Loudoun supervisors moved a step closer to widening Rt. 15 north of Leesburg on Wednesday night, despite some public opposition.
Supervisors are working to address the severe congestion in the corridor. Last May, a consultant study, the latest of many, pinpointed problem spots on the road and estimated it would cost at least $31 million to fix them.
Since then, the county has convened stakeholder groups and held public input sessions, and although those meetings have at times been contentious, the debate has been how to fix Rt. 15 and why it has taken so long. Lately, however, a vocal contingent of people has emerged to argue against widening the road.
Many of those are worried about the impact on the proposed improvements on the rural and historic character of the area, and about the taking of land to expand the right-of-way.
“I hope that your vision of success for Rt. 15 improvement is a context-sensitive, cost-effective solution that increases safety and access, and maintains the integrity, historical context and rural character of the road,” said Gem Bingol, of the Piedmont Environmental Council.
Opponents of the plan include former Catoctin District Supervisor Betsey Brown, who lives on her family’s historic estate, Rockland, along Rt. 15. During her time on the county board, she was elected in 1987, she helped lead the effort to preserve Rt. 15 as a two-lane rural road.
Others have argued that, despite months of public meetings, the process has not been transparent or balanced.
But the project retains a strong base of support. Many residents came to the public hearing Wednesday wearing matching red clothing to show their support.
The project touches the districts of Supervisors Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) and Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin)
“Supervisors Umstattd and Higgins have led this dialogue that is so important because we’re not talking trees, we’re talking lives,” said Alfred McCusker. “This is a safety issue.”
To widen the road, supervisors must first change its description in the Countywide Transportation Plan, which was the subject of the public hearing. The proposed change, which had the unanimous support of the Planning Commission, would permit Rt. 15 to be widened between the Leesburg town boundary and Montresor Road. Supervisors voted unanimously to send the proposal for a vote on March 6.
“The number one duty an elected official has is to ensure the safety of the public,” said Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn). “Without safety, nothing else, schools, nothing else matters if our families aren’t safe.”