How Much Have We Lost?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Where I Stand Today On Widening of U.S. 1

I've now posted up a couple articles about the background of the widening of U.S. 1, Woodlawn and Woodlawn Stables.  You can read them here:

From my point of view, this is a balancing act.  Here are some of the variables I've been thinking about balancing in arriving at my position:
  • The need to expand U.S. 1 to handle present and future transportation needs including enhanced mass transit.
  • The community's interest in promoting economic development in the U.S. 1 corridor including the promotion of our community's historic assets such as U.S. 1 itself, the Mount Vernon Estate, The Grist Mill/Distillery Complex, Woodlawn Mansion, Gunston Hall, and coming soon, the U.S. Army Museum.
  • Minimizing the impact of improvements on existing community institutions such as Woodlawn Baptist Church, Woodlawn Stables and the Woodlawn Estate.
  • Ensuring this is achieved in a timely manner without undue delay that could jeopardize funding.
It's also important to keep a long-term perspective about these matters. The configuration for U.S. 1 will be in place for generations and potentially in perpetuity. According to most maps, the road has been in its current location since it was originally constructed and then widened for four lanes in the 1930's.

At the beginning of the month, I authored a letter that was signed by all of the state legislators whose districts touch the project.  No options had been published at that point, but we all said we supported a configuration that contemplated a widening in place.  A few days later, the official options were unveiled.

I do not speak for the other legislators who signed the letter, but here are my views.  First, I support a widening in place that does the following:
  1. Reserves a median for future mass transit,
  2. Utilizes the existing road orientation, and
  3. Avoids the cemetery. 
The current proposed widening in place does not avoid the cemetery.  That is a big problem. 

My personal opinion is that a widening in place avoids the cemetery would minimize harm to all of the parties involved, minimize disruption to the broader community, enhance U.S. 1's ability to move people, and reserve the groundwork for future transit improvements.  The problem with that alternative is that it moves the road closer to the Quaker Meeting House, would take some land from Woodlawn's north parcel, and potentially require the moving of the Grandview House.  Some people have hinted that there might be legal obstacles to this.   

My understanding is that the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) feels very strongly that because it is physically possible to construct the bypass, then taking land from the north parcel is legally prohibited.  That presupposes a couple things:
  • That a bypass option does not harm the Woodlawn Estate.
  • The realigning the road does not harm the historic district.
Harm is more that physical harm.  I do not see how digging the road another 15 yards into the hillside causes any increased visual, pollution or noise harm to the Woodlawn Estate.  It causes physical harm to the Woodlawn Estate by the loss of 5-10% of its north parcel and the Grandview House needs to be moved back a bit, but otherwise, I do not see how the Woodlawn Estate is otherwise adversely affected. 

On the other hand, while the bypass option consolidates the Mansion with the farm buildings, as far as I know, there has always been a road running through the property.  The NTHP seems to assume that removing the primary Washington-Richmond road that's always been there somehow enhances the "historic" context of the property.  Perhaps if you look back before the Pre-Columbian settlement of this area, but U.S. 1 - in fact Historic Route 1 as the General Assembly recently named it - has always been right there.  It's not clear to me how creating a situation that has never existed somehow enhances the historic context of the property. 

Moroever, the tradeoff is running a brand new six lane road through what has been farm fields on the Estate since at least the year 1800.  That does not preserve the historic character of the property and is more visually intrusive than using the existing road alignment. 

Therefore, balancing a 5-10% loss of land and the need to move Grandview against the physical damage, visual and sound damage done to the overall historic district and the visual damage done to the Woodlawn Estate National Historic Landmark done by building a bypass, I am not clear how a bypass is a more "feasible and prudent" alternative. 

 If any amount of physical damage to a National Historic Landmark trumps all other factors then that would end the legal analysis and a bypass is the only option. The law does not appear to be nearly that simple from what I can gather without investing about forty hours of legal research in this and from what the NTHP has on their website. That would be a very inflexible legal standard not well suited to practical realities.

Now, I'm not an expert in historic preservation or transportation law, but I still would like to see a legal analysis and truly detailed briefing on the interplay of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), or Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act (SAFETEA-LU).  I have been practicing law long enough to not simply accept what people tell me the law is - I need to see the backup and the analysis.  Most of my clients don't pay me to accept other lawyers' conclusions all the time before advising them what to do.

If someone else has a different legal analysis of how all this washes out, I'd be happy to consider it because no one has pointed me to any clear statement of law that says what I've written above is an incorrect way to analyze this, and I'm very worried about where this matter is heading legally.  The absolute last thing we need is another Wegman's or Mulligan Road situation where lengthy litigation ends up delaying construction of this project for five years. 

In the meantime, the FHWA is accepting public comments on the proposal through July 6, 2012.  I have set up an online form where you can submit comments and I will forward them to the FHWA in bulk. 

1 comment:

  1. A simple resolution to widening in place, put the reserved median for future mass transit to the side of the road and not down the middle. Mass transit is 15-30 years off if it ever makes it way down Rt.1. If the reserve is off to one side, say the side of the cemetery, then that land will not have to be disturbed durring the widening effort.

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