Saturday, June 23, 2012

Public Discourse on U.S. 1 Widening

Earlier this week, I wrote about some of the historical and legal background to the U.S. 1 widening problem.  I said I would write more on Tuesday, but I got a nasty cold from my kids - sorry for the delay!  In this article, I focus on the back and forth on the political parts of this.

As a quick aside, the image at the right is a close up of a detailed 1928 Fire Prevention Map for Fort Humphreys (Belvoir) that I've got framed in my house.  Note that the entire area has no trees.

After a multi-year oddyssey, Congressman Jim Moran was finally able to secure funding for U.S. 1 by transforming an earmark into a grant program.  Fairfax County applied for a grant and last November, was awarded $180 million to widen U.S. 1 between Telegraph Road and Mount Vernon Memorial Highway (VA-235) to mitigate the effects of BRAC.

In October, 2011, the FHWA held a public hearing to discuss preliminary design considerations.  You can view the public display boards from that hearing here:

There were also meetings going on behind the scenes between the FHWA and affected parties.  You can see minutes of those meetings here:

Shortly afterwards, I received a call from a constituent who is a parishioner Woodlawn Baptist Church that they had discovered that a "bypass" was being discussed to run around the back of their church and that they knew nothing about it.  I put them in touch with the FHWA and did not hear anything further about it for about five months.

In the last week of April, the Woodlawn Stables supporters burst on to the scene having recently advised of the bypass alternative.  Apparently, the owners of the stables had not been included in the discussions because they are renters and not owners of the property where they operate. 

Since then, I have now toured the site, met with the Pastor of Woodlawn Baptist Church, had several lengthy phone calls with counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the FHWA, and several local elected officials and their staff have toured the site.  I've also recently had meetings with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation's staff.

There are several letters that have been exchanged which I have embedded below:
  • 5/11/12 - Letter from FHWA to VA Dept. of Historic Resources Regarding Determination of Adversely Affected Properties
  • 5/21/12 - Letter from VA Dept. of Historic Resources to FHWA supporting limited improvements through historic district.
  • 5/30/12 - Letter from Cong. Moran Supporting Renewed Section 106 Process (process relating to decisions affecting historic properties) & Enclosing Correspondence from Save Woodlawn Stables regarding process deficiencies
  • 6/1/12 - Letter from Cong. Moran Supporting widening in place
  • 6/4/12 - Letter from Senators Puller & Ebbin, Delegates Surovell, Albo & Sickles supporting widening in place
  • 6/5/12 - Letter from Supervisor Hyland supporting widening in place.
  • 6/15/12 - Letter from NTHP Chief Preservation Officer David Brown explaining NTHP's position on U.S. 1 widening.
Important U.S. 1 Widening Letters

Also, the FHWA commissioned a survey of the Woodlawn Baptist Church Cemetery.  I have not read the entire document, but it has a fascinating summary of local land ownership and development of the area.  You can read it here.  The bottom line is the following:
  • There are 176-179 burials south of U.S. 1.  There are 133 markers.  Some graves are unmarked.
  • Grave markers date from the 1870's to 1990's.  There are no markers in the 2000s.
  • No likely graves were found on the limited area surveyed north of U.S. 1.
Saying nothing about the morality or policy of moving interred remains, I've been given different information about the consequences of this in terms of the road.  I've heard estimates could run $5 to $10M to move these graves and could take 2-3 years due to the required notifications to family members and need to locate land to move the graves. 
Now that you are thoroughly confused by all of this, let me try to simplifying this bullet point style.
  • This improvement is being constructed by the FHWA.  Mostly with federal money.
  • U.S. 1 is a state road.  It is also part of the National Highway System.  All improvements to it must be approved by the federal government.  I am fairly certain (about 90%) that because it is a state road, improvements also require VDOT approval.  VDOT also heavily weighs local government approval and the local Comprehensive Plan.
  • All federal road construction projects must comply with several federal enactments including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), and the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Safe Users (SAFETEA-LU).
  • The Woodlawn Mansion and entire north parcel is a National Historic Landmark - accorded the highest protection.
  • The remainder of the Woodlawn property and several surrounding buildings are either listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places or are eligible and are accorded some lesser protection.  Some are not.  See my last post for more information on that
  • The FHWA is required by NEPA and SAFETEA-LU to select an alternative that minimizes harm to historic assets and may only select an alternative that damages privately held historic assets if
    • There is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of land.
    • The action includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the property resulting from use.
The last bullet point is what is driving this discussion.  Tomorrow, I'm going to try to write some more about my current thoughts on all this.

1 comment:

  1. Scott
    I am so thankful to you for providing this detail and background on the route 1 widening issue. Usually I feel so out of the loop on developments right in my own 'backyard.' Your blog is doing a great job to fill me in! Thanks for posting all this.