Gum Springs residents protest the Richmond Highway widening project.
Fifty-seven years ago, Gum Springs leaders brought forth the symbols of death — coffins — at a protest to illustrate the deadliness of Richmond
Highway and demand a traffic light at Sherwood Hall lane.
“And here we are again,” Jube Shiver Jr. told a crowd of protesters gathered near the intersection of Richmond Highway and Sherwood Hall Lane Thursday, Sept. 9. They were there to protest the proposed widening of that intersection to 13 lanes, “wider than half a football field.”
Shiver’s father, Jube Shiver Sr., owner of Spring Garden Apartments, and Nelson Greene Sr., owner of Greene’s Funeral Home in Alexandria, planned the first protest. The second was planned by Shiver Jr. and Greene’s son Nelson Greene Jr., and granddaughter Nina, who escorted a coffin across Richmond Highway Thursday followed by a procession of sign-carrying protesters.
Organizers also included the New Gum Springs Civic Association, and the Gum Springs Historical Society & Museum.
This time they were supported by many other organizations including the South County Task Force, Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, United Community, Fairfax NAACP, Coalition for Smarter Growth, Audubon Naturalist Society, Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling, Greater Morning Star Apostolic Church, Woodlawn Faith UMC. The Mount Vernon Council of Civic Associations and the Mt. Vernon Lee Chamber of Commerce have also declared support for a narrower, safer roadway.
In a rally before the march, Fairfax NAACP President Karen Campblin noted that historically, it has been tragically common for highway projects to disrupt and destroy African American communities. Coalition for Smarter Growth chair Sonya Breehy pointed out that new urban design and road safety guidelines being proposed by the county call for narrower roads and slower vehicle speeds to enhance pedestrian safety. Jeff Gauger of the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling pointed to two recent fatalities of cyclists as a need for safer streets.
State and local elected officials pledged to support a narrower, safer road. When they saw a Virginian Department of Transportation (VDOT) plan for the road in July, many local groups sent angry letters to the board of supervisors, which then gave the task of reviewing and approving the final shape of 11 intersections to a committee consisting of Mount Vernon Supervisor Dan Storck, Lee Supervisor Rodney Lusk, and Chair of the Board of Supervisors Jeff McKay. The committee asked VDOT to revise the road plan for their review.
At the rally, Storck said, “I am not going to accept 13 lanes at an intersection. I wrote VDOT a letter this morning saying we wanted a narrower road, narrower lanes (10.5ft), and a slower speed limit (35 mph). VDOT has assured me that it will look carefully at the proposal for these intersections and revise them. They are used to building rural roads for cars only.
“This road is our main street. People on both sides of Richmond Highway have come together on a plan for a center bus rapid transit (BRT) with three lanes of traffic in each direction, plus a bike and pedestrian lanes, and a series of pedestrian-friendly town centers along the road,” Storck said.
He promised public engagement on the revised intersection plans before a vote.
Lusk said he also opposes the 13 lanes and wants a 35 mph speed limit. He recalled that when there were pedestrian fatalities each of the first four months after he took office in January 2020, he urged the board transportation committee to do a countywide bike and pedestrian safety study that “will address all the major intersections along this corridor.”
State Sen. Scott Surovell recalled that as a delegate, he and then Sen. Toddy Puller got a transportation study for Richmond Highway that resulted in plans for the BRT and a possible metro extension to Hybla Valley, as well as bike and pedestrian paths.
“None of us thought we were buying into a 13-lane intersection,” he said.
Surovell met recently with top VDOT officials who said they were now looking at a 35 mph speed limit and fewer turn lanes. He said the meeting came about partly because he sent them a letter from Shiver recalling the 1967 road safety protest and wondering if another such even was needed.
Surovell told the crowd, “This progress is happening because of the noise you folks are making.”