Sampson Lane is a Fairfax Country road that has been paved with good intentions and little more.
The four families that live along the road dumped two tons of gravel on it two years ago in hopes of making it passable. But today it resembles more a country cowpath than a suburban street.
Soon life on Sampson Lane, in the Sounthgate community near Falls Chursh, may change. Under a court order that is expected to be signed Monday, it and 12 other unpaved and substandard roads in the country's small black communities are going to be paved and repaired.
Federal District Judge Oren R. Lewis is expected to sign an out-of-court agreement Monday between the country and black community leaders that would end a seven-year-old dispute over road maintenance in Fairfax's black neighborhoods. Under the agreement, the country will spend $1.5 million over the next 10 years to repair 32 of 86 substandard roads listed in an original lawsuit brought against the country and the state in 1971 by four black citizens' groups and six individuals.
The new settlement is to be signed on the same day that a trial had been scheduled to begin on the blacks' allegations that the country had violated the Federal Civil Rights Act by ignoring their roads.
"I feel good that this thing is finally getting settled, but I'll feel better when I see the bulldozers and the men with the shovels," said Thomas Brown, president of the citizens' association at Gum Spring, a black community in the Mount Vernon area, where some of the road repairs will be made.
Brown hopes the dispute, commonly known in Fairfax as the "P-6" roads case (a name taken from the number of the court exhibit that displayed the roads), will set an example for blacks across the state to demand better public facilities.
"We vehemently deny any discrimination on the part of the county," Assistant Country Attorney Richard Golden said."The (state) law has changed now, we can do the roads, and we're going to fix them - with or without a court order."
Recent legislation by the General Assembly, allowing the country to maintain some roads outside the state road system, makes the agreement possible, Golden said.
The county has repaired 17 of the roads listed in the original suit under an earlier out-of-court settlement, but stopped the repairs in 1975, claiming state law prohibited it from spending public money on roads too small or too seldom used to qualify as state roads. As a result, the suit was reopened that year.
"That change in the law is what broke the logjam," said civil right attorney Allison Brown, who represents the blacks who brought the original suit. "The county already has fixed up a lot of the roads, and ones remaining aren't nearly as bad as the ones around eight years ago."
Many of the original 86 roads had been dropped from the suit, leaving only 32 yet to be repaired. Brown said some residents did not want to give their private roads to the county and thus were dropped from the suit.
Under the agreement, two property owners on each of the roads must want to make the road public before the county will start repairs. If the road is at least 30 feet wide the county will fix it and place it into the state road system. The county will also maintain the road if it is too small or too seldom used to go into the state system.
At least two miles of road must be constructed or improved every year beginning in 1981, under the agreement, and the county must build the new roads within three years of obtaining public ownership of them.