a highly commercial strip that passes through the residential town, packed with cars going between Tysons Corner and Seven Corners -- is long due for improvements.
But the town is divided over a plan by the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation to widen Broad Street, as Leesburg Pike is called in Falls Church, and construct a median with left-turn lanes.
The first phase of the state's plan -- a half-mile stretch from Haycock-Shreve roads to West Street -- was presented last week to the town's business community, which will be most affected by the project.
Business owners and operators are upset that about 10 feet of frontage property will be lost to the widening on each side of the road, decreasing parking space, and that a raised median will hinder access to businesses.
Warren Cohn, president of American Car Wash Corp., which operates a car wash located within the planned first leg of construction, said, "If they widen the road by putting a fifth turn lane in without raised medians . . . it's not going to hurt us." But "if they widen and put in a raised median," Cohn said, "it's going to put us out of business."
The "they" Cohn referred to are the state highway department and the City Council. The council hatched the idea for rehabilitating the road in 1978 and first presented it to the state in 1983.
The highway department's engineering drawings were presented to about 80 business operators as part of a review of the plan that will include public hearings, the first of which will be held July 10.
The first phase of the plan, expected to begin in the summer of 1987, will cost $2.3 million. The entire project is tagged at $6.7 million.
The plan calls for an additional foot to be added to each of the street's four lanes to accommodate the width of 11 feet required by the state. In addition, a center "lane" 13 feet wide would actually be an uninterrupted median that would become a left turn lane at intersections.
Town planning director Henry Bibber said the basic plan for widening is necessary "because the traffic does not appear to warrant additional travel lanes but does warrant additional turn lanes."
He said traffic projections for the next 25 years show that use of the road will increase by 25 percent, from 30,000 to 40,000 cars per day.
But Mayor Carol DeLong noted that the council is not completely satisfied with the state's engineering plans.
"We're not as totally thick-skinned about the problems the business community sees with it," DeLong said. "Although we've asked for raised medians, we did not know they would be as uninterrupted as they are."
She said the council "tried very hard to avoid" the possibility of a road that had an empty middle lane for left hand turns, which most of the businesses would support. "We don't think it's very attractive," she said.
But Sue Bachtel, president of the Falls Church Preservation and Improvement Society, said the council's idea of beautification for the road would leave a "big potted planter down the middle" and leave the sides of the road devoid of trees and shrubs.
"The speed of traffic will increase and people will zip right by the businesses," Bachtel said.
Bachtel's group has collected 850 signatures on a petition opposing the council's idea of a median and is trying to come up with an alternate plan.
Council members, Bachtel said, have not diligently sought alternatives and have sacrificed business access and aesthetic touches in order to qualify for highway funds.
"They have not . . . done a professional job at all," she said.
But Bibber said some critics are misinformed about the impact of the planned improvements and the state role in the project, as well as about the council's commitment.
"We're not talking about speeding up the traffic," he said. "We're talking about reducing the numbers of cars that wait while people have to stop to turn left."
He said, "It's absolutely wrong to conclude that the city is doing this project because it wants the state money. The city is considering this project because the city feels the fifth lane is warranted."
But business people believe the city can improve traffic flow without hurting business. "There was very little negative comment regarding widening of the road -- if it were widened with a fifth center turn lane," said Cohn. But "there wasn't a positive word spoken in support of a raised median. There's no way a raised median can help business."