The widening of Route 1 through Crystal City is back on the drawing boards after 10 years of debate and legal battles. What started in the early 1970s as an elevated, six-to-eight-lane interstate highway to replace Route 1 has since come down to earth. The latest scaled-down proposal calls for widening the highway and improving several nearby roads, but it lacks certain features of the original plan that caused the most citizen concern and led to the project being blocked in federal court.

A public hearing on the new proposal will be held in mid-January.

According to a preliminary environmental impact statement ordered by the court, the major differences between the original $20 million, limited-access interstate highway and the present proposal are the addition of more intersections, pedestrian overpasses and a ramp from the airport connector road into Crystal City on Ball Street that would be extended south almost to Glebe Road.

The most visible change, however, said John Hummel, Arlington's chief public works planner, "is the elimination of the horrendous walls" to support an elevated freeway, which would have split Crystal City.

"People were upset by the walls and also worried that if you widened the highway it would increase traffic," Hummel said. "But the reverse is not true -- that if you don't widen the highway, traffic will go away or stay the same."

Traffic on Route 1 is goint to increase in any case, said Hummel, "and I only hope this (plan) is satisfactory to the neighborhood. I think it's the start of the final solution."

Under the revised plan, there would be six lanes of traffic with two additional turning lanes; Route 1 now has four lanes. The lanes would be built generally on the same level as the present roadway, except for an overpass at 18th Street and perhaps another at 15th Street.

Traffic planners no longer consider a limited-access interstate necessary because projections made a decade ago for traffic along Route 1 in 1990 now are seen as exaggerated.

The early studies estimated Route 1 traffic would go from the 30,000 cars a day on the road in 1972 to 79,000 by 1992. Traffic in the past two years has been about 32,000 vehicles on an average weekday, and the environmental impact statement predicts a maximum of about 43,000 vehicles daily by the year 2000.

Hummel said the earlier estimates were made before the Arab oil boycott dramatically reduced commuting by automobile. They did not anticipate the impact of the subway and they counted on construction of the Potomac Freeway -- a since-abandoned highway plan that would have paralled Route 1 along the railroad tracks -- and more development than will occur in the corridor.

The cost of the Route 1 project, of which 95 percent originally was to have been financed with federal interstate funds, is now projected to be $30 million or $35 million, depending largely on whether a 15th Street overpass is built.

Where the money will come from is still in doubt, however, say state and county officials. Federal interstate funds can be diverted to certain types of noninterstate projects, said Hummel, but it's not clear whether this would be one of them. The state does not have sufficient highway funds to build it on its own, said Joseph Presbrey, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation.

Assuming the project is approved and funded by the County Board, it still would have to be approved by the state after a final environmental impact statement and additional hearings were completed, perhaps in early 1983. Then would follow the actual design of the highway and more hearings, and with two years for construction, "it might be completed by 1987, at the earliest," estimated Hummel.

A public hearing on the Route 1 proposal is scheduled for Jan. 14 at 7:30 p.m. at the Aurora Hills Community Center, 735 18th St. S. Prior to the hearing, an information day will held Jan. 6 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., also at the community center. A state highway official, with maps and the 105-page draft of the environmental impact statement, will be there to answer questions.