In a move that surprised and pleased some Arlington officials and civic leaders, Virginia highway offcials have scrapped plans for a $30 million, six-lane elevated highway that would have linked Shirley Highway with National Airport. New plans call for upgrading an existing highway for $10 million less.
The highway, designated Interstate 595, would have been seven-tenths of a mile long and would have replaced a stretch of U.S. 1 through Arlington's Crystal City. Long regarded as a highpriority project by state highway officials, plans for it were first approved in 1965 but were temporarily blocked by a court order in 1976, days before construction was to start.
Harold King, Virginia's highway commissioner, said yesterday the I-595 plans, which called for three interchanges plus grade separations at five streets, are being scrapped in favor of a project costing $20 million that would have on-off ramps at S. 15th and 18th streets.
A list of options drawn up following public hearings held as a result of an order from U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. spelled out alternative plans for I-595's interchanges to lessen the project's impact on the surrounding area.
King said yesterday, "There was no way we could change the plan without tearing out half of Crystal City for alternate interchanges."
Some South Arlington merchants hailed King's decision as a major victory, and Paul Webb, president of the Crystal City Civic Association, asserted that "I-595 would have created something like a Great Wall of China."
"This is a very big step," said Arlington County Board Chairman Dorothy T. Grotos. "I think the new plan is great. The old one was completely unacceptable because of the walls and all those exit ramps."
Robert L. Gratton, manager of the Hospitality House Motel and a longtime foe of I-595, said, "Shirley Highway totally killed the Shirlington Shopping Center because it divided residents from the center, That's exactly what would have happened here."
Although they opposed I-595, Arlington officials have agreed that improved access along and across heavily-traveled U.S. Rte. 1 would become increasingly urgent with the development of the Pentagon City complex and the expansion of Crystal City.
Some observers attributed King's decision to an increased awareness of Northern Virginia's needs. "Unlike his predecessors, King has a real consciousness of Northern Virginia. I think Richmond may be entering the 20th century in that respect," said one official who asked not to be identified.
King was appointed highway commissioner last summer by Gov. John N. Dalton. His predecessor, John Harwood, strongly supported I-595.
In 1977, Harwood pressed for construction of I-595 despite court objections. The court ruling came in a suit filed by a group of South Arlington residents and businessmen.
James T. Murphy, director of Metropolitical Washington Airports, said yesterday that while he had not yet seen King's plan, "something that would improve access to National Airport and take the pressure off the George Washington Memorial Parkway would certainly be in our best interests." The parkway is a major commuter route, in addition to providing access to the airport.