“This is one of the oldest communities in the county, rich with history and I hope those that have deep roots here are able to afford the community in which they were raised when it's all said and done.” — Matthew Johnson
Over the last five years, there have been 461 crashes within the three-mile stretch of Route 1 between Jeff Todd Way and Napper Road. Two of those included pedestrian fatalities, making it one of the most dangerous roadways to walkers in Virginia. That data was part of Mark Gibney’s presentation on the Virginia Department of Transportation project to widen that area of Richmond Highway from four to six lanes.
The project, estimated to cost $215 million, is anticipated to begin construction in the spring of 2023 and be open to traffic by 2026. Gibney is the project manager. He presented at the first major public information meeting about the widening on Tuesday evening April 18 at Mount Vernon High School, alongside VDOT special projects manager and lead for the widening Amanda Baxter.
Baxter said VDOT is in the middle of the environmental assessment process and going through a noise wall procedure.
A primary concern for many residents and business-owners is how they will be impacted by right-of-way land acquisitions to make way for the widened highway. That portion of the project is estimated to cost $120.6 million alone and begin in spring 2019.
Baxter tried to calm some of the anxiety by saying each right of way impact case will be unique, and there “could be temporary easements or partial acquisitions” in certain scenarios.
Gibney’s slides included a draft graphic of a typical segment of the improved roadway, which will include protected elements for bicycles and pedestrians. Design isn’t expected to be approved until late in the year 2018, after two more major public hearings anticipated for late this year and mid-2018.
He also showed traffic volume projections, which he said are based on the current Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan. They don’t take into account the county’s EMBARK initiative to bring Bus Rapid Transit and Metro expansion to the corridor, not to mention the increased population density those would bring with them.
“It’s necessary,” said state Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36). “Route 1 is simply no longer functional, it inhibits further growth for the community.”
While Surovell said the impact widening will have from right-of-way acquisitions is unquestionably upsetting and disconcerting, it’s important to keep in mind the vision of many tens of thousands more people coming to the Mount Vernon area with both the widening and EMBARK projects.
“BRT, Metro expansion,” he said, “will bring a 300 percent increase in businesses in the area. These people, they all have to eat, shop, go somewhere.”
Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee) agreed there are difficult decisions that have to be made in carrying out the widening, but that’s expected in transportation projects of this magnitude. He compared it to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and Springfield Interchange.
“This is our big moment,” McKay said, “our chance to get money here, congestion dealt with. We’ve been deferring those decisions for too long. We need to see action down here.”
McKay encouraged anxious residents and business-owners to be patient with the acquisition process, that some cases may be grandfathered in, and he’s confident individual concerns would be worked through.
Mount Vernon High School graduate and lifelong Mount Vernon resident Matthew Johnson said he understands change is inevitable, but wants to make sure all residents, including those from second and third-generation Mount Vernon neighborhood families — like those in Washington Square, Woodlawn Gardens, or Mount Vernon Apartments — will be remembered in the upgrade process.
“I'm excited about the increased pedestrian safety and the prospect of quick transportation up and down Route 1 that VDOT and EMBARK will provide,” Johnson said. “My hope is that there is still affordability in regards to the housing, so that families that have been here for generations will be able to enjoy the added amenities and changes to the local community.”
Johnson referenced some business institutions he remembers growing up with, including Johnny Mac’s Rib Shack and Elsie’s Magic Skillet.
“This is one of the oldest communities in the county, rich with history,” Johnson continued, “and I hope those that have deep roots here are able to afford the community in which they were raised when it's all said and done.”
Supervisor Dan Storck (D-Mount Vernon) summed up the balance of sadness and joy he and many in the community feel at the outset of such a project. But ultimately, he said, “This community needs this redevelopment.”
For someone who’s built a business over the last 25 years, Storck said he understands. “It’s like birthing a child.” Losing it, he admitted, could be “sad, frustrating.” Or for some, through the acquisition process, a relief.
For more information, visit the VDOT project site at www.virginiadot.org/richmondhighway.
Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also mail them to Mr. Mark Gibney, P.E., 4975 Alliance Drive, Fairfax, VA, 22030.
Gibney is the primary VDOT contact on the project, handling location and design. He is also reachable by email at email@example.com and phone at 703-259-2734.