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Considering the Alternatives Along the Richmond Highway Corridor

Long-awaited transit study to determine the future of land-use along Route 1.

One slide from a Department of Rail and Public Transportation presentation shows existing conditions along the Route 1 corridor.

One slide from a Department of Rail and Public Transportation presentation shows existing conditions along the Route 1 corridor.

After years of waiting, the Richmond Highway corridor may finally be receiving the attention of state leaders.

This week, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell announced that the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation has initiated a multimodal alternatives analysis along Route 1 from Alexandria to Quantico. The stretch of highway has a long history as a suburban stretch, replete with strip malls and tourist attractions. Now it may finally be home to multimodal transportation that could transform the area by making people less reliant on automobiles.

"This is a big deal," said state Sen. Toddy Puller (D-36). "We will finally be able to move forward with something — whichever alternative is recommended by the analysis."

For Puller, the alternatives analysis is a long time coming. At one point, the analysis was going to be funded by the federal government. But then that fell through. So Puller introduced legislation for a transit study, then fought to obtain funding in a General Assembly that is often ambivalent about transportation problems in Northern Virginia. For the last few months, Puller has been working with director of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation Thelma Drake to craft a process in which a consultant would conduct an alternatives analysis for the corridor.

"Northern Virginia is one of the fastest growing regions in the state," said Drake in a written statement. "We need to examine the most viable options to address the transportation needs and improve mobility within the Route 1 study area to address current and future needs."

THE ANALYSIS will consider several different options for Route 1 — widening the road; light rail such as streetcars; heavy rail such as Metro; and bud-rapid transit such as the one now under construction in Alexandria. The amount of public right-of-way for road development varies considerably along the corridor, which has a mix of land uses and access patters. That presents state leaders with a set of transportation problems that are expected to be at the heart of the analysis.

"Route 1 in Northern Virginia has long been known as a highly congested roadway and any resident of the area knows well the delays that are frequent and all too common," said McDonnell in a written statement. "This analysis will enable DRPT to take a comprehensive look at the traffic situation and determine what steps would best help to alleviate congestion and improve the daily lives of those who live and work in the area."

First, the multimodal alternatives analysis will define what the needs are along the corridor. Then the consultant will consider a range of potential solutions. Stakeholder groups will confer with the consultant during the analysis, and members of the public will be asked for their input. When it's all said and done, the analysis will make a recommendation as to which kind of transit is preferred along the corridor — a topic that's already at the center of a debate in southeast Fairfax County.

"For a long time, people have thought that reality on the highway is we are going to build heavy rail like Metro down the corridor," said Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay last month. "My hope is that this puts this to bed and says there are other ways to invest in transit on the highway that don't detonate a community and don't turn it into Tysons Corner."

Del. Scott Surovell (D-44) disagrees.

"This study will lay the groundwork for the future of U.S. 1 for the next 40 years and hopefully bring a conclusion as to how far we extend the Yellow Line or more buses to U.S. 1," Surovell said in a written statement this week.