Editor's Note: This is the first of a three-part series examining transportation, development and business along the Route 1 corridor.
The Route 1 corridor in southeastern Fairfax County sees more than 60,000 vehicles per day—and it doesn't seem like any of those drivers are happy with the status quo on the 7.5-mile stretch of congested highway.
Neither are the cyclists who commute through or live near the corridor, nor pedestrians who patronize the highway’s incoherent patchwork of shops and restaurants set amid sprawling, unseemly parking lots. New apartments, stores and hotels planned for Route 1, as well as expansion at Fort Belvoir through the Base Realignment and Closure act, or BRAC, will add to the roadway's already-heavy usage.
Simply put—as many local residents are all too aware—there is too much traffic and not enough capacity.
Improvements Plans Abound
Plans have long been under way to add additional transit options along the corridor—including calls to extend Metro’s Yellow Line to at least Fort Belvoir—and to widen the highway, but those talks have, so far, resulted in little action on the ground.
Transportation needs along the highway are a top priority for local agencies and organizations, including the Washington-based Coalition for Smarter Growth.
“We think (the Route 1 corridor) can be a model for a walking, biking and more transit-accessible community,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the coalition. “Route 1 should be a truly urban boulevard, one that ties together the whole corridor and is not simply a high-speed commuter route. It should be the Main Street for that part of Fairfax County.”
Last year, state Sen. Toddy Puller and Del. Scott Surovell, both Mount Vernon Democrats, succeeded in obtaining $3 million in state funds for a two-year transit study along Route 1 from Alexandria to Quantico. Solutions to the corridor’s transportation woes may include more buses or expansion of Metro’s Blue or Yellow lines, Puller said.
“Some people think the Blue Line would be cheaper, and some people really want the Yellow Line to go down Route 1,” she said. “But I don’t know if we have the density for Route 1. I don’t know if we’d have enough riders. That’s part of what has to be determined.”
Surovell said his annual constituent surveys show overwhelming support for extending Metro to Lorton. “Personally, I think extending the Metro underground would be the best thing we could do to support development on Route 1,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of work to be done in order to make that happen. There’s a lot of studies and community support needed.”
The study is being conducted by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation in conjunction with the county. In a November update, the state suggested improving traffic signals, establishing a dedicated transit lane and revamping transit shelters and pedestrian facilities.
Meanwhile, the county is currently in the process of obtaining $180 million in federal money to widen Route 1 to six lanes between Telegraph Road and Mount Vernon Highway, said Fairfax County Department of Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny. Biesiadny said an environmental study is now under way and said he could not estimate when construction could begin.
The road widening will leave space in the middle of the highway for future transit options such as express buses or rail.
Additional Studies In Progress
Two additional transit studies are planned for the corridor. The Countywide Transit Network Study, which could begin in early 2012, will cost approximately $2 million and will examine public transportation options throughout the county, including Route 1.
Second is an in-depth alternatives analysis for transit on Route 1 that would meet requirements to secure federal funding. That study will examine options for buses, light rail and Metro and is estimated to cost $3.5 million, Biesiadny said.
“It is our highest transit usage corridor in the county already, and obviously there have been redevelopment efforts underway in the corridor,” as well as BRAC, he said. “A number of additional jobs have been added at Fort Belvoir, and that has added to additional traffic that would benefit from transit and highway improvements.”
On the south end of the highway, Mulligan Road will be extended to Telegraph Road, said David Versel, executive director of the Southeast Fairfax Development Corp.
Cyclists Weigh In
Adam Froehlig, transportation liaison for the Huntington Community Association, likens cycling on Route 1 to “taking our lives in our own hands.”
“I would not cycle to Target,” Froehlig said. “I would be more apt to cycle to the Target at Potomac Yards, which is four miles away, than the one at Beacon Hill, which is one-and-a-half miles away, just because bicycle accommodation is better going throughout Alexandria.”
Froehlig’s transportation wish list includes bike lanes, turn lanes, speeds between 35 and 45 mph, timed signals, wide sidewalks and Metro.
Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling member Mark Murphy of Huntington said new developments have made Route 1 more accessible from Alexandria, but heading south on Route 1 past Huntington is difficult.
“The lights and the traffic are very unfriendly,” he said. “It can be dangerous to cross some of the intersections at Route 1 because drivers just aren’t looking for bikers.”
Cyclists are also interested in improved access from Route 1 to the Huntington Metro station. Murphy sees an opportunity to build better cycling amenities as Route 1 is redeveloped.
“It’s a now-or-never situation, I think, where they can keep cyclists and pedestrians in mind when they’re designing or redesigning Route 1,” he said. “They have a chance to make some improvements that would last a long time. It would be a lot harder to go in later and put something in after the fact.”
The county is currently formulating the Fairfax Countywide Bicycle Transportation Plan and has held multiple information sessions to gather input from cyclists. Bob Patten, a senior planner with Toole Design Group, the consultancy working with the county, said he hopes to have a draft plan ready to submit to the county’s Bicycle Advisory Committee in April.
Feedback from a Nov. 17 information session in Mount Vernon included comments that cycling the corridor is especially difficult during rush hours, that a lack of an alternative to Route 1 between Huntley Meadows Park and the neighborhoods south and west of Little Hunting Creek is a major barrier, that a trail along Cameron Run between Telegraph Road and Route 1 should be built, and that safety improvements are needed for cyclists coming and going from Wilson Bridge.
Public Transportation Initiative Going Slow
The county is currently making modest improvements along Route 1 through the Fairfax County Richmond Highway Public Transportation Initiative, which aims to improve transit services and pedestrian facilities between Huntington and Mount Vernon Memorial Highway. The initiative calls for upgrading bus stops, improving pedestrian facilities at 29 intersections and filling in 5.6 miles of missing sidewalks.
But since the initiative began in 2004, the county has added only three-fifths of one mile of sidewalks, improved pedestrian facilities at four intersections and competed seven REX bus stop improvements, said Michael Guarino, a Fairfax County transportation planner. Right-of-way issues, utility conflicts and the lack of space to add sidewalks that meet current design standards have caused delays, he said. There is no target completion date.
“We’re trying the best we can,” Guarino said. “We’re not going as fast as everybody would like, but we’re doing our best to get this on the ground.”
Froehlig, with the Huntington Community Association, is disappointed with the initiative’s pace to date.
“That has been very slow and almost nonexistent,” he said. “So we are basically, for lack of another term, stuck in a rut.”
Correction: Adam Froehlig's last name was initially spelled incorrectly. The error has been corrected.