But now plans are on track to relieve congestion on a 3½-mile stretch of Route 1, with construction to begin as soon as next year. It appears likely that Mitchell, her riding students and her 40 horses will be the biggest losers in a contentious debate over how best to get the job done: widen the existing roadway or build a bypass. Both sides agree that there is no good option.
The choices essentially came down to these: move graves and build on a cemetery and the property of a National Historic Landmark, or pave over the riding stables, which are considered an institution in the Mount Vernon area.
Route 1 has been known for its backups for decades. But the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure plan moved thousands of jobs — and commuters — to Fort Belvoir, making traffic even worse.
Residents warned seven years ago that roads, schools and communities would bear the consequences, and in Mount Vernon’s Woodlawn area, where the highway will become three times as wide to accommodate the influx, perhaps no one is bearing them more than Mitchell.
“I thought I’d be doing this for the rest of my life,” she said of the family business.
It’s the kind of situation local governments worried about in 2005.
Ronald Kirby, director of transportation planning for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, contrasted the situation created by the BRAC process to what typically occurs when there is a major influx of people and traffic. In most cases, he said, developers are required to identify and pay for traffic solutions.
“When DOD comes along, there’s no such contribution,” Kirby said. “They just drop their plans out of the sky” and those on the ground are left to cope.
Communities near BRAC-expanded bases have worked through traffic problems slowly, Kirby said, as funding for improvement projects has become available.
In the case of Route 1, real progress wasn’t made until 10 months ago, when the Pentagon gave $180 million for widening the highway, secured by a congressional earmark. The advance was heralded by local politicians, but it created a new problem: what to pave over in a community rich in history but dirt poor in unused space.
Wider road not workable
Widening the highway along its current path between Telegraph Road and Route 235 would require Woodlawn Baptist Church to move about 100 graves. Woodlawn Plantation, once a part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, would have to give up a hillside and move at least one building, which dates from the 1870s.
The alternative, to build a bypass to the south, would move the expansion onto land where the stables have operated since at least the 1970s, bisecting the site. Mitchell said so much of her acreage would be lost that she probably would have to close.