Springfield Businesses Brace for Bad Times
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 3, 1999; Page A21
In a few months, the massive Springfield interchange project will send a concrete highway lane right through what is now the front door of Anthony's Barbershop on Franconia Road, across from Springfield Mall.
The project already has closed an exit ramp off northbound Interstate 95 that used to deliver travelers to the front door of the Springfield Hilton.
And it's likely to add an hour or more to delivery timetables for Interstate Van Lines Inc., whose fleet of 225 trucks is based in Springfield. If so, Interstate's operating costs could rise by a punishing 10 percent, said Arthur "Bud" Morrissette, the company vice president.
"We're going to have to put up with some very tough situations for some years to come," Morrissette said.
He could be speaking for hundreds of businesses large and small in the area that is ground zero for the $350 million plan to create the region's largest, most complex highway interchange.
The construction at the Capital Beltway and Shirley Highway, which will last at least six years, could impose extreme, unpredictable strains on one of the Washington area's most vital crossroads, where traffic already is a logjam during workday rush hours and even on weekends.
Nearly 40,000 long-haul and local trucks pass each day through the interchange known as the Mixing Bowl, and construction delays could add more than $750,000 a day to trucking companies' operating costs, according to traffic analysts' rough estimates.
The costs of business lost because of increased congestion will be greater if many Springfield merchants' worst fears are realized.
"Definitely there are some upsides" to such a big public works project, said Bob Heittman, who represents the Springfield area on a Fairfax County transportation committee. "But if it's not monitored carefully, there will be some big downsides. It has the ability to have a serious impact on everything from tourism to deliveries" of consumer goods.
An estimated 200 construction workers will be employed in two shifts, with a payroll of several million dollars annually. That's small change in Northern Virginia, home to more than 1 million workers whose household incomes typically rank among the nation's highest.
The project will keep some of the region's cement plants churning. The 26,500 cubic yards of concrete needed to build the new lanes and overpasses in the project's next two phases will require 9,000 truckloads. Still, that's just a third of the amount that was poured for Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, which opened in 1997 in Prince George's County.
The big advantage for Springfield and the region will come in several years, officials say, when the completed interchange will make it easier for people to move through the area.
Barbara and B. Mark Fried, longtime Springfield developers, think their community is on the verge of shedding the blue-collar image it has worn since neighborhoods of modest single-family houses began sprouting there in the mid-1950s.
In the short run, the traffic congestion will spur office construction south of the Mixing Bowl, they predicted, adding that the interchange project eventually will promote development throughout the Springfield area.
The challenge for many of the area's merchants is to survive the construction.
Fred L. Tyler, manager of the Hunter Motel and Restaurant in Newington, just south of the Mixing Bowl, says many merchants probably don't know what's about to hit them. "Any time you have construction," he said, "it chases people away."
He estimated that recently completed work on nearby I-95 meant $250,000 in lost business for the Hunter, an old-fashioned motel with a wood-paneled restaurant known for its homemade pies. "Right now, we're not back to where we were before. We're down in a hole, and we'll be a while getting out," Tyler said.
Some businesses already are feeling the pain, said Barry Brady, general manager of the Springfield Hilton and a former president of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce.
As a prelude to the construction, highway crews have closed a ramp leading off I-95 that had curled around the Hilton, inviting tourists in. "We picked this location 20 years ago so that you could come up 95, pull right off and you were here," said Brady, adding that he's unsure how much business his hotel will lose, but that he's sure it will lose some.
At least, Brady said, he and other longtime business managers have had time to build a base of customers who are likely to stick by them despite the coming inconvenience. Newer businesses aren't that lucky, he said, adding that the project "could be devastating" for them.
Brady and Morrissette are among the business owners worried that the increased congestion around Springfield also will lead difficult-to-replace employees to find work elsewhere. "Why are they going to come to me if it takes them an extra half-hour each way to get here?" Brady asked.
Tadarryl Smith, manager of Anthony's Barbershop in Springfield, worries that loyal customers won't be able to find the shop when it is relocated to clear space for the project. "We're going to lose a lot of people. We can't help it," he said.
Some in Springfield hope to turn adversity into an advantage.
Jerry Robinson, general manager of Springfield Mall, thinks that the added road congestion will increase the use of Metro's Springfield station, a short walk from the mall. He said the mall will offer parking at low rates to Metro commuters and would like to expand the shuttle bus service that now runs to and from the Metro station. The more people who pass through the Metro station, he figures, the more potential customers for his mall. "I hate to say this," Robinson said, "but I almost look forward to the project."
For now, Virginia planners' worst fear is that the congestion will chase away business, dampening economic growth in Northern Virginia, where rush-hour traffic tie-ups already can be insufferable.
"We haven't seen that happen," said Gerald L. Gordon, executive director of Fairfax's Economic Development Authority. But "the answer may be different in three months or three years."