Community meeting on Richmond Highway widening is Wednesday

VDOT illustration of widening

(VDOT image)

The next community meeting on the project to widen Richmond Highway to three lanes in each direction between Hybla Valley and Fort Belvoir will be this Wednesday.

The meeting, which will be held at Mount Vernon High School from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., will have new information about a number of aspects of the project, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation. Since the previous community meeting in November, VDOT says it has refined certain elements of the widening project, and will have new information on the following:

  • Preferred design alternatives at the Sacramento Drive/Cooper Road and Buckman Road/Mount Vernon Highway intersections
  • Types of stormwater management facilities and proposed locations under consideration (bioretention, wet pond and underground detention)

VDOT also said a new interactive map will also be on display at the meeting, allowing people to access information about how the project will affect specific points along the Richmond Highway corridor.

The project, which began last year and is in the design phase, will widen Route 1 from four to six lanes from the Jeff Todd Way/Mount Vernon Memorial Highway intersection to Napper Road. The widening will leave room in the median for a future bus rapid transit (BRT) system envisioned in the recently approved Embark Richmond Highway plan. 

The widening will also add bicycle lanes and sidewalks to each side of the highway, improving one of the worst sections of Route 1 for either activity. 

A public hearing on the design is scheduled to be held in the fall, and final approval should come sometime next winter, according to VDOT.

Funding question

Right of way acquisition for the widening project is scheduled to begin next spring, with construction of the $215 million project slated to start in 2023 (utility relocation is scheduled to start in 2020). But recent developments in Richmond could threaten that timeline. 

A bill passed by the Virginia General Assembly to fully fund Metro pulls a major chunk of money from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority’s budget. The NVTA is one of the main revenue sources for various transportation projects in the area — including the Richmond Highway widening, which, along with BRT, topped Fairfax County’s most recent funding request to the authority.

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck is one of a number of local politicians sounding the alarm about the Metro funding bill. He said in a column sent to local newspapers last week that the future of the Embark Richmond Highway initiative — which is dependent on the Route 1 widening project — is already in peril unless NVTA funding is restored.

“The Richmond Highway transportation projects are estimated to cost $700 million, with less than $100 million allocated to these projects to date,” Storck wrote. “With $377 million in funding for Richmond Highway improvements projected to come from future NVTA allocations, the funding of Embark is in jeopardy.”

The $154 million Metro funding bill is now awaiting a decision from Gov. Ralph Northam, who has the power to amend it and send it back to the general assembly for a vote. Northam has indicated he will amend the bill, and said last week that negotiations are in progress.

Speaking on WTOP’s “Ask the Governor” show last week, Northam said he’s aware of the concerns raised by many Northern Virginia politicians and organizations. He emphasized that funding for Metro and the NVTA was not an “either/or” situation, and that he understood the concerns of Northern Virginia officials.

I have talked to a lot of the local leaders here in Northern Virginia; they obviously have concerns with [the current bill], as do I,” Northam said.

The NVTA — in a letter to Northam co-signed by leaders from Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun, Arlington, Alexandria and the City of Falls Church — has made four recommendations for restoring the money for its projects, including the allocation of additional state funding for Metro or reverting the current bill back to the way it was passed in the Virginia senate. 

Northam did not give WTOP any details on where negotiations were currently at, however, and it remains to be seen what he will propose when the general assembly convenes again on April 18.

“We have a lot of options on the table right now,” Northam said. “I think at the end of the day we will have a plan, we will have our share [for Metro] …. and hopefully it will be something that everyone is content with.” 

More information and documents related to the Route 1 widening project can be seen on VDOT’s website