Loudoun Board Advances Rt. 15 Widening

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.

Former Catoctin District supervisor Betsey Brown spoke in opposition to plans to widen Rt. 15. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

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.”

rgreene@loudounnow.com
@RenssGreene

3 thoughts on “Loudoun Board Advances Rt. 15 Widening

  • 2018-02-16 at 4:43 pm
    Permalink

    Bully for Geary Higgins in bringing this to fruition. About time.

  • 2018-02-17 at 7:20 am
    Permalink

    There is a shared concern among all residents about safety on the road. (It’s important to note that the recent fatalities and serious injuries didn’t occur at the slow speeds of congestion, but at higher speeds and whenever a vehicle is making a left-hand turn.) And a strong majority of residents all along the corridor favor 4-laning to Whites Ferry Road, in support of Raspberry Falls residents.

    The discord comes with two issues. First, the Route 15 Stakeholder Committee representatives of Raspberry Falls and Selma oppose roundabouts at Whites Ferry and Montresor intersections—despite their indisputable increased safety (overall, roundabouts reduce all crashes by 38%, reduce injuries by a whopping 76%, and fatalities by 90%). Based on data collected between 1998 and 2007, 21.5% of all traffic-related deaths, and 44.8% of all traffic-related injuries occur at “cross” intersections. On average, 9,000 people die and another 767,000 are injured in intersection collisions every year in the U.S.

    One objection to roundabouts voiced repeatedly by a Raspberry Falls resident is that they don’t work well when there are lower volumes on the cross street. This is easily addressed through roundabout design modifications—which are on the ground and working today in Loudoun (e.g., the “slip lane” for southbound Route 15 drivers turning right at Gilbert’s Corner, and the roundabout at Route 50 and Watson Road)—which work regardless of roundabout volume.

    The other objection is that two-lane roundabouts can have higher (minor) accident rates, primarily because drivers in them are making illegal maneuvers—and those too have been mitigated by recent design changes.

    The second issue is the issue of putting a 4-lane controlled access median-divided highway on the current 2-lane section, north of Whites Ferry Road—where hundreds of residents, working farms with fields on both sides of the highway, and businesses and parks receiving visitors depend upon safe access on and of of the highway. The proposed plan will either prevent them from making left-hand turns, or force them to negotiate additional lanes of traffic when making those dangerous left-hand turns. What is most puzzling to residents north of Raspberry Falls is the insistence of those residents who spoke that this 4-laning happen—north of where they all exit the highway. And since the congestion report shows that the increased congestion on the segment under study is due to the new traffic from their own housing developments, it certainly is a source of ire for more northern residents that those in the housing developments have so little interest in the concerns of property and business owners northward.

    Another rather puzzling issue is the continued repetition by both Raspberry Falls residents and others that citizens’ groups in Lucketts have opposed shoulders. Documents since 2002 show their support for shoulders. The trafficable 2-foot paved and 8-10-foot stabilized grass shoulders they support already have been installed along portions of Route 15 in this area at the insistence of the Deputy Secretary of Transportation. That modification is a Federal Highway Administration-approved treatment for scenic byways. It also reduces the appearance of highway width, which helps reduce speeding.

    Why in the face of the facts do those residents continue to make this claim?

    Finally, the Lucketts area residents who the Raspberry Falls residents and the Selma Route 15 Stakeholder Committee representative Alfred McCusker claim are against safety are very the ones who, following the latest Route 15 fatalities, produced maps and images and worked nonstop with Supervisor Higgins’s office and VDOT to get centerline rumble strips installed from Leesburg to the river. There have been no head-on collisions since.

  • 2018-02-17 at 7:29 am
    Permalink

    I live in Lucketts, and try to avoid Rt. 15 between 3 and 6 PM Monday through Friday because of unending delays. We need to widen this road NOW!

Leave a Reply