Competing visions for the future of Rt. 15 and the Village of Lucketts continued to clash during an hours-long public hearing Wednesday, as the Board of Supervisors nears a decision on road work in the corridor.
Conservation groups and local businesses have asked supervisors to put off their plans to amend the comprehensive plan, widen Rt. 15 to four lanes and build a bypass around the village, instead asking them to create a Small Area Plan to lay out a vision for the area, and to take more immediate steps such as constructing road shoulders and roundabouts. And if the county decides to build a bypass, conservation groups have asked them to build it to the east of the village, rather than threaten the JK Black Oak Wildlife Sanctuary to the west and the rare species that live there.
Modifying the comprehensive plan will be necessary to win outside funding for the project, Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure Director Joe Kroboth said during the May 12 hearing. Doing so would update Rt. 15 in the county’s master planning documents from a rural two-lane road to a four-lane median-divided road along much of its length.
County transportation and planning staff members now recommend the eastern route for a village bypass, citing a flood plain on the western side.
But people living in subdivisions along the road have organized in favor of widening the road as soon as possible, and building the bypass to the west, citing traffic and safety problems on the road and the greater number of properties that would be impacted by an eastern bypass. And while there is no specific route set for a bypass on either side yet, an eastern option could also bring the road close to Lucketts Elementary School, which they argued is also a safety concern.
They also expressed frustration that they have had to wait so long for a solution.
“I think it’s easy to see that there’s a lot of people here that are frustrated,” said one. “They’re frustrated each and every day. Their wives get home late. Their kids are late for school.”
“We’ve studied this enough. It’s time to actually start construction, and even now it’s going to be a long time before we see the end of this,” said another.
Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy Executive Director Michael Myers urged supervisors to protect the JK Black Oak Wildlife Sanctuary, the first property the nonprofit acquired to protect.
“While all properties have value for wildlife, our property truly is one of a kind,” he said.
Area businesses and farmers argued against widening the road and bypassing the village. Roots 657 co-founder Muriel Sarmadi, Rick Brossman of Brossman’s Farm Stand and Chris Petro, operator and manager of Farm John’s Market and Misty Meadow Mushrooms argued the county’s plans could harm their businesses.
Brossman said for much of the day, the road is empty, and its problems could be solved by fixing the choke points and skipping the bypass work. Pietro argued for immediate solutions such as roundabouts rather than the potentially longer timeline of the larger projects. And Sarmadi said the bypass would make more farmland unusable.
“I think we fixated on safety, and we’ve left off the rest of what safety really means,” Brossman said. “Safety means you’ve got safe food coming to your table from farms.”
And Loudoun Farm Bureau President Tia Walbridge urged supervisors not to go forward with the comprehensive plan amendment, citing the damage to farmland, pointing to the already rapid loss of farmland in the country and arguing a four-lane road would only invite more development. She encouraged supervisors to do “something that will actually sustain farms, rather than just saying it.”
There was even dueling testimony from people who had been in car crashes on the road—one crash survivor, Bruce Pierce, argued for the four-lane road, and Avis Renshaw read a letter from people recovering from a crash on the road who said four lanes would not make it safer.
“Four lanes is not going to stop the road rage and the rapid speeds. That is what causes the accidents,” Renshaw said. “But roundabouts will ameliorate the stop-and-go traffic.”
Supervisors voted to send the decision to comprehensive plan amendment to their meeting June 21, with some including Supervisor Caleb E. Kershner (R-Catoctin) and County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) expressing a preference for the western bypass.
Two supervisors voted against it. Supervisor Tony R. Buffington said the proposed comprehensive plan amendment would only make things worse in the long term, and called for more near-term safety improvements such as the roundabouts and road shoulders.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to spend $300 million or a lot more, probably, with inflation to four-lane a road to a two-lane bridge. I also don’t believe that bypassing Lucketts businesses is good for Lucketts businesses,” Buffington said. “And I believe that talk of this is causing new cluster development housing all along the corridor that’s hurting traffic and safety right now.”
Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn) said there is too much uncertainty around the comprehensive plan amendment.
“We’re being asked to vote yes on this project with no detailed budget, no detailed timeline, no assurance of where the funding is going to come to pay for this, and I think, frankly, I don’t think that we are reducing congestion with this four-lane expansion,” he said.
“Yes, it’s a big project. So was the interchange at Belmont Ridge Road and Rt. 7, and every other large interchange in Loudoun County. All of these projects are big projects,” said Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg). “This is truly about saving lives, and we have lost far too many lives on Rt. 15 because previous boards did not take action.”
Randall asked county staff members to come back with further analysis of both eastern and western options for the bypass, including whether a western bypass could avoid the wildlife sanctuary.
Supervisors voted 6-2-1, with Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) absent.