The Virginia Department of Transportation and Highways has decided to reconsider its controversial plan to widen Great Falls Street in McLean, a department spokesman said recently.
The move comes in the wake of protests from many area residents. The highway department had planned to widen the street from its present two lanes to four lanes spanning 48 feet. Residents have complained that such a change would convert a residential, tree-lined suburban road into a dangerous highway. The street was to have been widened for three miles from Balls Hill Road to the Falls Church city line.
Upon urging from Gov. John Dalton, department commissioner Harold King last week instructed engineers to re-examine the plans. "The governor indicated that he was concerned about the number of constituent complaints over the project," said Larry Murphy, Dalton's senior executive assistant. "He felt a re-examination was warranted.
"This office is certainly not in a position to say what the outcome of that re-examination will be. But at least we got someone to listen to these complaints and review the situation."
Although the highway department has reviewed and affirmed the four-lane plan on several occasions, a spokesman said this review will be conducted "with an open mind and without any prejudice one way or the other."
State Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-18th District) has arranged a meeting between Dalton and some of the residents for next Tuesday. King is also expected to attend that session. "The governor is very interested in exchanging views with the residents and the commissioner," Murphy said.
Many local residents say they would like to see the road improved but not widened to four lanes.
Lilla Richards, of the McLean Citizens' Association, said the association wants to see the two-lane road widened somewhat with turning lanes added where necessary and with modifications made for sudden rises and blind curves. That course of action, recommended in the Fairfax County Master Plan, would cost $300,000 to $500,000, Richards said. The cost for widening Great Falls Street to four lanes will be more than $3 million.
Highway department officials have argued in the past that the four-lane plan is needed because of the amount of traffic that now travels along the roadway - an estimated 6,600 to 11,000 vehicles a day. Projections show that Great Falls Street will have to handle 15,000 cars a day by 1985.
The widening of Great Falls Street has been the subject of controversy for more than a decade. More than 100 local residents complained about the four-lane plan when it was unveiled by the highway department at a public hearing in 1972. Since then, several local governing bodies, including the Fairfax County Planning Commission and the Falls Church City Council, have voted against the plan. Nevertheless, the highway department has continued to support the four-lane proposal.