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Votes

Shaping a Route 1 Bypass Proposal

Plan includes “Equestrian Underpass.”

— According to supporters of Woodlawn Stables, the Federal Highway Administration has offered an alternative bypass proposal that would allow the riding academy to continue operation, preserve more acreage and build new barn facilities on the remaining property.

The announcement said that Woodlawn is working with the FHWA and “an excellent architectural firm experience in designing equestrian facilities” in an effort to save the riding school as a resource in south Fairfax County. The plan would create an “Equestrian Underpass” to allow the horses to go under the bypass and reach an indoor riding rink from pasture areas.

David Versel, executive director of the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, said in an interview, that a key issue is the control of the property itself. The 60 acres and the stable facilities are managed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. They have, he said, since 1991 leased the land and buildings to Woodlawn Stables for $2,700 a month. Versel said this $32,000 per year is “on a property that could be worth tens of millions of dollars if developed for another use.”

Despite the possible profitability of the property, the National Trust is involved in historic preservation and not developing non-historic uses for the property. Shelly W. Castle, a spokesperson for Woodlawn, said the stables are in discussion with National Trust officials on how the stable operation can assist the Trust in raising additional funds. She acknowledged that Woodlawn Stables greatest concern is whether its lease will be renewed in 2016.

The Trust spokespersons have said it will make no announcement on the issue until the lease is closer to its end date, but have long reportedly opposed the widening plan because it would take land away from the plantation.

The decision of FHWA to work with the stables on a bypass plan less detrimental to the riding school came after an analysis of 281 public comments on the issue found strong support for a “widen-in-place” option (105 comments) and 126 responses that the road should not impede the Woodlawn Stables. The “widen-in-place” would take land from Woodlawn Plantation west of current Route 1 and land from the stables which are east of Route 1.

The Federal Highway Administration is expected to announce in September the plan it has selected for widening U.S. Route 1 the 3.4 miles between Fort Belvoir’s Pence Gate and Mount Vernon Parkway.

The Woodlawn Stables announcement blames Gerry Hyland, the representative of Mount Vernon on the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, and Fairfax transportation officials for forcing the FHWA administration to consider an unrealistic widening project to allow for rail or express bus lanes down the center of this road. Only 14 out of 281 people responded to the survey that this should be a priority.

Though there has long been talk in southern Fairfax of a subway extension or electric rail down Route 1, anybody who has followed the excruciating battles to fund rail to Dulles International Airport, would doubt this could happen within two or three decades.

This relatively short highway project has become bogged down by a score of differing needs and intentions that may suggest what goes wrong in public projects in times of financial limitations.

For nearly two decades there have been ideas to widen Route 1 from Alexandria to Fredericksburg. State Sen. Toddy Puller (D-Fairfax) passed resolutions in the General Assembly in 1991 to start the planning process. In a commentary in the Gazette on Aug. 1, Del. Scott A. Surovell, (D-44) outlined all the barriers that arose in the following 20 years from resistance by communities bordering the highway to the abysmal poverty in road funds in Virginia which has left hundreds of roads in Fairfax un-repaired. This resulted in a sensible, carefully researched redevelopment plan being left uncompleted.

Meanwhile, in 2005 the Department of Defense undertook a sweeping Base Realignment and Closure protocol which by last year had transferred some 19,000 workers to areas in Alexandria and south Fairfax. Only 3,400 new personnel came to the main Fort Belvoir post and about half those people would not be heading north on Route 1, according to some traffic analysis.

Under pressure by the Virginia congressional delegation, the Department of Defense “earmarked” $180 million to fund the redevelopment of the 3.4 miles. This limited project is going forward without a plan for the bulk of Route 1. As Surovell mentioned, one reason is “money.”

As federal highway authorities opened a public hearing June 5 on their proposals to increase traffic flow to Fort Belvoir, they found themselves facing growing political and public resistance to a plan that would harm historical properties on the Woodlawn Meadow and drive the 50-year-old Woodlawn Stables out of business.

The FHWA originally created plans that pitted different stake holders against each other. The widening plan would cause Woodlawn Baptist Church to have to exhume 100 graves from its cemetery, said Travis Hilton, Woodlawn Baptist pastor.

The bypass plan would avoid the Baptist church property, but cut a swath through the center of the historic Woodlawn Meadow, destroying 150-year-old buildings on the property and driving the 56-horse stable and riding school out of business