Most weekday mornings, Bob Tanner gets burned twice by traffic jams on Ox Road: once when he has to fight traffic himself as he drives the four miles between his Clifton home and his Ox Road service station, and again when nary a car dares slip out of the bumper-to-bumper traffic to buy his gas.
"I get no morning business or evening rush," lamented Tanner recently at his station at Ox and Zion roads. "We're just crippled."
About 360 days from now, Tanner's situation should change. That's when the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation is scheduled to complete a project it has just begun: widening 1.5 miles of Ox Road (Rte. 123) from two lanes to four between Braddock Road and Fairfax Station.
In the meantime, Tanner and others along Ox Road, including homeowners and commuters, are bracing for the worst.
"We all knew this was coming," said Paul Reany, who bought a house in the Middleridge subdivision off Ox Road five years ago. "It may not be fun while the work is going on, but it was just a matter of time before it came."
Being at once the villain and the hero when it comes to traffic and highways is nothing new to state highway officials, who say widening Ox Road, with all its hassles for residents and others, is both a typical highway project and a typical highway problem.
Snaking its way from Lorton to the southern edge of Fairfax City, Ox Road was for years a picturesque highway traveled more by Sunday drivers than by commuters. But by the early 1970s, as housing developments mushroomed around Clifton, Burke and Lorton, the road could barely handle the daily flood of motorists.
By late 1976, when the state approved widening Ox Road, it had become one of the principal approaches from the southern half of the county to Interstate 66, the District and suburban Maryland.
"It's one of the county's oldest roads, and it just could never cope with any volumes of traffic," said Donald Keith, the Highway Department's division administrator for Northern Virginia. In 1973, there were 11,600 daily motorvehicle trips on Ox Road between Fairfax Station and Fairfax City; by 1995, that number will have soared to 20,600 Keith predicted.
Last week, workers from the Woodbridge construction firm handling the $1.75 million widening project already had it muddy swaths across some howeowners' yards -- property condemned fiver years ago to allow the state to build on land bordering the road.
Aquiring that land, however, was a frustrating five-year battle often as convoluted as the highway itself.
In 1977, for instance, the Highway Department was forced to buy two $80,000 houses in the Middleridge subdivision that had been erected just before the project was approved, Keith said. The houses then were sold to private investors at a fraction of their original cost and moved several yards to make room for the wider road.
The Highway Department also had to realign the planned road to avoid a portion of the cemetery of the historic Jerusalem Baptist Church. And, to acquire a cung, three-acres strip of the Fairfax Country Club'S 150-acre golf course, the state condemned the property in Setember 1977, paying between $50,000 and $75,000 in compensation, club president Herman L. Courson said.
"We got paid, but the condemnation narrowed our fairway to the point where it would be dangerous for someone to play on it," Courson said. The club plans to realign and shorten two holes affected by the widening -- a repair likely to cost more than the club received from the state compensation, Courson said.
"It needs widening bad," said Courson, a land surveyor who lives near the country club. "We fought the condemnation, but it was only a matter of delaying the inevitable."
Keith said the total cost of acquiring the right-of-way was nearly $1.9 million, more than the cost of the widening itself.
For Bob Tanner, the roadword cannot come soon enough. Business at his station, the only retail business affected by the widening, is already off sharply because of the traffic jams.
"I used to pump 90,000 to 95,000 gallons of gas each month, but now I'm down to about 60,000," Tanner said. "When the crews come in to widen, things may get worse."
Keith said the widening will be done with as little disruption to traiffic as possible, although the project will entail periodic lane changes as crews level and pave first one side of the road and then the other.
"People believe they have a God-given right to a road," said Keith, who has worked in the Highway Department 33 years. "The work can never disturb their home or their getting to work. But they also want the convenience" of a wider road.
"So we're going to put it in for them," he said.