In Merrifield, Shortfalls Leave Drivers to Contemplate the Road Project Not Taken

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 29, 2009

One in a series of reports exploring the impact of budget cuts being contemplated by elected officials in Maryland and Virginia.

The intersection of Lee Highway and Gallows Road is one of the busiest and most congested in Northern Virginia. Last year, the state Department of Transportation announced a $132 million project to redo it.

The state has already spent $10 million on design and $72 million to buy and demolish 13 buildings, including a Taco Bell, a Pizza Hut, a Bank of America branch, a 7-Eleven, an auto body shop and a Sunoco gas station. It is working to relocate a spaghetti bowl of utility lines and preparing to spend $12 million to move a giant water main.

But Virginia's latest spending plan has cut the $38 million to build the actual roadway.

Declining tax revenue has forced Virginia and Maryland to slash transportation and other state spending. In Richmond, the General Assembly is working to eliminate as much as $4 billion from the state's two-year, $77 billion spending plan, which took effect in July.

Declining state taxes are the culprit, said Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer. He said the state's funding plan has been retooled to prioritize projects that receive federal matching funds; structurally deficient bridges; Dulles rail; and freight improvements on interstates 95 and 81.

Interest in the Lee Highway-Gallows Road project has not waned. Homer said state officials have been trying for close to three decades to address "horrendous traffic congestion and an impediment to quality development."

"The area is being held back by its infrastructure," Homer said. "The road improvements will remove a barrier to the [Inova Fairfax] hospital and other economic development in the Capital Beltway corridor."

But even with no money available this year, Homer said he remains confident it will eventually be built. He said spending all the money on engineering and land acquisition but not finishing the project is "economically irrational." He said the state would continue to allocate funds for everything up to construction, hoping elected officials will eventually find the dollars to complete the project.

Other Northern Virginia projects have been penciled out as well. Gone from the state's spending plan is a $66 million paving project on Interstate 66 between the Capital Beltway and Route 50, along with $29 million for the second stage of widening I-66 inside the Beltway. A $17 million project to improve access at the Vienna Metrorail station has been dropped. Also cut were projects affecting Route 7 in Loudoun County, Route 28 in Prince William and the Arlington Boulevard-Courthouse Road interchange in Arlington County.

Transportation officials said they will continue working on the Lee Highway-Gallows Road project, hoping money will be restored. The project would widen Lee Highway and Gallows Road to six lanes from the current four, extend turn lanes and add features to make the daunting intersection more pedestrian friendly.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board will have a last public hearing on the trimmed plan Feb. 5, when even deeper cuts are expected to be announced. The board is scheduled to approve the entire package of cuts Feb. 19.

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