Will Route 1 Corridor See Improvements as a Result of Transportation Agreement?

Playing the money game on Richmond Highway.

Back-ups on the left-turn lane at the Kings Crossing Wal-Mart have added to existing gridlock on Route 1.

Back-ups on the left-turn lane at the Kings Crossing Wal-Mart have added to existing gridlock on Route 1. Photo by Louise Krafft.

People in Mount Vernon have been talking about widening Route 1 for decades. Studies have been funded, and money to widen part of it has been secured from the federal government. But little has been accomplished — so far. Many people who are stuck in traffic every day hope the historic transportation package that the General Assembly sent to Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell might finally provide funding to widen the corridor all the way from Woodlawn to Hybla Valley.

“I think that there are many demands on that money,” said Edith Kelleher, executive director of the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation. “There are a lot of areas around the region that would like to see the money spent there, and Route 1 is going to be competing amongst many needs.”

The agreement now under consideration would provide about $850 million in revenue for transportation. Part of it would go to the Silver Line and part of it would go to high-speed rail. That means the rest of it is up for grabs. The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority will be able to spend about $300 million of it as its members see fit. And Fairfax County would also get new revenue through an increased sales tax, which could also be used for the Route 1 corridor.

“We are not going to the bank yet because we don’t have a dollar in hand yet,” said Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay. “The governor could still veto this. It could still be challenged in court. And so we’re not setting up a plan here to go spend the money.”

LEGISLATORS HAVE BEEN arguing about transportation funding for years, and the last-minute compromise on the transportation package provided a surprise ending to the 2013 General Assembly session last month. The agreement, struck on the last day of the 46-day session, illustrated a political division that transcended party affiliation or even regional ties. The vote in the Senate was 25 to 15, with state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) in opposition and state Sen. Toddy Puller (D-36) in support.

“There’s no question that more money would allow more projects to be addressed,” said Ebbin.

On the House side, Del. Scott Surovell (D-44) opposed and Del. Dave Albo (R-42) voted in favor of it. He says the people who voted against the plan made for some strange bedfellows.

“They all have one thing in common — they didn’t want to compromise,” said Albo (D-42). “They all wanted everything one hundred percent their way.”

ESTIMATES VARY as to how much money it would take to widen the parts of Route 1 that have not already received funding. Considering other similar projects, it could be as much as $200 million. That means competition will be fierce among regional interests if the governor approves the plan.

“I didn’t much like the plan,” said Puller. “ But you can’t turn it down when it’s all you are going to get.”

One issue that might become part of the argument for allocating the funding to Mount Vernon is the recent addition to Fort Belvoir as part of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission. That added thousands of new commuters to an area that’s already notoriously clogged.

“We have a bunch of new employees coming to Fort Belvoir,” said Kelleher. “In fact, there are more employees at Fort Belvoir than the Pentagon. Most people don’t realize that.”