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Route 1 Widening: Wait for Transit Study?

Flanagan proposes county review of transit options affecting Woodlawn Historical District.

— Following the Federal Highway Administration’s June 5 public meeting on widening options for Route 1, another twist may further complicate approval for the best approach to widen Route 1 in the Woodlawn Historical District.

A new proposal has surfaced to detach the district from the FHWA design options until the Fairfax County Transit Study is completed. The author of that proposal is Earl Flanagan, Mount Vernon planning commissioner.

Currently, the two FHWA options do not have support among the communities affected. One option, called the “Bypass option,” would cut through a portion of the Woodlawn Stables property, and the other option called the “widening in place” option would cut through a portion of the historic Baptist church property. FHWA staff are reworking the design options.

Flanagan said “the dilemma has been caused by not having a transit study done before proceeding with decisions on what strategy to pursue for the Route 1 widening through the Woodlawn Historical District.” Flanagan, who participates on a FHWA advisory committee, conveyed these views to Jack Van Dop, FHWA regional manager, and urged others to consider his views on this before moving ahead on a modified proposal.

His proposal, and the comments from the various public and private parties affected by the Route 1 widening project in the Fort Belvoir and Woodlawn Historical District will be the subject of continuing debate and consideration as the FHWA continues to study community comments and those of the elected federal, state and local officials to formulate the best course of action to follow.

At the same time the Fairfax County Department of Transportation’s long-awaited Countywide Transit Network study begins next week, and will analyze transit options in the Route 1 corridor in addition to other major transit networks throughout the county.

At the present time U.S. Rep. James Moran, who arranged for $180 million federal highway money to be made available for the 3.5 mile Route 1 area near Fort Belvoir, and Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland, were joined in their support for the widening in place option by several elected state officials. A letter sent by state Sen. Linda Puller to Victor Mendez, director of the Federal Highway Administration, supporting the “Widening in Place” option was co-signed by Del. Scott Surovell, Del. David Albo, Del. Mark Sickles and state Sen. Adam Ebbin.

The proposal by Flanagan to detach and temporarily delay the design considerations in the Route 1 area encompassing the Woodlawn Historical District until the Fairfax Transit study is completed has elicited the following reactions:

Moran: “My views are in line with Supervisor Hyland’s that the widening-in-place option is currently the best way forward. Widening Route 1 is vitally important for southeast Fairfax’s future. It’s our only shot to make this long overdue, much needed project a reality.”

Puller: “The county-wide transit study which you refer to was funded by legislation I sponsored in the General Assembly. The purpose of the transit study is to come up with alternatives for transit improvements. However, I do not support any action which would delay moving ahead on the Route 1 widening project. I have been working for many years to move forward on Route 1 improvements and to determine the alternative transit needs of the Route 1 corridor. I am confident, having met personally with the Federal Highway Administration staff that they are working to come up with the most compatible strategy for all concerned. I wish to note that the initial FHWA options preserved the right-of-way in both options. It’s time to move ahead without further delay.”

Surovell: “I don’t think it’s realistic to delay decisions given how far the planning process is down the road at this point. … I think we should be focusing on a widening-in-place option that avoids the Woodlawn Baptist cemetery and pushes slightly further into the north Woodlawn parcel.”

Hyland: “I support the widening-in-place option that would preserve the historic Woodlawn Plantation and the community asset that is Woodlawn stables. The onus is on the National Trust for Historic Preservation to decide whether they want to extend their lease agreement with Woodlawn stables which will expire in 2016. The Trust needs to make that decision soon. If the lease is extended and the environmental analysis’ preferred alternative encroaches on the Woodlawn Stables site, the project team needs to find a way to relocate the stables and its facilities so equestrian uses can continue.”

Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay: “I don’t support a delay of a FHWA plan for widening Route 1, including in the Woodlawn Historic District. … This is a situation where no one is going to be completely satisfied and everyone will have to compromise to move ahead. … I don’t want to delay bringing relief to the gridlock which the residents have been facing on a daily basis. Also, as for waiting until the Fairfax County Transit Study is completed; it is not necessary. … The reason is because what the FHWA is doing in its plans is laying the groundwork for accommodating to whatever option the transit study comes up with for Route 1.”

Countywide Transit Network Study

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation has announced the beginning of the Countywide Transit Network Study “to determine the type of transit systems needed” … and “to develop recommendations for where Metrorail should be extended, where streetcar or light rail systems are appropriate, and where dedicated lanes that allow buses to move faster could go.” Fairfax County will hold the first public meetings on the study beginning July 16, 6:30 p.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center and July 19, 6:30 p.m. in the middle school cafeteria of Hayfield Secondary School.

Holly Dougherty, executive director, Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber, does not support any delays: “The Chamber supports Alternative C, or the option to widening the road within the existing right-of-way … and to preserve the Woodlawn Stables and the equestrian facilities … it is not only a business (40-plus years) but a wonderful community resource.”

Shelly Castle, Save Woodlawn Stables: “While Save Woodlawn Stables supports the widening in place proposal, we would support temporarily removing the Woodlawn Historic District from the FHWA project until the Transit Study is completed. … We are disappointed to learn that Fairfax County and the FHWA planned this controversial road without doing the proper transit studies needed for its design. The size of this road section is one of the factors that makes it so destructive to all the historic properties. At the very least FHWA and Fairfax County should present the data to justify the need for such an excessive design through the historic district. While we support the politicians’ wishes for finding expedient solutions and funding for current and future traffic problems, officials shouldn’t necessarily sacrifice our national and community treasures through shortcuts and haste. … Mr. Flanagan offers some real and viable solutions that would save the historic properties, Woodlawn Stables, satisfy the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s concerns, while allowing the elected officials to still have Metro serving Ft. Belvoir. We hope our local elected officials would urge Fairfax County planners to explore these solutions before allowing FHWA to move forward with an Environmental Analysis that will destroy the integrity of the Woodlawn Historic District as a whole forever.”