A compromise has been reached in the decade-long controversy surrounding the widening of Great Falls Street in McLean, but area representatives still have to sell the idea to the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation.
The Highway Department has proposed widening Great Falls Street from its present two lanes to four lanes, spanning 48 feet, including road shoulders. Residents have complained that such a move would convert a residential, tree-lined suburban road into a busy highway.
Local officials and citizens groups now agree that the existing two-land road should be widened to 36 feet with sidewalks added and parking allowed on both sides of the street. Under either the Highway Department plan or the compromise proposal, Great Falls Street will be widened for three miles from Balls Hill Road to the Falls Church city line.
Proponents of the compromise plan presented their case at a meeting this week with Gov. John Dalton and Highway Department Commissioner Harold King. Representatives at the meeting said they believe the compromise will be accepted.
"We were very encouraged," said Del. Vincent Callahan (R-18th District), who attended the meeting. King told the backers of the compromise plan that he will ask Highway Department officials to meet with McLean citizens to discuss the proposal. Dalton said "he was just there to listen and that he (will not) tell the highway department what to do," Callahan said.
Before the meeting this week with Dalton, Fairfax County Supervisor John P. Shacochis said he felt "quite confident the highway department will agree with us because it's a good middle-ground that all sides can live with." Shacochis has long been an advocate of widening the roadway to 44 feet, but now supports the compromise plan.
State Del. Martin Perper (R-18th District) said, "I think the chances are excellent the Highway Department will go along with us.Those folks do what they feel is best, but I think when they see the unanimity and shoulder-to-shoulder attitude of the people in this area over this new plan, they'll be receptive.
"Sometimes planning has to take a back seat to the wishes of the community and I think that's the case here."
At the request of Dalton, the Highway Department is re-evaluating its four-lane proposal. Although the department has reviewed and affirmed that plan on several occasions, a spokesman for the department said this review will be conducted "with an open mind and without any prejudice one way or the other."
While agreeing that Great Falls Street need improvement, most local residents and officials have expressed opposition to the four-lane proposal. Until this week, however, they were unable to reach a consensus on a suitably alternative.
The compromise breakthrough came last week at a social event at the home of Ron Brandstedter, president of the Lewinsville Citizens Association. In attendance were Shacochis, Perper and State Del. Vincent Callahan (R-18th District), and the conversation soon turned to Great Falls Street.
All parties concerned eventually agreed that the street should be widened but should remain at two lanes. The 36-foot width for the roadway was chosen because that is the current width of the section of street that runs through Falls Church.
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 1965.
Widening of the street has been the subject of controversy for many years. More than 100 local residents complained about the four-lane proposal when it was unveiled by the Highway Department at a public hearing in 1972. Since then, several local bodies, including the Fairfax County Planning Commission, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the Falls Church City Council, have voted against the plan.
The highway department is an autonomous body that can make whatever road changes it deems necessary in areas under its jurisdiction - no matter what the sentiment of local boards and residents. Fairfax County is currently under Highway Department jurisdiction, while Falls Church maintains its own roads.