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Commentary: Let’s Be Fair about Route 1

— As we’re about to see the Route 1 widening project get underway, it’s worth a review of what brought the need to widen the road in the first place. Contrary to what some of us are given to understand, Fort Belvoir’s growth under the Base Realignment and Closure did not bring about the need to widen Route 1. It did, however, play a critical role in getting the project funded.

To understand the need for widening, one must go back 20 years, to a time when a previous BRAC moved the Army's historic Engineer Center & School to Missouri. That left a lot of people here in Fairfax County and Mount Vernon very concerned about what would become of Fort Belvoir, where the nation’s combat engineers from World War II to Desert Storm had been trained. Everyone, including community leaders, wanted Fort Belvoir to be redeveloped, and to remain a vibrant economic engine. "The largest employer in Fairfax County" became the mantra still heard today.

Fort Belvoir has, indeed, transformed into the key strategic defense installation it is today. As a result, the post has a daytime workforce of 50,000 people. Only about 30,000 of them are at Main Post where consternation about Route 1 traffic is centered. The latest BRAC added only 3,400 jobs to Main Post — well within the 3,000-6,000 range of additional people whose traffic VDOT had said Main Post could absorb. The other 15,900 BRAC jobs went to Mark Center, Belvoir North, and, Charlottesville. That dispersion was intentional, planned specifically to help mitigate traffic impacts.

Including its workforce traffic, the Main Post does get about 80,000 vehicles a day, Monday through Friday, through its six gates. Most of that is off-peak travel by business visitors, retirees visiting post, and, people coming for hospital appointments. To address that, Fort Belvoir actively promotes alternate transit options to its workforce. The posts leaders and planners stay closely allied with community organizations like the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, Fairfax County Department of Transportation, and VDOT to identify issues and mitigations.

It is unreasonable to think only in terms of Fort Belvoir, however, in concern about traffic on Route 1. The area around post was itself not nearly as developed back when the Engineers left as it is today. Much of that growth can be tied at least indirectly to the post’s growth and the desire of commercial enterprise to benefit from being near the post. As Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland said back then, "The development (of Fort Belvoir) provides a lot of incentive for private enterprise to come in. The county will get lots of economic opportunities."

Indeed it did, and, not just private enterprise, but, new houses, schools, and other facilities and services that make a community home. The growth has been explosive. More to the point, it has brought so much more traffic to Route 1 than could ever be attributed to the post alone. Any grim view of the Army's contribution to Route 1 traffic fails to acknowledge the reality of development across the entire region.

Widening Route 1 fulfills a vision of what the community’s leadership saw 20 years ago as the future growth of South County. The project is also the latest in a very long history of Army partnership with and contribution to the community to improve the road network here. As we look to the future, lets' not forget the contributions of the past that make our present a little more livable.

  • Army has spent millions of dollars in cash and in kind to complete two major segments of the Fairfax County Parkway (one between Route 1 and Telegraph Road, the other at EPG), making it possible now to travel virtually unimpeded from Mount Vernon to Dulles.
  • Army also paid the complete cost of all environmental work and construction of two lanes of the new Mulligan Road, which is expected to be completed by June 14. Replacing the old 2-lane Woodlawn Road closed in 2001, the new road will restore convenient east-west access between Mount Vernon and Springfield.
  • Fort Belvoir has contributed 20 acres of land to the widening project at no additional cost to the project. The land provides space for a median that will allow for future transit development along the corridor without the county or state having to buy any additional right-of-way.

Of course, the widening of Route 1 wouldn’t be possible without the money to pay for it. Even though the intent was on the books for a long time, the project was never funded. Now it’s possible, ironically enough, thanks to Fort Belvoir’s new state-of-the-art hospital, and the efforts of U.S. Rep. Jim Moran to step in and champion the need for the money. While he built his case on the need to ensure unencumbered access to the hospital by our Wounded Warriors and other beneficiaries, the entire community will benefit from this long-needed widening.