Community members have until Friday to let the Virginia Department of Transportation know how they feel about two pedestrian underpasses being part of the Richmond Highway widening project.
The underpasses would run beneath two new bridges that will need to be constructed as part of the widening project. One bridge would be built over Dogue Creek (between Jeff Todd Way and Sacramento Drive) and the other would be built over Little Hunting Creek (between Mount Vernon Highway and Napper Road).
The new bridges will be significantly longer and higher than what currently exists, which is why it is now possible for the underpasses to be constructed. Currently there are no pedestrian underpasses or overpasses planned for the widening project, which will add one lane in each direction between Jeff Todd Way and Sherwood Hall Lane. The project will also add bike lanes and connected sidewalks on each side of the road, and leave room in the median for the future Richmond Highway bus rapid transit (BRT) system.
VDOT representatives emphasized the need for more community feedback about the underpasses at a March 26 design public hearing at Mount Vernon High School. The officials fielded questions about the underpasses, and outlining a few potential advantages and disadvantages of the underpasses:
Provides alternative to crosswalks at signalized intersections
Provides a single stage of crossing Richmond Highway
No potential conflict points between pedestrians and vehicles
Maintenance (trash, snow, graffiti)
Extreme weather such as flooding or snow could make underpasses impassable
State Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36) and Del. Paul Krizek (D-44) are each in favor of the underpasses, and they recency spent a Saturday morning canvassing neighborhoods near where the underpasses would be built. Three Lee District supervisor candidates — Larysa Kautz, Rodney Lusk and James Migliaccio — joined the state politicians as they talked to residents in the Spring Garden Apartments, Harmony Place Trailer Park, the Audubon Estates and other developments in the area.
“What I explained to people is that it’s very dangerous right now for anybody to cross Route 1,” said Surovell, who said the group gathered around 300 signatures in favor of the underpasses. “Under Embark [Richmond Highway] the county is required to build out a more robust pedestrian infrastructure. Having these safe connections next to Little Hunting Creek and Dogue Creek [should] be a major part of that.”
The underpasses also have the support of the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations (MVCCA) and the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling. Last month the MVCCA passed a resolution urging Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck to support of the underpasses.
“The pedestrian walkway underpasses must be safe and secure, and … must be pedestrian friendly, inviting, well maintained, and [aesthetically] pleasing in order for them to be fully utilized and safe,” the MVCCA’s resolution read in part.
The FABB noted on its website that the future bike lanes on each side of the highway will be one-way, and that the underpasses would allow riders to switch directions without encountering traffic.
However some groups have voiced concerns about the underpasses, primarily citing safety concerns. The New Gum Springs Civic Association voted against the Little Hunting Creek underpass in a meeting earlier this month. An email to members from NGSCA President Queenie Cox said worries over the homeless population using the underpass for shelter, as well concerns about potential “drug use and criminal activity,” impacted the vote.
“[It] would not be safe for use by the general public because the Fairfax County Police Department and VDOT do not have adequate resources to monitor the underpass activities,” Cox said in the email.
Cox said a pedestrian bridge should be considered instead.
“The community strongly feels that a pedestrian bridge is a more viable option with less adverse impact to Gum Springs and surrounding communities,” Cox said in the email. “A pedestrian bridge would allow pedestrians to cross Richmond Highway safely and traffic on Richmond Highway would not be impeded.”
The Mount Vernon District Republicans also indicated opposition to the underpass, saying in a Facebook post that the underpass would be unsafe and was unnecessary.
“Senator Scott Surovell and Delegate Paul Krizek think it’s a good idea to have a pedestrian underpass, also known as a tunnel, in one of the highest crime districts in Fairfax County,” the post read. “Crosswalks work everywhere else.”
Surovell reiterated his position Monday, telling Covering The Corridor that the underpass would provide a safe link for kids on the west side of Route 1 to access resources like the Gum Springs Community Center, the Martin Luther King Jr. Pool and the George Washington Recreation Center. Surovell said the paths along the creeks could help foster a better community appreciation for the Dogue Creek and Little Hunting Creek environmental corridors.
“From my point of view we have one chance to get this right for the next 50 years,” Surovell said. “We need to keep the long-term vision in mind.”
VDOT’s survey on the pedestrian underpass can be filled out here.