10 updates on South Alexandria road and transportation projects
Lead project managers for the Richmond Highway Corridor Improvements (“road widening”) project and the Richmond Highway Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project briefed attendees of the Feb. 9 Mount Vernon Springfield Chamber of Commerce Business Breakfast. Two days later, at the Mount Vernon Town Hall hosted by Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, elected officials discussed the Richmond Highway transportation projects and updated community members on proposed safety improvements to the southern George Washington Memorial Parkway. Following are 10 updates to know about.
Richmond Highway Corridor
1) The Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) road widening project between Jeff Todd Way and Frye Road (phase one of corridor improvements) in preparation for BRT will start in early 2027, with phase two from Frye Road to Sherwood Hall Lane kicking off later that year. The reason for the delay in the VDOT project — road widening was originally supposed to start in spring 2023 according to a project schedule from 2019 — is because of design and coordination issues, according to VDOT.
2) Phase one of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation’s (FCDOT) construction of BRT from Huntington to Hybla Valley will start in the 2025/2026 time frame. Phase two from Hybla Valley to Fort Belvoir will commence after VDOT’s road widening project is complete. FCDOT still aims to have BRT operational by 2030 despite having added some contingency padding to the schedule, said BRT project manager Vanessa Aguayo at the Feb. 9 breakfast event.
3) The current total projected cost for VDOT’s project — which includes adding a third lane, sidewalks and two-way cycle tracks in both directions along three miles of Richmond Highway — is $464 million, up from $415 million one year ago. The first phase of the project between Jeff Todd Way and Frye Road is fully funded through construction. VDOT is continuing to pursue funding opportunities to fully pay for phase two from Frye Road to Sherwood Hall Lane, according to an agency spokesperson.
4) The budget for BRT — officially known as “The One” — has risen to $937 million in 2031 dollars to account for potential risk factors, including delays in labor availability, utility relocation, VDOT project completion, stormwater management design approval and Buy America compliance. FCDOT aims, however, to deliver the project under-budget at its current estimated cost of $795 million, said Aguayo.
5) Based on current project plans, utilities will be relocated rather than undergrounded along the Richmond Highway corridor. The county may require developers to underground utilities for new developments, however. Elected officials and other stakeholders around the corridor had hoped to find a way to finance undergrounding; however, resulting delays in construction could put the requisite federal funding for BRT at risk. “Nothing is more important to me than undergrounding utilities,” said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay at the Mount Vernon Town Meeting, “but the reality is it’s a $1 billion project. I am not going to let this project not happen.”
6) Before relocating utilities, VDOT needs to complete right of way (ROW) acquisition. VDOT plans to start this process from Jeff Todd Way to Frye Road this spring. According to lead project manager Dan Reinhard, a total of 81 parcels — including both partial and whole properties — will be acquired for the first phase of work. Once that process is complete and utilities start to be relocated, VDOT will begin ROW acquisition along the next stretch of highway from Frye Road to Sherwood Hall Lane. That section of the highway has 117 partial and full parcels that need to be acquired. To date, VDOT has acquired 16 whole parcels within the entire three-mile project zone, and three more whole parcels are in negotiation. Some building demolition activity is scheduled to take place this year.
7) The next key milestone for Richmond Highway BRT is entry into the second or “Engineering” phase of the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grant program. That is expected to take place this spring. “We’re so close to getting to the second stage where I think you’re going to see things moving faster,” said Aguayo. By summer 2023, FCDOT expects to have 80% of the BRT design work complete, and around that same time frame, they anticipate sharing local students’ design concepts for windscreens at the nine BRT stations with community members. In the meantime, FCDOT continues work on ROW acquisition, stormwater management and landscaping, construction phasing and utility design and coordination.
8) VDOT’s final report on its Richmond Highway Speed Limit Study is expected in early 2023 — with potential implementation of a speed limit change sometime thereafter. Last summer, VDOT had presented its findings and preliminary recommendation to reduce the speed limit from 45 mph to 35 mph between the Beltway interchange and Jeff Todd Way.
George Washington Memorial Parkway
9) In a video message broadcast at the Mount Vernon Town Hall, Congressman Don Beyer told community members that the National Park Service (NPS) has provided a proposal to the Federal Highway Administration for dedicated acceleration and turn lanes to improve safety at the intersection of the George Washington Memorial Parkway and Belle Haven Road. He thanked Parkway Superintendent Charles Cuvelier for “his leadership and commitment to make changes to this treacherous stretch of roadway.”
10) Beyer is seeking funding in this year’s budget for full rehabilitation of the southern section of the parkway — replacing asphalt, concrete pavement, stormwater management systems and roadside barriers. “It’s already funded on the north side … We need to have it where we live too,” said Beyer, adding that he continues to support the installation of speed cameras on the parkway. “Speed cameras will work,” he said. Once speeds are curbed, Beyer said he looks forward to working with NPS to fund supplemental crosswalks and pedestrian safety treatments.