Since Woodlawn Road was closed to the public five years ago, drivers on Telegraph Road trying to reach Woodlawn plantation, Roy Rogers and anything on Richmond Highway above Fort Belvoir or on the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway have been forced to drive three miles farther south on Telegraph, take the Fairfax County Parkway, then turn north onto Richmond Highway and drive another two miles back the way the way came. Woodlawn and Beulah roads, which pass through the Army’s Fort Belvoir, were closed to civilian traffic as a security precaution after the attacks of Sept. 11. This transformed a direct, two-mile trip into a back-tracking seven-mile one.
But relief is on the way. On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Transportation hosted a meeting at Mount Vernon High School to outline its plans to build a four-lane connector between Telegraph and Route 1. The two-mile road would run parallel to and east of Woodlawn Road. Renderings of the road show two lanes on each side of a median planted with trees. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2008 and the road should be completed by 2009, when it will be turned over to the Virginia Department of Transportation according to project director Jack Van Dop. He said it will probably have a posted speed of 35 miles-per-hour.
Soon after the closing of Woodlawn Road, political and military officials recognized the need to replace it, Van Dop said. In 2003, the Army Corps of Engineers began a feasibility study and Congress appropriated money within the budgets of the Defense and Transportation Departments. The Federal Highway Administration was given responsibility for the project, and it began its environmental assessment in 2004. That assessment was completed in July and the meeting on Thursday was part of the department’s effort to seek public comment on the plans.
ABOUT 50 people attended the meeting including state delegates Mark Sickles (D-43) and Kristen Amundson (D-44). When Sickles asked whether the road had been fully funded, Van Dop explained that $31 million had been set aside, enough to build a two-lane version. An additional $18 million will have to be raised by early 2008 for the planned four-lane project to be completed. “We really need this in four lanes,” Sickles said.
The road passes through Fort Belvoir and a section of the base’s forest and wildlife corridor. Van Dop said the road would be sealed off from the fort, and an underpass would be built for animals in the protected corridor. A thornier land-use issue arises when the road nears Route 1. It will have to pass through lands that are part of the federally designated National Historic Landmark area of Woodlawn Plantation. No agreement has been reached on the complicated trade-offs that Woodlawn will require in exchange for a corner of its land as well as the serenity of the entire parcel and the historic atmosphere of the plantation itself, which entices visitors with the opportunity to step into a century with no cars and no paved roads.
But Ross Randall, Woodlawn’s executive director, said at the meeting that the two parties were in good faith, and he was optimistic that a deal would be struck. “The Federal Highway Administration has been a wonderful facilitator in this process,” he said.
Randall said that Woodlawn would not only protect its own resources by asking for a replacement parcel of land, a new entrance and assurances that “those coming to Woodlawn would have the same quality experience,” but also would benefit the entire area by requiring improved safety for people and wildlife trying to use (or avoid) the road and its intersections. He said Woodlawn would ask for landscape screening and a meandering pedestrian trail beside the new road. “Our obligation is to ensure 100 years from now this road still looks different from most roads” because of its location in a historic area.
SOME at the meeting expressed concern that access to their businesses and homes would be inconvenienced by the new road. Jeff Todd is the operating manager at the Roy Rogers on Richmond Highway that will be at the intersection of the new road. He held up a diagram of that intersection to demonstrate that buses would have difficulty turning back onto the highway from his parking lot. Tour buses are a major source of the restaurant’s revenue. Others were concerned it might be more difficult to leave their apartment complexes, which are located along the new road. Van Dop encouraged Todd to meet him privately to discuss possible solutions.
Most people in the audience agreed on the necessity of the new road. With thousands of people expected to pour into the area in upcoming years because of the military’s BRAC reorganization, Sickles said the pressure was on the government to ensure the road is built. “BRAC is upon us,” he said. “Now is the chance to do it right.”
“I just can’t wait for this road to be built,” he added. “This is going to be the biggest aid for people in my part of the county.”