Route_1The condition of U.S. 1 is the #1 issue facing our part of Fairfax County.  The current status of U.S. 1 affects not only congestion, jobs and economic development.  It also affects our schools, property values, stormwater, litter, air quality.  The bottom line is that improving U.S. 1 is the key to improving our quality of life in our part of Fairfax County.    

What are we doing and when are we doing it are some of the most frequent questions I get from constituents.  I've designed this page to try to provide some background and answer so constituents can have a clear understanding of the problem.

My Long-Term Vision for U.S. 1
In the long term, the Yellow Line should be extended ten miles from Huntington, under Beacon Hill, through Hybla Valley, Woodlawn, and Fort Belvoir and should end in Lorton. Preferably below ground.  This is less than one-half the distance of the new twenty-three-mile Silver Line.  I believe bus rapid transit in dedicated bus lanes can provide mid-term relief until funding for a Metro Extension is in place.

Road Configuration
I believe U.S. 1 should be widened to six lanes between Woodlawn and the northern intersection of Buckman Road.  U.S. 1 should be widened to included dedicated bus lanes between Buckman Road and I-495. 

Land Use
The County should provide for land use densities to support these uses.  Ideally, this would result in focused, walkable, mixed-use development similar to what exists in the Arlington Metro Corridor with higher densities over and around stations, with existing communities remaining the same.  The County should also provide protection for affordable housing throughout the U.S. 1 Corridor. 

Other Considerations
U.S. 1 is also a historic road with access to historic assets the entire length.  The Mount Vernon Estate is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Virginia.  Woodlawn Plantation, Gunston Hall, and the new Army Museum provide opportunities for tourism synergies in our area.  Other states have marketed their Route 1 as historic tourist destinations.  We should should brand our part of U.S. 1 for its unique historic assets. The first step of this was achieved when Governor McDonnell amended H.B. 530 at my request to designate all of U.S. 1 through Virginia as "Historic Route 1."

How we get from where we are to our future is the million dollar question. 

The Current Players
The current configuration of Route 1, the status of improvements, and the prognosis for future improvements are an extremely complicated acronym-filled set of issues.  Understanding the situation requires some background. 

The Federal Government
The history of U.S. 1 is important.  Route 1 is not only one of the oldest roads in Virginia, but also in the United States.  It runs from Key West, FL to Quebec.  It was named U.S. 1 in 1925 after several prior incarnations. Today, U.S. 1 is part of the National Highway System - a designation reserved for roads that have important strategic interests.  This is important because it gives the federal government a say in anything that we do to the road. 

The United States Army will also have a say in a Metro extension to the extent that it runs through Fort Belvoir. 

The Commonwealth of Virginia
Like most roads in Virginia, U.S. 1 is owned and maintained by the Commonwealth of Virginia or more specifically, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).  In Virginia, road spending in a broad sense is controlled by specific statutory restrictions.  Very generally speaking, Virginia Law requires non-dedicated transportation revenues to be spent on administration and existing road maintenance first, and new construction projects last.  Construction projects are determined by the Commonwealth Transportation Board and prioritized within specific transportation districts by the representatives for that district.  We are in the Northern Virginia Transportation District which effectively includes Prince William and Loudoun Counties and all jurisdictions North and East.

Fairfax County
To a large extent, VDOT and the Commonwealth Transportation Board take their cues on road construction projects from local boards of supervisors.  Generally speaking, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors guides projects in two ways: (1) by setting forth the maximum future parameters of road configurations and accompanying land uses in the Comprehensive Plan and (2) by prioritizing construction projects within the County.

Transit Decision Agencies
Additionally, the long term condition of U.S. 1 is also a function of what mode of transit exists on U.S. 1.  This gets even more complicated.  There are multiple transit players and funding streams on U.S. 1.  These include: (1) Metro Rail (Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA)), (2) Metro Bus (WMATA), (3) Richmond Highway Express Bus (WMATA), (4) the Fairfax County Connector (Fairfax County/Veolia), and (5) the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) which has a station in Lorton. 

Funding for transit improvements can be provided by the Federal Government, the Commonwealth of Virginia's Department of Rail and Public Transit (DRPT), or local government (Fairfax County). 

Before any new transit elements can be constructed, they must be approved by the entity charged with running them.  For example, the extension of the Yellow Line requires the approval of WMATA. 

What Are The Legal Steps Necessary to Improve U.S. 1?
Shortly after I finished my first General Assembly Session, I went to the head of VDOT's Northern Virginia Transportation District and asked a simple question - what needs to happen to improve U.S. 1? Here's what I was told.

Step #1 - Complete a Transit Study
Before a road can be widened, VDOT must complete a "centerline study" which is a preliminary engineering. Because U.S. 1 is part of the National Highway System, the FHWA must approve a new centerline.  If the road design includes transit, the FHWA requires a transit study that establishes that transit is an appropriate and fiscally prudent element in the road. 

