Emotions ran high last week when almost 100 members of Chantilly's Poplar Tree Estates community met with VDOT about the widening of Stringfellow Road.
In a nearly three-hour session last Wednesday, July 25, in Rocky Run Middle School's cafeteria, residents aired their grievances about the project. And the more VDOT liaison Bud Siegel defended the plan, the angrier and more frustrated the residents became.
"I FEEL LIKE I'm being filibustered tonight, rather than having a discussion," said Roger Kurrus, chairman of Poplar Tree Estates Homeowners Association's (HOA) Streets and Safety Committee. "This isn't about our safety; it's about moving the traffic faster."
The section of Stringfellow from Fair Lakes Boulevard to Route 50 is being widened from two lanes to create a four-lane thoroughfare between Route 50 in Chantilly and Route 29 in Clifton/Centreville. But Poplar Tree residents say VDOT's proposed design is too wide, encroaches on their property and endangers their children's safety.
Stringfellow's been designated a four-lane, divided road on Fairfax County's Comprehensive Plan since the early 1970s, but money was lacking. And as more residents moved to this end of the county, the road became a commuting nightmare at rush hour.
Then a November 2004 bond referendum brought $16 million for design and right-of-way acquisition, and the project got into gear. Now, successful passage of the November transportation bond could bring the $21 million more needed to build it.
Also attending last week's meeting were Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), Del. Chuck Caputo (D-67th), Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-37th) and Sully District School Board representative Kathy Smith. And they all listened intently.
Siegel said Stringfellow is on the county's Secondary Roadway Six-Year Plan and "we've been told to expedite this project." So VDOT's proposing two inner travel lanes, 12-feet-wide each; two outer travel lanes, 14-feet wide each; a 10-foot multipurpose trail; a 6-foot sidewalk; and a raised, 16-foot, grass median.
BICYCLISTS are envisioned as not just sharing the trail with pedestrians, but also pedaling side-by-side with cars, trucks and buses on each outer, 14-foot lanes. However, local residents say these extra-wide lanes aren't needed. They say hordes of bicyclists aren't riding along Stringfellow now and simply aren't going to materialize in the future.
"There are very few bike riders who'll use that," said Poplar Tree's Felipe Morales. "Your design is excessive. People from Maryland aren't going to come here for its scenic value. It makes no sense to have that much space for the bikers."
Furthermore, added a father, "I'm not going to let a child of mine ride in the bike lane with vehicles going 45 mph or more. Submit the plan without the bike lanes."
At the outset, Siegel noted that, since this is a county road project, it'll mainly be funded by taxpayer dollars spent at the Board of Supervisors' discretion.
"So I want to make sure we get the most bang for the buck and that you, the stakeholders, are represented," said Siegel. "I want to hear you guys; my job is to build consensus."
But as the meeting progressed, it was evident that he only widened the gap between VDOT and the residents who'll have to live with all the impacts of this project. They felt he didn't answer their questions adequately and only gave lip service to their concerns.
In fact, two hours into the meeting, when Centre View asked Siegel if anyone from VDOT had taken any notes about what the residents had said that night, he said no. "I didn't call this meeting," said Siegel. "I came because they asked me to." And when Centre View asked him what he'd do with their comments, he didn't reply.
Poplar Tree Estates HOA President Steve Smith opened the meeting by listing some of the complaints with the road design. "We see the taking of property where none needs to be taken, and we have concerns about safety and about a further division of our community" since Stringfellow slices between Greenbriar on one side and Poplar Tree on the other.
HE ALSO worried that buses would cut through Poplar Tree streets due to lack of left turns coming from Stringfellow. And he said Poplar Tree's HOA Board officially took a position opposing the project.
"Our first concern was safety, and then alleviating congestion and minimizing impacts," said Siegel. "But you haven’t," said a woman. "We’ve tried not to impact the utilities on either side of the road," said Siegel. "We don’t want to move the poles. We believe we’ve designed a road that’ll provide operational and safety benefits. But we’re still working on it."
Several people complained there’s no information about the plan on VDOT’s Web site. Siegel said it’s too large for that, but could be viewed on paper at VDOT’s office or, eventually, at Supervisor Frey’s office. However, with so many design issues still outstanding, many said they didn’t want to vote on something in November’s bond referendum that’s still incomplete – and for which they don’t have all the information.
"As far as I’m concerned, this is flawed from the ground up," said Poplar Tree Estates’ Wendy Morales. "You should have contacted the students who go to this school, and their parents — the ones who are most impacted by this plan — before you designed this road. You’re just throwing money out the window. You need to do right by the people who are paying for this project and who live in this corridor."
NEIGHBOR ROGER KURRUS said the widened Stringfellow would come within two feet of the sidewalk between Rocky Run and Melville Lane. "If they’d move the [utility] poles, they could move the footprint," he said. "The limited-access situation will create a U-turn environment — perhaps illegal — at signalized intersections. You’re going to put kids in the way of vehicles turning onto a divided roadway where pedestrians are."
Asked Poplar Tree’s Norm Walker: "What is the price of safety, if a child gets killed?"
"And I haven’t heard anyone talk about the reduction in safety in Greenbriar and Poplar Tree," added Poplar Tree’s Tom Loyd.
"You’re going to push traffic from Stringfellow into those neighborhoods," he continued. "And although it’ll have a posted speed of 35 mph, people are going to go through the Poplar Tree Road red light, see the green light at Point Pleasant and go 55 mph to make it — no question."
Agreeing, neighbor Felipe Morales said, "Sooner or later, my living room window will be a drive-through window because it’ll have a car through it."
When a woman asked how walking, Greenbriar West Elementary students would cross Stringfellow, Siegel said they’d use a signalized crosswalk with a seconds countdown and that the median would provide "an effective, pedestrian refuge."
"THAT’S NOT safe for kids to be standing on a 4-foot piece of cement with cars whizzing by them," a woman responded. But Siegel said it’d be better for kids who couldn’t make it across the street to get caught on a median than on a double-yellow line. But, said another woman, "Kids don’t stop."
Poplar Tree residents also complained that the widened road takes too much land from their side. "Where does the law say they can take our yards for the bike path?" asked Lisa Bartram. "We wouldn’t have bought our homes if we thought they were going to take our land."
"Directly across the street from their property is land owned by the county," said Poplar Tree HOA President Steve Smith. "People feel very offended that their property is being taken when there’s other property that could be used and isn’t."
"You’re taking a third of my backyard — how dare you!" said Carole Cook. "The other land is holding telephone poles and they don’t want to take them down. But they’re taking 11 feet of my yard."
Wendy Morales said her three sons play in their yard, but the road widening would "delete" the trees between it and the road. "We wouldn't have privacy, and the boys couldn't play in our yard," she said. "I want some kind of barrier between the road and my kids — I'm just not ready to lose one of them."
She also noted that a "huge, corkscrew willow" tree, 10 feet from their home, would be destroyed. "And I feel helpless," she said. "VDOT gives us no answers and is completely condescending when they speak to us."
Supervisor Mike Frey told her: "We will work with you to try to do something — whether it's a guardrail, trees or a hedge."
Toward the end of the meeting, Poplar Tree's William Casey said, "I've listened to what my neighbors had to say, and this is not something they or the schools want. The whole thing just appears to [not consider] the people who are affected most."
Then Max Bassett, a 22-year resident, told Siegel, "The emotion you're hearing is sadness. I caution you to do careful planning and listen to the people."