A war between the North and South is being waged again in Arlington, this time over a controversial road proposal that many say would further split a county already subdivided by a network of freeways.
The county's public works staff has recommended that access to and from Arlington Boulevard (Rte. 50), the official dividing line between North and South Arlington, be limited to discourage commuters from using intersecting residential streets as shortcuts.
The Rte. 50 plan is one of 56 proposals affecting roads, walkways and bike trails the county is examining as it begins updating its master transportation plan for the first time in 10 years. The mass transit system also is to be reviewed this year.
The anxiety and frustration some Arlingtonians say the Rte. 50 proposal has generated in their neighborhoods is indicative of the larger problem the county faces as it tries to refine a road network now heavily taxed by swarms of new residents and commuters generated by Northern Virginia's development explosion.
"The reason we need transportation improvements is not just because people from Fairfax are trying to get to D.C., but because of the ways [Arlington] decided we want the county's internal development changed," said Jeff Zinn, a civic leader and member of the county's transportation commission.
"There's no question development in the county is going to mean more vehicular traffic, and, with it, the choice is there to improve some major streets or be faced with increasing traffic through residential areas," said Mark Kellogg, the county's public works planning supervisor. "That's even with the most optimistic of transit and ride-sharing projections."
Because of Rte. 50's crucial role in moving commuters, the County Board approved a plan in 1975 to make it a limited-access road from the Fairfax County line to Washington Boulevard by connecting the disjointed service roads on each side of the highway and erecting barriers into or out of the surrounding neighborhoods.
The plan, which is under review again, calls for a series of overpasses and underpasses at key streets.
The most controversial of the overpasses is one that would be built between Highland and Garfield streets to allow some north-south traffic between Glebe Road and Washington Boulevard.
The overpass was rejected by the 1975 board but resurrected for reconsideration this year despite overwhelming opposition from nearby civic associations.
"Nobody wants the overpass but public works," said Frank O'Leary, the county's treasurer and a member of the Lyon Park Civic Association on the north side of Rte. 50. He said the plan is "like Dracula. It's back from the grave, and the casket is opening again . . . . What we want to know is, how do you put a stake through its heart?"
Although Lyon Park is fighting the overpass, it is supporting the county's plans to limit access to Rte. 50 between Glebe Road and Washington Boulevard.
"It will inconvenience ourselves, but it's a price we're willing to pay to reduce the amount of through traffic," said Lyon Park's Bill Gahr.
Neighboring civic associations, in Ashton Heights north of Rte. 50 and in Arlington Heights and Central Arlington to the south, contend that the price may be too high.
"It's one of our neighborhood streets, and it serves the neighborhood well," said Richard Engel, acting president of the Arlington Heights association. The plan, he said, "would sever a lot of economic, social and neighborhood ties which exist between North and South Arlington."
"It would only serve people from Fairfax, not Arlington," said Central Arlington Civic Association President Percy Scott.
Carrie Johnson of Ashton Heights said her association wants the county to try other traffic control measures that the four affected neighborhoods could agree on, such as restricted rush-hour turns, before making Rte. 50 a limited access road.
"It makes a lot more sense than starting a civil war in the neighborhoods," she said. "No one neighborhood should dictate the closing of a street that other neighborhoods also use."
Although the Lyon Park group contends that limiting access to and from Rte. 50 would only delay residents a few minutes, Johnson points to a remark an elderly Ashton Heights woman made about the proposal:
"She said, 'I shop on Columbia Pike, my church is on Columbia Pike, my friends are in South Arlington. If they cut off this access, you'd be diminishing my life.' . . . The road provides the sort of the community connection which is central to a lot people's notion of Arlington."
The Rte. 50 proposals have generated the most discussion at public forums, but others also have been controversial.
A plan to build on the right of way to connect John Marshall Drive with North McKinley and North Ohio streets so they would be one continuous street has also caused a neighborhood flap, although it has been on the books for decades.
"We want to keep the streets local," said Hugh O'Brien, president of the Leeway Civic Association. The right of way, he said, "is now a greenway used for yard sales, kids' play, a place where mothers can walk their babies. We want to maintain it that way."
Another plan to widen Lee Highway in the Cherrydale area, between North Kenmore and North Quincy streets, has drawn protests from residents who fear that it would lead to a loss of local shops. And Alexandria officials are complaining about a project that would connect South Eads Street in Arlington with Commonwealth Avenue in Alexandria by way of a bridge over Four Mile Run.
Several plans to upgrade the designations of local streets have caused consternation in neighborhoods where residents fear that the reclassifications would mean more commuter traffic.
Kellogg said the suggested changes would merely reflect the traffic the streets carry.
Many residents have complained bitterly that the county's public works staff has disregarded the wishes and plans of their neighborhoods.
Henry S. Hulme Jr., the county's public works chief, said it is the staff's responsibility to make recommendations that it believes are vital to improving the transportation network, regardless of their popularity.
The recommendations, he said, are intended "not to set something to rest either in or out of the plan for eternity . . . but for the next five to 10 years."
Many of the staff proposals have been approved or rejected by previous county boards. But they are up for review again because of the dramatic changes redevelopment has brought in the last decade -- minicities of new residences and employment centers clustered around a subway system that has since opened.
But development has extended beyond Arlington to flourish in the counties of Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun, where Washington-bound commuters must pass through relatively tiny Arlington.
Almost no part of the county is untouched by the proposals. Hundreds of residents turn out for workshops and hearings sponsored by county commissions to support or oppose proposals of the county's public works staff and citizen commissions.
The County Board has scheduled an 8 p.m. public hearing in its meeting room on Feb. 18 on the proposed revisions to the plan, which it is to begin adopting in pieces on Feb. 22.
County Board Chairman Mary Margaret Whipple said it likely will take the board months to adopt the full plan once its review begins.
She said the board will want to "blend both the professional judgment of the staff and the perspective of the citizens into an acceptable whole."