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Improving U.S. 1 North of Fort Belvoir

A look at improving Route 1 near Fort Belvoir.

The other day, I came across an article about the widening of Route 1 in Woodbridge.  Between that and the coming federally-funded widening through Fort Belvoir, I often get queries from constituents who want to know why Route 1 is being improved there, but not between Woodlawn and the Beltway.  There are two reasons – planning and money. 

Before a road can be widened there are a series of required studies that lay the groundwork for construction.  In our community, that process was started back in 1991 by Senator Toddy Puller who passed multiple resolutions through the General Assembly to initiate the planning process.  That process was called the Route 1 Centerline Study - an effort to set the general configuration of Route 1 from Fredericksburg to Alexandria.  That process chugged along until it bogged down on our stretch about 12 years ago over two problems.

First, once possible road widening scenarios started to surface, businesses and communities began to voice concerns about the changes it would bring.  Given the established nature of our community, widening would involve the relocation of dozens of businesses.  They were not happy.  There were other complaints as well. 

Second, Route 1 is part of the National Highway System.  Any new centerline requires the approval of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).  The Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan calls for some mode of transit on Route 1 from Alexandria to Lorton – Metro, light rail or bus rapid transit.  The FHWA will not approve a new centerline study incorporating transit without a study that demonstrates that the mode of transit contemplated is appropriate.  

No one would pay for the transit study.  Senator Puller passed a resolution in 2005 to pay for it, but it got bogged down in the politics of newly announced BRAC changes.  A year ago Senator Puller and I pushed through a new resolution authorizing a transit study.  The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transit has earmarked $1 million and Fairfax County has applied for a federal grant to pay for the remainder.  Federal grants will be announced this month and if it is rejected, the County has committed to pay for the balance and then we’re off to the races. 

The other big problem is a lack of money – the state has none.  The gas tax was last raised to $0.175 cents/gallon when I was a sophomore at West Potomac High School and gas cost $0.95 per gallon.  By statute, the state is required to fund maintenance and administration before construction, but now even that is in trouble.  VDOT has fired a third of their employees off their peak employment.  The hay in our medians is now only harvested twice a year – or when I send an email complaining about a particular stretch.  Roads in our area are increasingly potholed and patched instead of repaired.  Over 25% of Fairfax County’s secondary roads need to be paved. 

Every new revenue proposal or gas tax increase has been dead on arrival at the House of Delegates.  Last session, bills were even introduced by three Republicans – including the Chairmen of the Transportation and Appropriations Committees – but their caucus is still dominated by anti-tax legislators who have signed the “No New Taxes” Pledge and Governor McDonnell has repeatedly said he will not support any tax increases.

In the last three years, the largest transportation state-funded project has been $150 million.  The widening of U.S . 1 is estimated to cost about $900 million.  It will take at least 10-15 years of planning and discussion to lay the groundwork for widening and by then it will certainly cost more than $1 billion. 

So here’s the bottom line.  Bringing change to Route 1 is going to require everyone in the community to sit down and work through our differences and agree on an alignment over the coming years.  Second it is going to require the Commonwealth of Virginia to put some new revenue on the table. 

I hope everyone in the community will continue to work towards both of these objectives so we can build a Route 1 that will allow us to continue to enjoy our quality of life in our part of Fairfax County.

It is an honor to serve as your state delegate. 

Tik August 02, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Mr. Surovell: Thank you for your well-written and informed article. Rarely do I hear elected officials talk openly about the red tape involved getting decisions made across various government stakeholders. Having attended my share of public forums, I've consistently heard citizens express discontent--but rarely have I heard officials respond with the hard truth of what it takes to get something accomplished in our modern Age of Regulations. The USA is a great country, no doubt about it. But we have managed to weave ourselves a complex web of regulatory restrictions that cross boundaries that often have conflicting priorities. You are right on point when you say, "everyone in the community [must] sit down and work through our differences and agree on an alignment over the coming years." It doesn't matter if we're talking about Route 1, the Potomac Nationals stadium, bringing the Metro down I-95, reducing traffic, increasing job opportunities, etc. With too many cooks in the kitchen, there's no progress. Just government and political impasse. I would love to hear Virginia politicians start talking about relieving the worst traffic jam in the country: Too many opinions without a means to reach consensus. To think that Barack Obama or Mitt Romney can, as individuals, make any impact in this country is a myth--not while political parties, regulatory bodies, states, lobbyists, constituents, etc., have a say with no means to resolve conflict. Thanks for your honesty! C. Ratcliff
Mandy August 04, 2012 at 03:49 PM
People should reflect on the 1994 earthquake in California and remember how quickly the freeway and bridges were repaired or re-built around LA once the government got out of the way with regulations and the private sector was incentivized to complete projects ahead of time. In an emergency, we seem to complete road projects without the endless decades of study upon study and no action. Apparently, the widening of Route 1 isn't that big of a problem otherwise, we wouldn't be wringing our hands and studying this for decades. Maybe we should focus on something that is of greater importance to citizens. Or maybe we really have no problems but have places where improvements could be made but just like all human nature, we just ponder it and put it off until tomorrow. I live where I can view Route I traffic on a daily basis and I see traffic flows well for a large road that has numerous traffic lights with numerous stores. After all, this may be a highway but it is located in a city environment so perhaps people expect something that is impossible in a highly populated area. We need to be realistic.
Mary Prunchak August 18, 2012 at 01:41 PM
This article is informative, thank you. It seems that the Ft. Belvoir development is forcing decisions and that safety will be a major issue forcing everyone to contribute to solutions for Route 1. With new condo development, small businesses, a fair number of of pedestrians and access to a major new military hospital involved, things may start to happen that will force the state to avoid embarassment. It could be a national model for renewal of such stretches of highway in the country.

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