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Widening of U.S. 1 to ease Fort Belvoir commute

Wednesday - 5/15/2013, 4:24am  ET

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Looking north on U.S. 1 near Ft. Belvoir Main Post, this stretch is four lanes, but would become six lanes under the widening project from Telegraph Road to Mount Vernon Memorial Highway. The project is due to begin this fall and be completed in 2016. (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

FORT BELVOIR, Va. - This fall, a project to widen U.S. 1/Richmond Highway between Telegraph Road and Mount Vernon Memorial Highway will begin to help ease the commute to Fort Belvoir.

Funded by the Department of Defense, the project will cost $180 million and will take three years to complete. It will widen the road from four lanes to six.

"This project will work wonders," says Chris Landgraf, master planner at Fort Belvoir.

"Right now, we have six lanes of traffic coming up to Telegraph Road from the south, then it goes down to four lanes. The roads around Fort Belvoir have needed to be widened for 30 years."

Prince William County Supervisor Martin Nohe says the commute to the area has changed significantly from 40 years ago.

"When my father was stationed to Fort Belvoir in the 1970s, it took about 12 minutes to get from Woodbridge to the base. Now it feels like you can't even get out of your neighborhood in that time," Nohe says.

With more than 30,000 people living or working at the Belvoir Main Post, traffic from the south tends to bottleneck each morning.

"It's a sorely needed project to deal with the BRAC impact there. Fort Belvoir and Quantico tend to funnel traffic between the bases, sending a lot of vehicles on Route 1. There aren't a lot of options there," says Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton.

Next spring, construction also will be completed on Mulligan Road. That will connect U.S. 1 to Telegraph Road, giving drivers another option to the Capital Beltway or Interstate 95 at the Franconia Springfield Parkway or Franconia Road, just south of the Springfield Interchange.

However, the widening project requires a portion of the historic Woodlawn Stables to be taken away. While groups have organized to save the stables, it appears the project will move forward.

A final decision on Woodlawn Stables could come in July.

Others worry the project will only move the congestion north.

"All you're doing is moving the choke point out of sight for the people with the money," says Doug Killey, who works at Fort Belvoir.

"Think about the enlargement on Route 1 in Quantico near Joplin Road. Once the lanes go back down, the traffic builds up. Doing it incrementally doesn't work," Killey says.

Another Fort Belvoir worker anticipates gridlock.

"During the construction phase, that traffic is going to be on I-95. I just say 'Wow, it's going to be a parking lot,'" says Robert Spencer.

"I hope it'll end in the long run, but I am not convinced yet," he says.

But Connaughton says fixing the problem in segments is the only way to get it done.

"We are widening pieces of it, so that one day we can fill in the gaps. We cannot afford to do it all at once, so this is the way it has to be done," Connaughton says.

The approach is similar for the long stretch of U.S. 1 between Quantico and the Occoquan River, near Woodbridge.

Prince William County Transportation Secretary Tom Blaser has told WTOP there isn't nearly enough money to fix the entire stretch at once, so it must be tackled piece by piece to spread out the costs.

"There is no single solution to the problem," says Landgraf.

"We need to tackle the traffic issue in many different modes. Road widening is one part of it. The solution must also include mass transit, like VRE and Metro, buses like our Fairfax Connector and carpools and vanpools," he says.

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