0
Votes

The Forces That Shape Mount Vernon

Transit study to relieve Route 1 corridor traffic gridlock; boundary studies to relieve overcrowded schools.

— The decision several years ago by the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) to massively expand the Fort Belvoir military base on Route 1 near Woodlawn Plantation will continue to be felt by the Mount Vernon community in many ways and for years to come. Primarily, it will affect local and regional traffic which is already causing traffic gridlock. The ability of Federal, State, and local government leaders to effectively cope with the impact on traffic of the Belvoir expansion will determine the pace of other developments and the quality of life of Mount Vernon area residents and businesses.

Plans are in the works for Mount Vernon area school boundary changes to manage increases in student enrollment and West Potomac High School overcrowding, and determine which students end up in what schools.

And this summer Fairfax County began a long awaited county-wide transit study that will set in motion decisions on road and mass transit improvements in the Route 1 corridor. The decisions should eventually lead to much-needed relief from Route 1 traffic congestion and will also positively impact on the scope and character of commercial and residential development in the region.

While the transit study is underway, significant construction and development and redevelopment in Mount Vernon continues at a quickened pace, lending even more urgency to the transit study decisions. However, looming in the near future will be the need for government leaders to find the money needed to finance the recommended improvements.

NEW CONSTRUCTION is underway to build the National Library for the Study of George Washington adjacent to the Mount Vernon Estate, build the U.S. Army National Museum at Fort Belvoir, and complete the construction of small, medium, and large commercial and multifamily residential construction projects along the Route 1 corridor.

The availability of $180 million of federal highway money shepherded by U.S. Rep. Jim Moran to widen the Route 1 highway in the Fort Belvoir and Woodlawn Historical District awaits final decisions on the Federal Highway Administration widening design. Selecting the least objectionable design option will hasten much-needed Route 1 highway improvement in this traffic choke point or will be delayed because of critics who will see the design option as adversely impacting historic properties.

Elsewhere, decisions will be made next year affecting three Mount Vernon area public parks: in the north, the Fairfax County Park Authority is now working on a long-range plan for Westgrove Park adjacent to the Belle View Elementary School. Under pressure by a local group of dog owners, and over the objections of those who support keeping the park in its natural state, the Park Authority has already decided to provide for a two-year interim off leash dog park. Whether or not to approve a permanent off leash dog park and what, if any, other functions to include, will be decided sometime next year as part of the master planning process. Along the Mount Vernon Parkway, the federally- managed Dyke Marsh wildlife preserve federal study will be completed soon and the National Park Service, working with the Corps of Engineers and the community, will recommend actions to stem the loss of wetlands areas. Further south, the federally managed Fort Hunt Park is being studied by the National Park Service in consultation with the community to develop a long-range plan for how the park will be utilized.

GROWTH IN THE MOUNT VERNON-area population also means growth in the school-age population. Whereas once, over 25 years ago, student enrollment declines resulted in boundary changes and, despite stiff community resistance, the closing of Fort Hunt High School, Hollin Hills and Hollin Hall Elementary schools, and the former Mount Vernon Middle School (now occupied by the Islamic Academy on Route 1). Now, the Mount Vernon area on both sides of Route 1 finds itself in the reverse situation of overcrowded schools requiring boundary studies to be conducted throughout the Mount Vernon area.

School Board member Dan Storck said the school system will be conducting boundary studies to address “projected overcrowding at West Potomac High School, and better utilize existing student capacity at other schools.”

Exacerbated by a chronic downturn in the economy the low-income minority population along the Route 1 corridor continues to need sustained focused support. In addition, the seniors 55 and over population is growing rapidly and there is a strong desire to “age-in-place,” rather than move into institutional care. Aggressive and creative approaches to serving both of these groups will face the community in the fall and upcoming year. Their basic human needs: food, shelter, health care, transportation assistance, and in-home nursing and companion care, will challenge private service providers and county, state, and federal government leaders to meet their needs.

Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, having decided several years ago to make a long-term commitment to remain in the Mount Vernon community, continues to move ahead with major expansion plans at the main hospital site on Collingwood Road. The Inova health system also recognized the need to open a Lorton area walk-in clinic and medical office facility in order to better serve the medical needs of the Mount Vernon area population in the Lorton area. A new private independent walk-in clinic (Doctors Express) has also opened to serve the Route 1 northern area of the district.

The outpatient and hospital needs of the active duty and retired military population living and working in the Mount Vernon area and outlying region will be served by the recent opening of Fort Belvoir Community Hospital on the Fort Belvoir military base. The new military hospital and rehabilitation facilities will also serve the newly acquired responsibilities of Fort Belvoir to serve combat wounded military personnel — a result of the BRAC decision to close Walter Reed Army Hospital in the district and send some of the combat wounded to Fort Belvoir hospital.