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Is Richmond Highway Improving?

New survey says attitudes are improving, but critics say change is too slow.

The survey included more than 900 respondents.

The survey included more than 900 respondents. Courtesy of Southeast Fairfax County Development Corporation

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Word cloud of survey results.

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Is Richmond Highway improving? A new survey of 900 consumers shows that the vast majority of respondents thinks so, and by a two-to-one margin. Others say progress along the Route 1 corridor lags far behind other parts of Northern Virginia.

“People are definitely very interested in this,” said David Ben, marketing and communications director for the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, which conducted the survey.

Earlier this year, volunteers for the private nonprofit organization distributed the survey by email to its members. A handful of community organizations also distributed to their members. Although the quasi-government agency receives about $183,000 a year, leaders of the organization say there was no cost to taxpayers because volunteers conducted the survey. And even though the objective of the organization is to promote economic development along the Route 1 corridor, leaders say they are confident that the results were not biased by the mission of the organization.

“We did not ask leading questions. In fact, all the questions were open-ended,” said Ben. “This is how people responded, which is pretty encouraging.”

Not everyone is encouraged. Critics say participants of the survey were self-selecting, slanting the results toward a favorable response. And although the group was able to get 900 responses, 121,000 people live in the Mount Vernon District and 119,000 people live in the Lee District. Ultimately, critics say, progress along the Route 1 corridor has been painfully sluggish, especially compared to redevelopment efforts in Tysons Corner, Merrifield, Springfield and Bailey’s Crossroads.

“Considering the amount of time we’ve been talking about redevelopment on the Route 1 corridor, we should be much further along by now,” said Kahan Dhillon, a member of the Tysons Task Force. “Any progress that’s been made on the Route 1 corridor has been at a drastically lethargic pace.”

A NUMBER OF PROJECTS are currently underway along Richmond Highway, and the corridor is in the midst of a dramatic transformation. But the contours of that transformation are still in flux, and many of the key decisions have yet to be made. One of the most contentious is at North Hill, a vacant 33-acre parcel on the east side of Richmond Highway near the intersection of Lockheed Boulevard. Plans to create a 67-unit manufactured home development there have long been delayed, and Fairfax County is currently considering an unsolicited proposal from developer AHP Virginia to scrap the trailer park in favor of a 204-unit multifamily apartment complex.

“That would open up a can of worms,” said Planning Commissioner Earl Flanagan. “There are a lot of people who want this to be a park, and giving serious consideration to this proposal would start advocating to preserve the entire site as a park again.”

The Route 1 corridor has long been the focus of study after study, and a number are still underway. The Federal Highway Administration is currently conducting a study for widening the road to six lanes between Telegraph Road and the intersection of Mount Vernon Memorial Highway and Old Mill Road. The project has already received $180 million from the Department of Defense, and the environmental assessment is expected this summer. One scenario would have the northern section widened where the road is currently located, although some are concerned that might violate the National Preservation Act because Woodlawn Plantation is a protected site. Another scenario would construct the road through a popular horse stable and behind the Woodlawn Baptist Church.

“I just want the road built,” said Del. Scott Surovell (D-44), adding that he hasn’t taken a position on the dispute yet. “I would hate to see this thing get bogged down in litigation and be delayed another five years.”

WHEN ASKED what types of new businesses they would like to see, respondents to the SFDC survey said they would like to see more full-service restaurants and more entertainment options. Unsurprisingly, many respondents said they were concerned about traffic congestion. Perhaps more surprisingly, 73 percent of respondents said they dine at least once a month on Richmond Highway and 89 percent said they shop at least once a month on Richmond Highway.

“This demonstrates a strong demand for economic activities,” said Ben.