Loudoun supervisors have started wheels turning on a project to widen parts of Rt. 15 north of Leesburg.
Following a unanimous vote Thursday night, the county transportation staff and consultants will start designing the project to widen Rt. 15 to a four-lane divided road between Battlefield Parkway and Montresor Road, redesign the intersection of Rt. 15 and North King Street to a T-intersection with a traffic light, and bring Limestone School Road and Montresor Road to one intersection on Rt. 15. They also recommended accommodating design guidelines from Journey Through Hallowed Ground where feasible. The traffic signal at Whites Ferry Road would also have to be redesigned to accommodate four lanes.
Supervisors set out the guidelines for designing Rt. 15 improvements after decades of studies, years of traffic, and a months-long process that involved bringing in people living along the road. But it was a process that became at times contentious.
“Our goal was to develop consensus at the stakeholder level, but sometimes that didn’t happen,” said Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure Director Joe Kroboth. When a committee of residents living along Rt. 15 couldn’t reach agreement, he said, county transportation staff based their recommendations on cost and predicted impact on traffic.
In particular, some along the corridor opposed widening the road, and pushed to build a roundabout at the Whites Ferry Road intersection as the best option to keep traffic moving.
“It is unconscionable that the county would compromise these historic and natural resources for future generations, and reject them as economic drivers of tourism dollars,” said Mary Gustafson, who with her husband owns a farm near Rt. 15.
But despite discussion that lasted late into the night, supervisors were unanimous in their vote, including on the roundabout. Board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said up to this point, the county had suffered “paralysis by analysis.”
“This has gone on for decades, but what’s different this time?” Buona said. “What’s different this time is there is a critical mass of our public that are saying, fix the problem.”
Some supervisors hedged their vote, noting the design for the project is not yet set. Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) said, although he may not agree completely with the project’s particulars, “knowing that we can make changes moving forward, even though the motion says something very specific right now, I’m going to be OK with the motion here tonight.”
“This is a safety issue for me primarily,” said Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg). “This road is terribly unsafe. When there is an accident, or when there is a fire, or when somebody has need of an ambulance, if it’s in rush hour … you can’t get your fire engines, your ambulances, and your law enforcement up this road because nobody has any place to pull over.”
And while the Rt. 15 debate has gotten heated, Preliminary Engineering Manager Jim Zeller said it was “actually the easy part.”
“The hard part is getting into the manner of how the road is going to be widened and what it will look like, and how we go about balancing unavoidable impacts,” Zeller said.
Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) called the Sept. 20 vote “the end of the beginning.”
“The heavy lifting is just starting with the design stage. I am not getting everything that I want tonight,” he said. “No one is going to get everything they want out of this project, and I think the analysis needs to drive this project.”