Fairfax's "Road to Nowhere" is finally going somewhere.
On Tuesday, Oct. 28, the Fairfax City Council unanimously approved a resolution to proceed with the construction of George Mason Boulevard. While portions of the road have already been built on the City Hall campus and through the Crestmont community, the Council's decision gives the green light for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to finish the last remaining leg of the project, between School Street and University Drive.
The city is currently negotiating with the Fairfax County School Board, which owns the property that the road will cut through, to buy easements for the road. The city also needs to complete construction plans for the leg, said public works director John Veneziano.
Pending final negotiations with the county School Board, VDOT could start construction with the road sometime in 2004, possibly mid-year, Veneziano said. Construction would take place between School Street and University Drive, as well as on the City Hall campus at Armstrong Street.
Project costs, estimated to be at $2.4 million, will be paid with Regional Surface Transportation Funds (RSTF). That money is federal dollars channeled through the state.
"Certainly we'd like to get starter earlier if we could," said Veneziano.
George Mason Boulevard was envisioned in the early 1990s to relieve traffic passing through southeast Fairfax neighborhoods. Currently, commuters use University Drive to get to George Mason University from Fairfax.
When the townhomes and single-family homes of Crestmont were constructed, homeowners were told that a lane connecting the University with the city's downtown would one day cut through their neighborhood.
But the work to complete the road became stalled due to the uncertainty of what would happen on adjacent county-owned property on School Street and 123. However, with the spring 2003 approval by the city and the county for a 47-unit, upscale townhouse development called “Fairfax Gateway,” the road's future has come back on the map.
Once George Mason Boulevard is finished, University Drive will be barricaded at the city line, thus preventing cut-through traffic.
That news satisfies Sherrie Cherdak, who was told 10 years ago that her daughter would be able to cross University Drive once George Mason Boulevard was completed.
"Traffic on University Drive has definitely not decreased," said Cherdak at a public hearing for the resolution.
Fairfax resident Jesse Parker agreed. "Things have changed. The situation has gotten worse," Parker said.
"I hope the Council would not go back on a commitment it had made to its citizens several years ago," Parker said.
NOT EVERYONE who spoke at the public hearing supported George Mason Boulevard. Several residents from the Crestmont community wanted the Council to delay the project in order to conduct environmental and traffic studies. They considered the earlier studies from 1997 to be outdated.
"I request that you withhold action on this until you collect more information," said Crestmont association president Anne Muse. She said that of the 100 families in the association, the community is split on the project.
In the end, the Council voted unanimously in support of the resolution to complete George Mason Boulevard, arguing that the promised road was long overdue.
"Over the years, I've come to believe it's the right thing to do," said Councilmember Gary Rasmussen, who had voted both for the road during its original inception and against it when a compromise was reached to make the boulevard two-lane instead of four-lane.
"The lack of focus [by the city] ... has been an enormous strain on the community involved," said Councilmember Scott Silverthorne.
Councilmember Joan Cross said the city would work with Crestmont to minimize the project's impact.
"There is a history here," Cross said.
At George Mason University, the passage of the resolution continues the work between the city, the county and the University, said Reid Herlihy, George Mason's vice president for facilities. The three parties, as well as the Fairfax County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, had created the School Street Task Force, of which the re-alignment of University Drive was a by-product.
Two and a half years ago, the University's Board of Visitors gifted a right of way to VDOT for the boulevard. In May 2002, the university updated the master plan to acknowledge the future road.
"We've worked together on that since the late '80s," Herlihy said.