Falls Church residents packed the city's council chambers Monday night for an emotional three-hour hearing on a plan to reconstruct a half-mile stretch of western Broad Street, the four-lane section of Leesburg Pike that cuts through the city's main business district.
The project, which includes the section from Haycock and Shreve roads to just east of West Street, is expected to begin during the summer of 1987. It is the first part of a three-part plan by the city and the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation to rebuild the road from the western city line to Fairfax Street.
Various improvement plans have bounced back and forth between the city and state since 1983. The current proposal is to add a fifth lane to the western section of the road.
City Manager Anthony Griffin has recommended that the additional lane be a two-way, left-hand turn lane, with raised medians in two places -- where the road intersects with Haycock Road and with West Street.
Although citizens agree that the road needs to be improved, particularly its paving, drainage and the unsightly utility wires, they disagree about whether the road needs to be widened.
City planners and some citizens say that traffic congestion, especially during rush-hour, makes it necessary to add a left-hand turn lane to keep traffic moving and to keep unwanted traffic out of residential areas. But many city residents say that a wider road at the western edge of the city would bring more and faster traffic and also would mean the end of Falls Church's small-town atmosphere.
Some opponents to widening the road say the real issue gets down to money: If city officials do not approve the widening, the state will not help pay for the project, which is tagged at $4.3 million. The city's share is about $2.2 million.
More than half of Monday night's 35 speakers opposed the widening, standing before council members wearing bright orange badges that read, "Save Our City! Don't widen West Broad Street."
"What we will end up doing is inducing traffic that creates more congestion," said Sue Bachtel, president of the city's Village Preservation & Improvement Society. "And then we will say there is no other way to solve the problem than to widen the remainder of the road."
"I am 100 percent in favor of street improvements," said city resident Charles Moore, "but I am 100 percent opposed to widening."
Moore said he believes that better, synchronized traffic lights could alleviate congestion. "We don't want Falls Church to be another Vienna or McLean," he added.
Former City Council member Betty Havlik, speaking for the city's League of Women Voters, advocated widening. She said an additional lane for turns was an effective way to help keep traffic out of residential neighborhoods.
Toward the end of the hearing, the city clerk read a letter to the council from Elizabeth Graham, a city resident and activist for 42 years who now lives in a retirement home in Alexandria.
The letter suggested that widening Broad Street would be a "suicidal step for the city." Graham urged council members to "fight fiercely for the preservation of the unique gem of a little city."
Graham ended her letter by asking council members to bring the issue before the citizens of Falls Church through a referendum or resign their offices.
The council will hold a work session on the road plan Monday.