Loudoun supervisors are expected to Thursday vote on long-awaited fixes for one of Loudoun’s most congested and accident-prone routes, but that decision will likely face some opposition.
County transportation staff members have recommended a number of projects, including widening Rt. 15 to a four-lane divided road between Battlefield Parkway and Montresor Road, redesigning the intersection of Rt. 15 and North King Street to a T-intersection with a traffic light, and bringing Limestone School Road and Montresor Road to one intersection on Rt. 15. They also recommend accommodating design guidelines from Journey Through Hallowed Ground where feasible. The road is designated a Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Scenic Byway, recognizing its scenic and historic route from Gettysburg to Monticello.
The fixes come after years of studies on the congestion on parts of Rt. 15, including in 1998, 2006, 2007, 2014, and 2016.
People living along the road have divided themselves. Many support widening the road to four lanes. Others argue doing so would only make traffic worse and destroy a scenic rural road.
The debate has gotten heated and at times combative, with the two sides forming competing organizations, which have worked to keep their membership secret while seeking to undermine the credibility of the other.
Among those, Fix Route 15 Now has argued that the process to widen Rt. 15 is taking too long, and has pushed to accelerate it. The organization has sent out regular email newsletters advocating a faster process and widening the road to four lanes.
The group has not responded to a request for comment, and does not advertise its membership.
The Catoctin Coalition has formed the Catoctin Route 15 Alliance, which is opposed to widening the road. Its members have signed nondisclosure agreements about the group’s meetings and membership. Martha Polkey, one of the members of that alliance and an outspoken opponent to widening the road, said local farmer John Adams is heading the alliance. She argued the county should try to keep the road’s rural nature despite its traffic, saying the problem can be fixed by building shoulders along the road and a one-lane roundabout at Whites Ferry Road.
Sparring between the two groups has been combative. Polkey said she even had some of her emails stolen and posted on Facebook by a critic using a pseudonym.
But one of the proponents of widening the road is Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin).
“While I have my own preferences as far as … an appropriate rural design and context-sensitive design, I also realize that we’ve got to accomplish some things in this road project, so I think the staff recommendation is reasonable and appropriate given what we have to work with,” Higgins said.
At the request of some of the opponents to widening the road to four lanes, engineer Ian Lockwood—who has designed other popular and successful intersections in Loudoun, such as the Rt. 50 roundabouts—submitted an alternative concept to the county. That design incorporates one-lane roundabouts. But Higgins said traffic is much heavier on Rt. 15, and that design wouldn’t accommodate traffic today.
“That would have been a great solution ten years ago, but today, after we spend all that money, after a couple of years we’d be over capacity again,” Higgins said.
Higgins has not advocated widening Rt. 15 to four lanes all along its length, but he has said parts of it need to be widened. And he said that was an idea that came from the residents of the area through the county’s Rt. 15 stakeholder committee.
“My desire in this whole process was to bring everybody together, to not have any groups that were taking over the process, and have the data and the need and the facts drive the process,” Higgins said. “You can still disagree on what your outcomes are, but at least everybody knows something needs to be done with that road.”
This article was updated Sept. 19 at 11:26 p.m. with a correction about Fix Route 15 Now’s stance.