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Route 1 widening would divide Fairfax communities

The US Department of Defense has approved a $180 million plan to widen Richmond Highway in Fairfax County. The proposal is unlikely to reduce traffic over the long term. It's more likely to harm the community character, degrade historic sites, and make traffic worse.

A pedestrian crosses Route 1. Photo by AnneBPhoto on Flickr.

Moving so many jobs to Fort Belvoir, far from effective transit, was a mistake in the first place. Unfortunately, that decision is out of local hands. But rather than impose an ineffective and undesirable highway, DoD and Fairfax County need to find a more creative way to address the area's congestion.

Communities along Route 1 have long fought to revitalize the corridor. The current plan, however, would turn Richmond Highway into such an expressway that it would make revitalization along its sides difficult. It would divide rather than knit together the two sides of Route 1.

Expanding the road would also harm adjacent historic sites like Woodlawn Plantation and the Woodlawn Baptist Church. It risks repeating the scale and sterility of the massive 10-lane expanse of pavement that already exists around historic Pohick Church to the south.

Lanes and other elements can be narrower

Even if the number of lanes grows, the highway doesn't need to be so wide. The current proposal for the southern portion of the project, from Telegraph Road to the new Mulligan Road, is for a whopping 148 foot-wide cross-section. That's enormous. It includes a 32-foot median reserved for future transit and overly-wide, highway-scaled lanes that are up to 14 feet across.

Several components of the highway could be a more reasonable scale without reducing the number of road lanes. Doing so would be more appropriate for the area, and would better accommodate other modes. Many arterial streets in the DC region have lanes of 11 or 12 feet wide. There is no reason why the lanes on Route 1 need to be so much wider.

It is commendable that the DoD plan designated land specifically for rapid transit in the future, but DoD and Virginia should go further. They should include transit in a dedicated right-of-way as a core component of the proposal. This could use existing buses right away. Perhaps the transit lanes could replace the new third lane of the highway in each direction.

Walking, biking, carpooling and living on post can all reduce traffic

Addressing the traffic generated by Fort Belvoir requires a comprehensive solution, including transit, bike and pedestrian access, as well as creative solutions specific to the military base.

Although it's true that many workers will commute to the base from too far away to walk or bike, the current plan would force even those who live nearby to get in their cars. That's a mistake.

While the plan appropriately includes a bike path and sidewalk, the width and speed of the road would discourage walking and biking. It would be so difficult and dangerous to cross such a wide road that few people would ever try. Furthermore, if the entrances to the fort are not designed with bicyclists and pedestrians in mind, it is even less likely that the paths would be used.

DoD should take advantage of Fort Belvoir's status as a military complex to reduce traffic congestion. One way to do this would be greater use of federal transit benefits and carpooling. For example, DoD could design parking policies with strong incentives for carpooling, especially for those with regular work schedules.

Fort Belvoir should continue to maximize opportunities for soldiers and their families to live on post. The base has earned praise and awards for its "new urbanist" military housing, and should expand those communities. This would reduce single-occupant vehicle demand and allow for a reduced number of through and turn-lanes, particularly in the areas most endangered by the current plan.

Narrowing the road in this manner, while maintaining the number of through lanes, would make the road more manageable for non-automobile modes, without disrupting car traffic too much. A narrower road would be safer, would reduce the necessity to take land from historic sites, and could potentially move more people, by converting car trips to other modes.

It is important that DoD and Fairfax County consider all options before hastily widening Route 1. The changes coming to Fort Belvoir are significant, but turning a community's main street into a through highway is not the answer.

Alex is a summer intern at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. He is a rising sophomore at Cornell University where he is majoring in Sociology and Economics. 


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I am very happy to see that there's space for a future extension of the Yellow Line. In stead of complaining about the design of the road, I'd focus on getting the Yellow Line extended. I am also very happy to see that they have separated bike lanes. That is very necessary as the Mt Vernon trail currently is very hard to reach, largely due to the poor roads around Ft Belvoir.

by Jasper on Aug 2, 2012 2:08 pm • linkreport

Build the extended Yellow Line underground. That'll take care of the median.

(Yeah, yeah - I know it won't happen. But it makes sense.)

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Aug 2, 2012 2:09 pm • linkreport

The "oversized outside lane to accomodate bicycles" is a joke. Great, so you've got an extra foot or two while cars whiz past at 45MPH +. Reduce the road width, and have dedicated paths on each side.

Richmond Highways overall problem isn't width. Its bad design and inconsistent turn lanes and points of access.

And a bicycle lane alone Rt1 is important but in the grand scheme there are better ways to make bicycling more feasible, and safe. The neighborhoods off the highway often have very wide streets with plenty of room for striped bike routes. No matter what form of transit eventually comes to the highway, thought needs to be given to how people will access it from the neighborhoods. Better feeder bike lanes and ped improvements help that problem now, and provides a benefit no matter the transit mode, and can have traffic calming benefits.

by spookiness on Aug 2, 2012 2:58 pm • linkreport

With respect to the post,

I am afraid that the ideas are terribly idealistic. South of the Woodlawn neighborhood, I see less reason to provide biking lanes due to the main attraction being the Army base. Not to mention connections to the FairCo Parkway and eventually leading to 95. That's just car traffic.

