A proposal to widen Rt. 15 north of Leesburg to four lanes south of Lucketts Road, build a bypass around the Village of Lucketts and other road improvements drew continued resistance during a Nov. 30 Planning Commission public hearing.
That proposal has alarmed some residents, business owners and conservation groups in the area, who have urged county planners to consider less disruptive and less expensive solutions for the corridor’s traffic snarls.
Longtime farmer John Adams said he’s lived in Lucketts for 51 years, and seen everything on Rt. 15 in that time. And he said the traffic backups on Rt. 15 won’t be solved until Maryland decides to do something about the two-lane Point of Rocks bridge, which that state has no immediate plans to improve.
“You people from down east need to understand that this is one of the biggest boondoggles your staff has ever put forward, because they’re going to spend almost a half a billion dollars to solve a road problem that they’re not going to solve until Maryland decides what they’re going to do,” Adams said. “So the best you can do is make this the safest two-lane highway from Leesburg to the river.”
And he was among those who said widening the road would invite more development in rural Loudoun.
“Who’s pushing this? It’s not the residents of Lucketts, for goodness sakes,” Adams said. “It’s coming from the development community.”
“Do not destroy the entire character of this scenic byway and turn it into just another highway, probably with housing developments and shopping malls. The developers are salivating,” said longtime resident Elizabeth Newberry.
Business owners like Avis Renshaw of Lost Corner Farm and Mom’s Apple Pie, Jonathan Staples of Black Hops Farm and Vanish Farmwoods Brewery and Suzanne Eblen of The Old Lucketts Store said the plans threaten some of Lucketts’s iconic rural businesses.
Staples said when he was working to buy the farm, he was competing with two developers. While he was securing financing for the project, one of the bankers said if the brewery doesn’t work out, the farmland would vanish—and thus the name for the brewery.
“It still feels like a place that a lot of it could be 100 years old, and by working with the other businesses in Lucketts we’ve worked to create a culture of sort of a village center that stretches from the pink silo all the way to Vanish and SkillsUSA, and to imagine a four-lane highway coming through and just smashing everything we’ve done is just really heartbreaking,” he said.
Instead, many of those organizations have asked the county to consider improvements such as replacing stoplights with roundabouts and building wider, hard shoulders for the road.
“Commuter needs should not override the local Lucketts community needs,” said Evan McCarthy of the Piedmont Environmental Council. “Immediate improvements can be made at significantly reduced cost to improve safety in the entire corridor and should occur without further delay. These improvements should not impact the community negatively.”
And Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy Executive Director Michael Myers said a bypass could also threaten the nearby JK Black Oak Wildlife Sanctuary, which the conservancy obtained with help from JK Moving founder Chuck Kuhn in 2020. The sanctuary includes a globally rare kind of swampland, and Myers said more than 150 volunteers from organizations including the Lucketts Ruritans, scout troops, the Tuscarora Key Club, and others have helped plant trees, clean up trash and remove invasive plant species.
“I may be a little biased, but I can’t think of a more worthy parcel to protect than one that hosts a globally rare wetland,” Myers said. “We must do more to protect rare wetlands, and we should all work together to identify more areas within the karst Limestone Overlay District to protect. Otherwise, amphibians, wildlife and humans will be deprived of unique, vital and special places and resources.”
But some people living in neighborhoods along the road support the proposal.
Craig Salvatore of the Selma Estates HOA said he’s heard “loud and clear” from residents of that subdivision that they want to see the road widened.
“As it stands now, it’s a roll of the dice attempting to turn northbound from Montresor [Road] onto Rt. 15 North, I worry about my spouse and children’s safety every day when they try to make that turn,” Salvatore said.
According to a report prepared for the Planning Commission, county planners have received 134 written comments, and an online survey in July on the proposals returned 951 comments. In that survey, 64% of respondents preferred an bypass on the eastern side of the village, 24% preferred a western bypass, 6% preferred no bypass, and 1% preferred to consider traffic calming measures or additional roundabouts.
The Planning Commission will advise the county Board of Supervisors specifically on changes to the county Comprehensive Plan, which describes the ultimate planned condition of the road. County supervisors and planners propose to change the road’s classification in that plan from a rural, two-lane, undivided road to the median-divided four-lane roadway. After hearing the public input Tuesday, Planning Commissioners agreed they aren’t yet ready to make a recommendation without more discussion and information.
Commissioner and Hillsboro Mayor Roger Vance (Blue Ridge), who led the ReThink9 project that improved Rt. 9 through Hillsboro, said that project demonstrated that roundabouts can make roads safer and keep traffic moving.
“We need to make sure we do get it right. This is a one shot here,” Vance said. “I was told 20 years ago that everything that we’ve just accomplished in Hillsboro could not and would not be done and would not work. We’ve just completed a post construction study and some of the results are pretty amazing.”
The commission voted 8-0-1, with Commissioner Jane Kirchner (Algonkian) absent, to send the Rt. 15 comprehensive plan amendment to a work session for further discussion.