The centerline process was started for all of Route 1 from Fredericksburg to Alexandria in 1994 when Senator Toddy Puller introduced and passed H.J. 256The final study was issued the month I was elected in November, 2009, but it excluded any proposal for Route 1 between Telegraph Road and Alexandria because (1) the steering committee was unable to agree on widening objectives and (2) the road design included transit elements and no one would fund a transit study.

Therefore, my first order of business was to get a transit study funded.  In the winter of 2010, Senator Puller and I contracted DRPT who agreed to support and provide $1 million to fund a transit study and on March 7, 2011, the General Assembly passed S.J. 292 which endorsed a new Route 1 Transit Study.  After passage, Fairfax County's Department of Transportation (FCDOT) decided that it would be more appropriate to perform a more comprehensive study called an alternative analysis.  A successful alternative analysis process would make U.S. 1 improvements eligible for federal funding. 

After FCDOT's federal grant application was denied, in the 2013 General Assembly Session, Senator Puller and I secured a full $2 million from the Virginia Department of Transportation to fund a Tier I Analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act which effectively serves the same purpose as an alternative analysis. This process was concluded in October, 2014.

Official Website for DRPT U.S. 1 Multimodal Alternatives Analysis
Final Resolution From U.S. 1 Multimodal Alternatives Analysis Study


Step #2 - Complete Revised Environmental Assessment
Once the transit study is complete, then VDOT can proceed to reevaluate the Environmental Analysis (EA) that was done for the prior Centerline Study.  This process cannot be done until specific modes of transit are evaluated and proposed.  That study process will require additional funding.  This process will take at least twelve months.

Step #3 - FHWA Approval of Proposed Centerline and Environmental Assessment
After the EA is complete, then VDOT must complete the reevaluation of the proposed centerline with transit improvements and then the entire centerline proposal can be submitted to the FHWA.  This process takes 3-15 months.  Cost is $750,000 to $2.5 million.

Step #4 - Obtain Approval of Commonwealth Transportation Board
After FHWA has approved of the proposal, the Commonwealth Transportation Board must approve of the road design and place the project in that year's Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).  These decisions are done in Deceber of each year so this process could take up to 12 months.  Cost is $750,000 to $2.5 million.

Step #5 - Request Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Reevaluated Environmental Assessment from the FHWA
The FHWA then needs to review the reevaluated project approved by the CTB and issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for environmental, historical resources, and other impacts.  This became a big issue in the recent widening of U.S. 1 through the Woodlawn Estate.  This process will take about a month.

Step #6 - Obtain Funding for Design and Construction of Road and Transit Improvements
Once all of the preliminary studies have been completed, then the money needs to be found to build the project.  I've been given estimates for U.S. 1 widening that run around $800-900 million.  The extension of the Yellow Line could cost $3-8 billion depending on alignment and design. 

One Other Major Step
One key to this is updating the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan.  To secure funding and to create development capable of supporting major transit improvements, the land use groundwork needs to be laid to encourage transit-oriented redevelopment.  Fairfax County is beginning this process now.

The current state of the Commonwealth's transportation funding is a real problem.  This could delay construction for a long time.  Although the state increased transportation taxes in the 2013 session, the state's long-term transportation funding remains about $100 billion underfunded.  Moreover, there is a transit "funding cliff" approaching in 2016 when state transit capital funding basically runs out. 

Funding of these improvements is an obvious concern, but we have several things going for us.  First, Fort Belvoir employs more people today than the U.S. Pentagon and will continue to grow.  Military involvement in funding these improvements to provide better access to the base is critical.  Second, the federal government is going to be spending more money on transit in the near future.  This is exactly the kind of project that is needed.  Third, the state is becoming increasingly involved in transit improvements such as the Silver Line.  Fourth, special tax districts have been used to provide partial funding for projects and are only appropriate given that vast value that private owners receive when significant public infrastructure projects are installed next to their property. 

Community Consensus - The Biggest Step
As you can see, we are just at the beginning of this process and there is a lot of work to be done.  These are not rules that can be broken.  When a major public infrastructure project is planned, these are the steps that must be legally undertaken to ensure adequate public involvement, notice to affected landowners, and input and approval received from all levels of government.

The biggest obstacle to moving forward today is the lack of consensus on what U.S. 1 should look like 20-30 years from now. Gaining consensus on U.S. 1 involves bringing the people of the Mt. Vernon District and Lee District towards a common decision, and also requires us to bring the Federal, State and Local Government to a common plan.

Also, transportation and land use decisions are inextricably linked together.  Our community must decide not only what we want U.S. 1 to look like, whether we want Metro, light rail, or BRT, but what kind of housing and commerical densities we want and whether we want communities on U.S. 1 oriented around walking versus cars.  All of these issues are interrelated and once a consensus is reached, then the path becomes clearer. 

I've stated my vision at the beginning.  If you have an alternate one, I'd love to hear your feedback.