Now I agree that such car centric focus needs to be lessened NORTH of the base. Otherwise I think we just need to focus on the more civilian side of the Richmond highway for stricter multi modal.

by Billy Bob on Aug 2, 2012 3:05 pm • linkreport

One very unfortunate side-effect of the Rte 1 plan is the possible destruction of Woodlawn Stables. The present plan has Rte 1 swinging east, cutting through the land and separating the barns from the meadows and going through the land where the riding ring now sits.

by dca on Aug 2, 2012 3:18 pm • linkreport

I seldom agree with anything on this site, but I work at Belvoir, and widening Route 1 is not even necessary. First of all, there are many other routes to the post--395, GWMP, and FFX County Parkway. Second, the traffic is not really going to get any worse than it is now, as I believe all the agencies scheduled to move to Belvoir already have.

And yes, obliterating the historic stables would be a real shame.

If they REALLY want people to take transit here, they need non-stop express buses from all the major Metro stations, as well as one from Kingstown (Springfield, just off Beulah Road), where a lot of people live, and another from Woodbridge, where another huge chunk of the workers here live.

by Moderately Reasonable on Aug 2, 2012 4:17 pm • linkreport

extension of the yellow line? I highly doubt they would do that above ground in the median of a highway like Rt 1. Given the current BRT craze sweeping the nation, that reserved median is most likely for buses, or a street car if you want to be highly optimistic.

by Gull on Aug 2, 2012 4:25 pm • linkreport

While the plan appropriately includes a bike path and sidewalk, the width and speed of the road would discourage walking and biking.

Really? The Mt Vernon trail and the Custis trail are plenty used, and they are next to major highways as well.

by Jasper on Aug 2, 2012 4:39 pm • linkreport

1. I doubt that the yellow line will be built within the next two decades - so thats a long time to live with road so wide as to make crossing it on foot a HUGE deal, without the countervailing benefit of transit

2. OTOH this is not the inner part of the corridor that is likely to densify anytime soon, right? Im not sure how much pedestrian activity is realistic down that way.

3. this is considered "bike route 1" and so a bike facility ON the route makes sense, and a side path is probabaly the best we can do.

4. I do not know about the traffic conditions to judge that

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 2, 2012 5:00 pm • linkreport

@Gull, given the population and business density along the route, a light rail line running from Huntington to Ft. Belvoir to maybe Lorton might be the best choice. With a separate ROW, if the line could be built with a high level of grade separation with elevated tracks over intersections, it could have a good average speed from Huntington to Ft. Belvoir. In any case, an evaluation study of BRT vs LRT vs Metro would have to be done. If a Metro line were to built along Rt. 1, I suspect it would end up looking like the Silver Line running down Rt. 7 in Tysons - not very attractive going up and down over intersections. The concrete roller coaster look.

As for the 148' wide road, that is better than 180' wide version in the earlier plans. My impression from the presentation is that this design and route is close to a final decision, so it may well be a done deal.

by AlanF on Aug 2, 2012 5:08 pm • linkreport

We've learned that the reason for having BOTH the wide median AND the 14 foot curbside lane is to allow for either center running or curbside transit in the future. Because of this "hedging of bets" officials are proposing this overly wide and overly expensive highway-scale facility.

I would lay the blame squarely on VDOT for its failure over two decades to support an integrated road and dedicated transit lane solution for Route 1. During the 2011 General Assembly session, Governor McDonnell promised Senator Puller and Delegate Surovell to fund a transit study for Route 1 and the General Assembly passed a resolution in support. Yet, over a year later there's no study by the state. Failure by the state to complete the study, which was only needed to make a basic selection of mode of transit and center running or side running service, has resulted in this politicized, over-sized roadway. My experience with VDOT is such that we may never see the rapid transit, but we will see another two lanes added to the six they propose here -- thanks to the extra-wide right-of-way. So this project should not move forward without the basic decision on transit alignment.

by Stewart Schwartz on Aug 2, 2012 6:52 pm • linkreport

I hope that Prince Georges County, MD is given consideratin for any future relocation of Federal, private, and public jobs. They have the infrastructure and base (land, transportation system, such as Metro, Amtrack, major highways such as Rts 495, 95, & 50 etc.,facilities, services, and other installations). Can anyone tell me why this county is allways bypassed for jobs, and development? Finally, I am in total agreement with your article: - Moving so many jobs to Fort Belvoir, far from effective transit, was a mistake.

by Tax Payer on Aug 3, 2012 6:48 am • linkreport

@ Tax payer: I hope that Prince Georges County, MD is given consideratin for any future relocation of Federal, private, and public jobs. They have the infrastructure and base (land, transportation system, such as Metro, Amtrack, major highways such as Rts 495, 95, & 50 etc.,facilities, services, and other installations).

I hope that Prince Georges County, MDFairfax County is given consideratin for any future relocation of Federal, private, and public jobs. They have the infrastructure and base (land, transportation system, such as Metro, Amtrack, VRE, major highways such as Rts 495, 95, 66& 50 1, and a brand new metro line etc.,facilities, services, and other installations).

