But the city has never built a sound wall in its limits through VDOT, he said.
"[The motion to wait for state funding] was an effort to kill the project, and unfortunately very well may have done so," said Silverthorne.
A main focus of Lederer's mayoral duties is revitalizing neighborhoods, he said, so for him the sound wall is a priority. Lederer, who is also a member of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA), said he can work with his peers at the NVTA to make sure the wall stays a priority.
"We have been and will continue to work this issue hard," said Lederer. "We are cautiously optimistic that we will be successful."
"We will have a wall, a noise barrier and safety wall for the children in that area," said Muse. "I am sure we will. It just might take a little more time than we anticipated."