The Board of Supervisors on Thursday voted to move ahead with planning for an expanded widening of Rt. 15 north of Leesburg, one that would create a four-lane, median-divided road from the Leesburg Bypass to the north side of Lucketts.
The endorsement of the $217.3 million program came over the objections of the county’s two western supervisors, who warned that the measure would be ineffective in solving the corridor’s rush-hour congestion troubles and would threaten the survival of numerous small rural businesses lining the road.
After nearly three years of study, the board was presented with two options.
Concept A calls for a two-lane median divided roadway between Montresor Road and St. Clair Lane, a two-lane bypass around the western edge of the Lucketts village core, a single-lane roundabout at the Spinks Ferry Road/realigned Newvalley Church Road intersection, a single-lane roundabout at Stumptown Road, widened shoulders to the Maryland state line, and a traffic light at Lovettsville Road.
Concept B includes a four-lane median divided roadway between Montresor Road and a two-lane roundabout along the Lucketts bypass and Stumptown Road intersection, a western Lucketts bypass as a four-lane and two-lane median divided roadway, a two-lane median divided roadway between a two-lane roundabout along the Lucketts bypass and Stumptown Road intersection to St. Clair Lane, traffic calming improvements in the village of Lucketts, a two-lane roundabout at the Spinks Ferry Road/realigned Newvalley Church Road intersection, additional shoulder widening from St. Clair Lane north to the Maryland state line, and a traffic signal and northbound left-turn lane at the Lovettsville Road intersection.
Both options call for 8-foot-wide paved shoulders on each side, along with a shared-use path between Montresor Road and the Lucketts village core.
Supervisors already have planned to spend $110.7 million for improvements between Montresor Road and the Point of Rocks Bridge, but either option will require substantially more money—$58 million for Concept A and $106.4 million for Concept B—by the time construction begins in 2024. The planning level estimated cost for Concept A is $168.8 million; the cost estimate for Concept B is $217.3 million.
Area residents continue to be split over the project. While surveys presented to the board showed strong support for the four-lane option, a series of speakers addressing the board Thursday evening argued that even Concept A would be more intrusive than necessary to address safety and congestion concerns and that traffic flow could be improved by the removal of stoplights and the construction of roundabouts and other traffic calming features without a large-scale road widening.
Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin), who has spearheaded the study effort, said it was “one of the most challenging projects I’ve worked on and one of the most frustrating” because of the inability to build community consensus around one approach.
He urged the board to pursue Concept A, saying it was the most cost-effective option to address safety concerns and would protect businesses along the road. He said Concept B, the option endorsed by the county staff, would only move the afternoon rush hour congestion point two miles to the north and also would create longer back-ups north of Lucketts because of Maryland’s two-lane bridge at Point of Rocks. Those results, he said, were not worth spending an extra $46 million.
“You’re not solving the congestion. You’re just moving it and creating more,” Higgins said.
“I don’t not feel that it is worth spending 46 million dollars to knock out about 10 businesses in a stretch of road for two miles to get you some congestion relief in 2040 that may or may not be there,” he said. “That’s the reality.”
Higgins’ position got support from only Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge).
Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) made the motion to pursue Concept B, which he called “a tremendous step forward for safety.” He also expressed confidence that Maryland would be open to building a four-lane bridge at Point of Roads and that Loudoun’s Rt. 15 ultimately would be widened to four-lanes all the way to the state line.
Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) supported Concept B, saying she believed it was the best option to improve public safety.
County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) noted that Concept B was projected to reduce the number of crashes in the corridor slightly more than Concept A—24 percent to 22 percent—and also said that survey results showing 70 percent support for the four-lane option was very persuasive.
After supervisors rejected Concept A, Higgins objected to his colleagues “meddling in a project they don’t really know much about.”
“I am extremely disappointed in this board,” Higgins said. “I hope this kind of stuff does not happen to you when you’ve worked so hard for a project in your district.”
With the action, the project will move into a more detailed study and design phase. The schedule calls for the project to begin construction in 2024, with completion in 2027.