Opinion: Commentary: Richmond Highway Improvements, Underpasses and Undergrounding

Opinion: Commentary: Richmond Highway Improvements, Underpasses and Undergrounding

On July 30, after decades’ long efforts by state and local representatives, Commonwealth transportation studies and extensive public engagement, including seven public hearings, multiple homeowners and citizen group meetings and almost 400 survey responses, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors endorsed the design plans for the Richmond Highway widening project, including pedestrian underpasses at Little Hunting and Dogue Creeks.

The $372 million project will widen a 3.1 mile section of the roadway from Sherwood Hall Lane to Jeff Todd Way to three travel lanes in each direction with two-way bike lanes and pedestrian sidewalks on both sides, while preserving space in the median for the coming Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). With this approval VDOT can now embark on the next steps, which include final design and beginning right-of-way acquisition with an expected 2026 construction completion. The final design will be presented in a community meeting this Fall.

Due to the extensive studies and public outreach, safety for all highway users has been designed into these plans. I strongly support them, including the two underpasses, because these plans provide safe passages for drivers, riders, pedestrians, cyclists and animals while also improving highway traffic flow. For the Little Hunting Creek underpass, where Buckman Road and Mount Vernon Highway meet at Richmond Highway, picture 11 total lanes of vehicular and bus traffic (with turning lanes added to the eight through lanes) and, on both sides, protective landscaping, bike lanes and pedestrian sidewalks. These intersections are going to be double their current width and will take more than one light cycle to cross.

Street level crossings, of course, will be available. However, the necessity of waiting for what will be a long traffic signal cycle to cross just halfway, waiting for a few minutes on a highway median while cars, buses and trucks whiz by before finishing the other half of the crossing at this busy pedestrian and student crossing necessitated improved safety. Over the decades, these very wide underpasses will also provide easier access to the water, wildlife and trails that are crucial to the enhancement of our developing Corridor. As the properties around these areas are revitalized and the creeks are restored, these areas will become sought-after parts of our natural landscape. On-going safety and maintenance funding has been committed to assure that they remain that way.

Undergrounding of utilities is also important to the future of Richmond Highway and likely a once in a lifetime opportunity to improve the reliability and aesthetics of our utilities. Our success here still remains very uncertain, as VDOT funding is not permitted and securing majority support for corridor or county funding possibilities has yet to be achieved. I am continuing to work hard with local businesses, county and elected leaders to achieve this vision, but we are running out of time for a solution.

Exciting times for the Richmond Highway Corridor are upon us as we pivot to the 21st century. With investments of more than $1 billion, from roadway widening to new livable, walkable communities, bus rapid transit, new businesses, all types of upscale and affordable housing, new education options and increased tourism, the corridor is posed for accelerated economic revitalization and continued strong community building while preserving our heritage. It’s a privilege to be your Mount Vernon District supervisor and work with you to achieve our vision.