Can anyone tell me why this county is allways bypassed for jobs, and development?

Because the BOS of Fairfax County is competent and reliable instead of corrupt and a mess?

by Jasper on Aug 3, 2012 7:00 am • linkreport

I'm not sure I see anything in this article that really reinforces that widening Route 1 is "more likely to harm the community character, degrade historic sites, and make traffic worse" other than that line or the title.

by selxic on Aug 3, 2012 8:52 am • linkreport

I think addressing the east west jobs/housing imbalance in the metro area would be good for the entire region - that imbalance adds to commute trips, creating congestion, need for costly infrastructure, and pollution. I would vote for the new FBI HQ going to PG, not FFX or LoCo, if it were up to me. I wish PG well in addressing the legacy of corruption (and I hope the Commonwealth can overcome the influence of Til Hazel, and the current climate change denialist rage) I dont know that was as important to DoD as their own internal needs though.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 3, 2012 9:15 am • linkreport

@selxic: I have to agree, honestly. I still support an underground Yellow Line extension, for any number of reasons. And I do agree that there's no good way to do the widening down on the fort (though if push were to come to shove, I'd rather lose a bit from the church instead of the stables.) That being said...the entirety of Route 1 between Alexandria and Belvoir could use a significant makeover. As of now it's pretty much nothing but strip malls and roadside businesses - it could become a lot more with a little thought. Something like this widening might be just the thing to help it along.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Aug 3, 2012 9:59 am • linkreport

@ Ser etc: the stables

The stables are actually an issue. This area has a huge equestrian history. People may not realize that most American Olympic horses live here under the patronage of Jacqueline Mars. NoVa is as important horse country as Upstate NY, Kentucky and Florida. Due to the suburbanization of Fairfax most of that has been pushed into Loudoun, but the Woodlawn stables are pretty much the only public accessible horse stables left in Fairfax County.

Coming back to the whole plan, and having read some of the background stuff, I am actually pretty satisfied. They're pretty much doing the right things: worrying about historic spots; adding bike and pedestrian infrastructure; leaving space for transit; and leaving the decision about how to use the transit space to local authorities without any preference.

Nothing is perfect, but I like the way USDOT is hitting the right points.

Now, let's push the county and state to get the Yellow Line there.

by Jasper on Aug 3, 2012 11:08 am • linkreport

@ Jasper: - yes, that was what I meant. I'd rather lose from the church and/or a bit of the plantation grounds before they touch the stables. Sorry - should've been clearer.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Aug 3, 2012 1:29 pm • linkreport

It's not like the church hasn't had to make accommodations before...

by selxic on Aug 3, 2012 1:51 pm • linkreport

Alex, of the appx 31,000 employees in the daytime work force of Belvoir's "Main Post" (the north and south parcels that straddle Richmond Highway), only about 7,000 of them or so are military. Some do live in housing on post. Most of the work force commuting in to work every day are federal employees and contractors who are not authorized to reside in the housing on post. Of the 2,100 homes on post, about 70% of the military in them do not work at Belvoir. They get up in the morning and commute to somewhere else (Pentagon, Fort Myer, Andrews, leased office space like Hoffman Bldg., Pulaski, Skyline, etc.). There are even people who live at Belvoir who commute to duty at Fort Meade (and vice versa).

I think it is also important to note - and only fair - that the widening of Richmond Highway is something that has been on the books for more than 20 years. The real need for the widening - the basis for the VDOT plans they've been showing off and on since the mid-'90s - is the explosive growth of Lorton and other parts of South County, south of Fort Belvoir. There is VERY little tied to the widening that is related to Fort Belvoir or even to its BRAC growth - despite what most politicos and others would have you believe.

The only legitimate link to make to the military, then, is that the DOD BRAC provided the means for funding that, for whatever reason, the state and local jurisdictions had failed to provide for so many years. Even then, Congressman Moran and his cohorts had to make the case that the widening was needed specifically to support the new hospital at Belvoir and the ability of Wounded Warriors and other beneficiaries to be able to get to it. Without that, it's not very likely the $180M would have come to pass.

Finally, DOD itself has little to do with the "building" or widening of the road. Belvoir is an interested stakeholder, of course. But, the decisions on alignments and anything else related to the road are the purview of VDOT and Federal Highways.

by Don Carr on Aug 3, 2012 3:04 pm • linkreport

@ Ser: I was just expanding the point about the stables. You were not unclear.

It's just that I've found very few people are aware of the equestrian history here. After all, Middleburg is a shocking 40 miles from the Mall on US-50, so why would people know it exists? The Beltway is not only a symbol of political myopia.

by Jasper on Aug 3, 2012 4:06 pm • linkreport

The whole "brac" thing is some of the most stupid ideas to ever come out of DC. "Lets close all these little bases in small towns and enlarge the already to-large bases sitting on some of the most expensive real estate in the country and spend billions to do save money.

by Steve on Aug 4, 2012 6:16 am • linkreport

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